What to look for in SEO consultants

This is part of my Beyond SEO series where I look at the myths and real­i­ties behind search engine opti­miza­tion, with prac­ti­cal tips about pub­li­ciz­ing your site and build­ing your per­son­al brand. Read all of my Beyond SEO arti­cles.

The Google blog asks for user input into what makes a good SEO and reports that they’ve just rewrit­ten their page that warns against rogue SEO artists and gives rec­om­men­da­tions about what to look out for. It starts with their definition

SEO is an acronym for “search engine opti­miza­tion” or “search engine opti­miz­er.” Decid­ing to hire an SEO is a big deci­sion. Make sure to research the poten­tial advan­tages as well as the dam­age that an irre­spon­si­ble SEO can do to your site. Many SEOs and oth­er agen­cies and con­sul­tants pro­vide use­ful ser­vices for web­site owners.

The blog asks “how would you define SEO? What ques­tions would you ask a prospec­tive SEO?” I’ve been doing a lot more opti­miza­tion for clients late­ly. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly fun is run­ning across the work of the SEO scam artists their com­pe­ti­tion have brought in. I’ve seen many instances where the oth­er SEO firm has stepped over the bounds of fair prac­tice and been penal­ized by Google.

Google’s job and our job

I’ve always tak­en the approach that it’s Google’s job to give people
the most use­ful and rel­e­vant return for their search and our job to
make sure we have use­ful and rel­e­vant mate­r­i­al and arrange it in such a
way that Google can access it.

SEO is impor­tant but only in the
con­text of smart web design and a coher­ent and well thought out
inter­net mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. Firms that claim to do SEO
with­out check­ing the ana­lyt­ics data and con­sult­ing with the client
about their busi­ness strat­e­gy will not help the site in the long run.

What your SEO expert should be doing

I would agree with most of Google’s rec­om­men­da­tions of what to look out against. But what to look for? A quick list would include:

  • A SEO con­sul­tant that looks at ana­lyt­ics data before mak­ing any changes. If the client doesn’t already have Google Ana­lyt­ics run­ning on the site I install it and wait a month before doing any­thing. I do that because you want:
  • Quan­tifi­able results. You should be able to see shift­ing use pat­terns if the opti­miza­tion is work­ing. The inter­net gives us pre­cise fig­ures and it’s often very easy to demon­strate the val­ue of the work you’ve done. Clients should have full access to the ana­lyt­ics and be trained enough to be able to inde­pen­dent­ly ver­i­fy the results.
  • A con­sul­tant that fre­quent­ly answers ques­tions with “Hmmm…, I don’t know.” No one knows what Google is doing. You try some­thing, then you try some­thing else. Any­one who claims to know every­thing is scam­ming you.
  • Some­one who looks at your entire busi­ness mod­el and asks hard ques­tions about your inter­net strat­e­gy. What do you hope to accom­plish with your site. Are there spe­cif­ic goals that we can measure?
  • Think about your Inbound and Out­bound strate­gies. Google will send peo­ple your way if you have use­ful mate­r­i­al so think about what com­pelling con­tent you can offer the uni­verse. And once peo­ple come to the site you have to make it com­pelling for them to stay a while, sub­scribe, etc. 
  • The SEO con­sul­tant should make you sweat: any­one who says they can sig­nif­i­cant­ly boost your site with­out you hav­ing to lift a fin­ger is fool­ing you. You will almost always have to add com­pelling con­tent and it will take you com­mit­ting staff time to the project (a good devel­op­ment team will look for ways to make this fit into your exist­ing staff rou­tines so that it’s as pain­less as possible!). 

Any oth­ers sug­ges­tions for what to look for in poten­tial SEO consultants?

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