A steady flow of organic search engine traffic can be the difference between a successful ecommerce business and a failed one. Thus choosing a professional to help optimize your online store is a critical business decision.
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.
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 copy. But we wanted to do more, so we began interviewing 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. 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: “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.”
Before you hire an SEO professional or cobbler, you need to see some shoes. Have the SEO candidate provide a list of at least 10 comparable websites he has optimized and the associated queries those 10 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.
2. Avoid Guaranteed Results
An SEO professional is lying if she tells you she can guarantee a top result on Google, Yahoo!, or Bing search engine results pages.
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 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.
3. Analyze SEO Tactics
Ask the SEO professional you are considering about his optimization tactics to improve your URL’s performance. Note 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 those words. 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 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 designed solely 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 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 sculpting to focus PageRank.
SEO is an integral part of ecommerce marketing. If your business has grown to the point that you need help making good SEO choices, you should consider 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. 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, 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 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.
- Google’s “Search Engine Optimization (SEO)” article for webmasters and site owners.