7 Tips for Choosing the Right SEO Provider

Updated March 10, 2015

Doc Sheldon


Some businesses have people that are well-versed in the technical aspects of managing their website, while others have an in-house SEO professional to handle all the ongoing tasks of optimizing their website’s pages for users and search engines. But the fact is, few have both and the vast majority don’t have either.

In fact, most businesses don’t even have anyone sufficiently familiar with the intricacies of search to be able to know how to pick a capable SEO service provider. To be fair, it’s a bit like trying to pick the most qualified surgeon when you have no medical knowledge.

If you’ve dealt with SEO providers before, you probably know that you’ll nearly always hear different opinions surrounding different issues. Some of that is natural, since the search engines aren’t exactly transparent about what they want to see or what techniques are most effective. And some of it is because not every practitioner has the time to stay abreast of all the changes. And sadly, some is also because with no barrier to entry in the field, anyone with a computer can claim to be an “SEO expert”. They cause the spread of a lot of misinformation.

Do your homework

Many people cry “caveat emptor”, claiming that it’s the site owner’s responsibility to ensure he selects wisely. We agree with that to a point, but then there’s that surgeon thing again. How reasonable is it to expect every site owner to know enough about SEO to be able to accurately judge a provider’s capabilities? For the majority of sites, not at all, in our book.

Still, you can ask for recommendations from people you trust and protect yourself by closely monitoring a practitioner’s actions. That’s only prudent. As for due diligence, you can seek assistance in appraising proposals. We offer that service, as do many other SEO consultants.

We’ve performed audits of the SEO services rendered to various companies, and frankly, what we find is often discouraging. We hate to see a business paying for services that are outdated and ineffective. But even worse, those outdated techniques can often get a website penalized, causing a very significant drop in revenue. And recovery, even after the mess is cleaned up, is a slow process. Some businesses simply can’t survive that kind of hit.

Asking the right questions

So we’ve compiled a list of things to consider when choosing an SEO. By no means should you consider it an everything you should know about SEO list… it’s just some basic selection criteria. Each situation is different, so many may demand different questions and answers. If a provider can’t give you satisfactory responses to any of these, you should probably keep looking.

1. What do they see as your urgent tasks to (a) get/keep your site out of trouble, or (b) improve your situation? Have they prioritized them by risk/benefit?

No responsible agency is going to be able to quote the achievement of a goal for your business without knowing the starting point. If they try, the only result they may be worried about is you paying their invoice. Once they’ve established a benchmark, possibly via an audit, perhaps via data provided by you, they should know precisely what your issues are and be able to enumerate tasks, listed by priority, which must be accomplished. Those tasks will each bear risk or reward (sometimes both) and those should be clearly explained.

2. What do they focus on in discussions? Traffic? Focus? Conversions?

Beware of providers that continually talk about traffic, traffic, traffic. Traffic will do nothing for your business! Only conversions matter, whether you’re simply list-building, looking for subscriptions or selling a product or service. If they’re not focused on targeted traffic, you’re probably talking with the wrong people. Note: An effective campaign will often result in reduced traffic… but the users that arrive will convert at a much higher rate, making it a net gain.

3. What metrics will they employ? To measure what? How will they do this? What tools will they use?

Everything that happens on your site, from visits to edits, clicks to sales, results in data. And that data is invaluable to you and your business. Knowing what links bring the most traffic, where they land, what visitors do after they arrive, how long they take to do it, where they leave the site from and what the final result of their visit is… all of these present valuable data which will help tailor your site to amplify the good and eradicate the bad.

Find out what they intend to measure and how. And drill down to find out how they will use the results gleaned from that data. Be sure they’re not just “going through the motions”.

4. What specific techniques will they employ? To accomplish what?

This is an area in which a practitioner can do your business great harm. Outdated techniques may be ineffective, but some methods are highly frowned upon by the search engines, and they can result in your pages being filtered out of the top results or even bring a manual penalty. Either can cause a dramatic loss of revenue.

Be sure to find out precisely what techniques they intend to employ. If link-building is part of their strategy, you may need the assistance of another professional to determine if their plan is safe for your business. As a rule, any sort of “automated tool” for link-building, such as XRumer or SENuke should be avoided like the plague!

5. What specific deliverables will you receive? How often?

This is fairly self-explanatory – like any agreement, these should be clearly called out and should satisfy your needs. If not, require more.

6. Do they intend to employ any site-specific testing, such as A/B testing?

Depending upon what tasks are being undertaken, some testing may be called for.. If the provider is going to be addressing your conversion funnel, A/B testing will be much more effective than a protracted trial and error process. Let the data direct your actions.

 7. Who will be performing the work on your site?

Because there are many self-proclaimed “experts” that outsource much or all of their work, you should request name, phone and email for the individuals that will be working on your account. If they’re not willing to provide that, keep looking.

A good approach

Finally, if you approach the process in a similar fashion to that of hiring an employee for the same task, you’ll likely find that you’ve done adequate due diligence.

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Doc Sheldon

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