A steady flow of organic search engine traffic can be the difference between a successful ecommerce business and a failed one, so choosing a professional to help you optimize your online store may be one of the most important business decisions you will make.
But how will you decide which SEO professional to hire for an in-house position or which SEO firm to hire as a consultant? Well, you might consider my three principles for selecting a good SEO optimizer. These principles provide a starting place for your decision-making process. With them, you will better understand what questions to ask SEO professionals and how to look for more information about what SEO professionals do or how search engines index, analyze, and rank URLs.
Video: Three Principles for Selecting a Good Search Engine Optimizer
Principle No. 1: Be Sure the Cobbler Has Shoes
Not too long ago, I was working as the marketing communications manager for a multi-billion dollar semiconductor company. We had a great new website, a few rich Internet applications to spice things up, and good web copy. But we wanted to do more, so we began interview SEO experts. One call still stands out in my memory. The conversation went something like this:
SEO Expert: “…so as you can see from what I am telling you, my firm is one of the smartest SEO consultancies on the planet. Why we even invented sliced bread…”
Armando: “So while you were talking, I was searching for terms like “search engine optimization,” “SEO consultancy,” and “search engine ranking professional” and your firm does not show up on the first 25 results pages.”
SEO Expert: “Well you know what they say about the cobbler’s shoes.”
Armando: “No, actually, I don’t know what they say about the cobbler’s shoes.”
SEO Expert: “Well, the cobbler’s shoes are never as nice as the shoes he makes for others.”
Armando: “Really, well can you provide a list of the shoes you’ve made for others?”
SEO Expert: “I’m sorry, we keep client information in strict confidence.”
Armando: “Goodbye.” (A click is heard.)
Before you hire any SEO professional or cobbler, you need to see some shoes. Have the SEO candidate provide a list of at least ten comparable websites he has optimized and the associated queries those ten websites were optimized for. Then visit the top five search engines—Google, Yahoo!, Bing, Ask, and AOL Search—looking at each search term to see how well your SEO pro makes shoes, so to speak.
If the SEO firm or professional you’re interviewing cannot provide this list, move on to a professional who can.
Principle No. 2: Avoid “Guaranteed” SERP Results
If the SEO professional you are interviewing tells you that she can guarantee a top result on Google, Yahoo!, or Bing search engine results pages, he or she is lying.
There is no way to guarantee a top position in any good search engine. Google, Yahoo!, Bing and the like do not have “special relationships” with any SEO professionals.
Furthermore, sometimes there is just too much competition. Yes, like it or not, there are some keyword phrases that your site will never dominate or even rank well for in organic results. Sorry, not every page is worthy of a No. 1 ranking.
Principle No. 3: Analyze SEO Tactics
Ask the SEO professional you are considering about the particular optimization tactics he will use to improve your URL’s performance. Take note of these tactics, and do a bit of research. Avoid so-called SEO professionals that use tactics that are not effective or black-hat/gray-hat techniques, which could get your site penalized.
As a specific example of a time-wasting tactic, watch out for SEO professionals that tout keyword density or localized keyword density. Certainly, keyword phrases are important, since we search for keywords. But the idea that keyword density (which is often calculated by dividing the number of times a term i appears in a given document j by the total number of terms in that given document l) measures anything is nonsense. Keyword density, at best, measures an effect not a cause, and an SEO professional that imagines this technique will work is akin to an alchemist.
Some of the black-hat/gray-hat tactics to avoid like the plague include:
- Cloaking – Showing one kind of content to human visitors and different content to search bots.
- Comment spamming – Leaving comments on blogs or other websites that are designed just to link back to a target URL.
- Link farming – Developing pages just so those pages can link back to a target URL.
- Link buying – Purchasing links in body copy of sites in order to generate links to a target URL.
- Spamglish – Creating nonsensical, keyword dense pages to “trick” search engines.
- Shadow domains – Sites that funnel visitors to a target URL by deceptive redirects or similar means.
Conversely, look for SEO professionals that use tactics that seek to make the user experience better, to organize a site according to World Wide Web Consortium recommendations (i.e., proper use of an
<h1> tag not using tables for layout), or to use siloing or PageRank sculpting to focus PageRank.
SEO is an important part of ecommerce marketing. If your business has grown to the point that you need help making good SEO choices, you should consider either hiring a professional to work for you directly or retaining a firm to act as an advisor.
A good SEO professional will always focus on user experience, since that is what search engines focus on. You can expect services like content review; site structure review; web content suggestions, including advice on redirects or error pages, title tags, header tags, and URL rewriting; and keyword research.
Finally, be sure to check out Greg Laptevsky’s “8 Tips for Choosing an SEO Professional” and Stephan Spencer’s “SEO: Choosing a Vendor” which provide a background for my three principles for selecting a good search engine optimizer.
- “Rewriting the Beginner’s Guide: Part 4 Usage & Targeting” by Rand Fishkin includes a good description of why keywords are important and what can be done to use them effectively versus trying to rely on keyword density measurements.
- Rand Fishkin’s blog post “Term Weight & Glasgow Weight vs. Keyword Density” provides a good example of what professional optimizers do measure instead of keyword density.
- “SEO Myths That Persist: Keyword Density” is a quick look at why believing that keyword density measures anything of value is a mistake.
- “Patterns in Unstructured Data: Discovery, Aggregation, and Visualization” by Clara Yu, John Cuadrado, Maciej Ceglowski, and J. Scott Payne provides a backdrop or a discussion of SEO tactics.
- Google’s “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)” article for webmasters and site owners.