SEO: Choosing a Vendor

Selecting an SEO vendor to help improve your site’s searchengine visibility is fraught with hidden dangers.What if the vendor uses unscrupulous tactics without your knowledge, and you get penalized? What if they make promises that they can’t possibly keep? What if they just aren’t very good at SEO? If you’re not a seasoned SEO veteran, it’s easy to get snookered or to simply make a wrong choice. Don’t fret; the tips that follow should steer you in the right direction.

Look for the Positive

The vendor’s link popularity and its home page’s PageRank score can be an indicator as to how savvy they are at link building, which is a crucial aspect of SEO. Link popularity should be checked using Yahoo! Site Explorer. An impressive PageRank score for an SEO company would be an eight, although a seven is pretty good, too. Bear in mind that PageRank scores are several months out of date, and it is possible to temporarily inflate PageRank scores through artificial means. Also, check where the vendor is placed in the Google Directory. The listings on category pages in Google Directory are organized by PageRank score, so seeing the vendor near the top of the category page with many other sites trailing underneath can be a good sign.

Check the company’s rankings on Google for keywords that the vendor considers important to its business. Check how popular those keywords are with searchers using the Overture Keyword Selector tool , because it is not nearly as impressive if they rank highly on a term for which nobody searches.

Look for evidence of thought leadership. Everyone claims to be a thought leader, but a true thought leader demonstrates this through such things as: the number and caliber of published articles/ books/research reports/white papers written on SEO, number of conference presentations given, length of history as a speaker and how forthright they are in those presentations. If a business’ leaders are freely giving of useful tips and tactics, that is a good sign. Also indicative of thought leadership is the extent to which they are quoted in the media, and whether they have a well-read, well-ranked and oft-quoted blog.

Guard Against the Negative

Familiarize yourself with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and Google’s considerations when hiring an SEO firm so you know what tactics your vendor should and should not be employing.

Look for clues that the SEO vendor might be unethical, such as if its site is “greybarred” on the PageRank meter, which can signify it has been banned from Google. Conduct a site: query for its URL (e.g., in Google to see if the business has any pages indexed. If it doesn’t, that is further indication that the company has been banned.

Scan the company’s clients’ sites for deceptive practices, such as hidden links, hidden text, tiny text, etc. If they have told you they don’t do anything deceptive and you find these sorts of things, they are already lying to you—not a good sign. You can scan for cloaking by comparing the page that you see on the company’s site versus the page that is cached by Google. If the content served to the search engines is substantially different than what is served to visitors, then the site is spamming.

Search the Internet for complaints about the company, and, by all means, check references.

Avoid SEO vendors that offer guarantees in rankings. A company can’t guarantee something over which it has no control.

Be Realistic

Try not to have unrealistic expectations of an SEO vendor. They can’t make guarantees on your rankings so don’t expect them to and, if they do make guarantees, turn and run.

For many SEO vendors, the No. 1 priority is self-preservation. In other words, they are happy to give you some pieces of the puzzle, but not all of them, because they want to maintain an ongoing revenue stream from you. This scenario might manifest itself in the form of low-value monthly deliverables such as ongoing keyword research, doorway pages or meta tags.

SEO is a moving target. The search engines are evolving, so the vendor should be evolving, too, if they don’t want to become obsolete.

Stephan Spencer

Stephan Spencer

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