Where are you looking?
Some people look for a firm’s website, some look for a freelancer, some look in places like oDesk. These all are good places, but I’d like to point out that none of them are immune to the world of bullshit that plagues most ventures for an SEO provider. I don’t think I’m out of line saying that 90%+ of the places claiming to be experts on the subject actually don’t know jack, and will eat up your money and then either vanish or say “tough cookies” when your results suck.
So in a continuation of one of our more beloved blog posts: How to Know if Your SEO Company is Full of $#!@, we are going to add in our biggest secret that we use to find SEO companies that aren’t so full of it:
Step 1: Ask For a Case Study
If a web developer doesn’t know what they are doing: you’ll know it by the end of the project, before you even pay them (or sooner even). If an SEO firm doesn’t know what they are doing, chances are you’ll never know the difference until 6 months later when you either realize it was a waste of large amounts of money, or even worse, Google bans your site for bad optimization practices. for SEO providers it’s quite simply a requirement to get information about actual results and impact, because you’ll be commissioning them and paying them many months before you see (or fail to see) any tangible result. You need to ask them for a real life case study.
Don’t just say you want “a case study” though, be specific. Ask for a case study of an actual client, what their business was, what keywords they rank for and how high, why they chose those keywords, how long it took them to rank well, and what the positive impacts were on their business. SEO is a top-of-the-funnel service. A great business card can fail to get calls, it could not be it’s fault (maybe you gave it to a loser? maybe your pitch wasn’t great?). But a search engine campaign that doesn’t put someone in high rankings for relevant keywords is a bad campaign…period. So if they don’t have a case study showing them making a business rank well, then move on.
Step 2: Don’t Talk to Those That Ignore the Request
This part is where 90%+ of the people that wanted to do your SEO get left behind. Many will simply not respond. Don’t waste time chasing them down. Many more will move on with their sales pitches as if you never asked. Tell them very plainly: “I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear, but I want a real case study from a client of yours. [repeat list of details you want in the case study]. If you can’t provide one that has all those details, then I’m not interested”. Sometimes you have to send them that message twice before they realize you’re serious. But honestly, if they don’t react the first time they are already out of the running. You can just send it again to annoy them though.
Step 3: Review the Case Study
If nobody obliges you, then keep trying. It may take a dozen or so places before you start actually seeing some case studies. Now it starts to get even more interesting.
Half of the places will have handed you a cookie cutter case study that doesn’t really give most of the things you asked for. You’re not interested in how many back links they made, you’re interested in what those bank links did for the actual keyword standings! Throw them away. Bad SEO is a great way to spend a thousand dollars on thin air. If you have doubt…then it’s better to end the day with no prospects than with bad ones.
Another bunch will actually outright hand you case studies of illegal practices! If they hand you a case study showing how many blog comments they chucked spam onto, get rid of them!
If and only if you get a study that gives you proper info about results that actually looks legit can you move on to the next step.
Step 4: Check Up on It.
If they say that they worked with a furniture store and made them rank #2 for the keywords “leather sofa”…then go to Google and type in “leather sofa”. If that store’s website isn’t #2 then throw them out. There is the small chance that it was a past customer that no longer does SEO…but that’s not the norm. If a company actually makes you rank #2 for a big keyword then most people aren’t stupid enough to say “nah, lets stop paying them to do that.” But if you think that’s the case, ask for a more recent study.
Don’t just check up on the rankings themselves, check up on whether or not the place is actually a customer of that SEO person/firm. If the place handed you a list of all the keywords that business ranks for, right down to a weird specific phrase that nobody would normally type in, then they likely did actually work with them. It’s hard to just “find” all the keywords a certain site ranks for without having been the person that did the optimization for those phrases. And of course, you can always email the site in question and ask who does their optimization for them!
Now You are Ready
Now you’re about as sure as you can be. The next step is monitoring. Get checklists of what your firm plans on doing, and ask for reports showing where they posted what on what site. You can check these links and make sure they aren’t shady and that they really exist! After a few months of that and seeing some increases in the stats in your Google webmasters account (if they didn’t have you make one of those…throw them out) you can be confident they know what they’re doing. Now ease up and keep paying them to do what they apparently do best.
Any other suggestions? I want to hear how you filter out the crap SEO firms!