No one doubts that online marketing has become integrated into the long-term strategy of any successful company.
Many business owners, not having the know-how in house, turn to digital marketing agencies to take over their online marketing management. Unfortunately, with mixed results.
Paid search programs, such as AdWords, can be complex and successful campaigns do require some expertise. The trouble with – and difference between – SEO and paid advertising is that the rules for paid advertising are completely clear.
It’s not easy, but given enough time and experience, anyone can become a paid search expert and not face any undisclosed factors that stop them from fully understanding the system.
SEO, on the other hand, is far more mysterious, as Google decides which sites to rank for which keywords. Most of the ranking factors are not disclosed, which triggers speculation and rumors as to what does and doesn’t work. This lack of transparency confuses business owners, who often place their trust entirely in agencies.
Cue the slick sales person whose gift of the gab makes the service appear knowledgeable and professional, hiding the fact that finding a truly knowledgeable SEO agency is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Blindly trusting an SEO agency is not only a waste of money, it can actually endanger your business, as bad practice is swiftly punished by Google, causing website owners to lose rankings and visitors to their sites.
Ironically, many agencies make money out of Google penalty recovery, often caused by a previous agency! During my time at Google, I was responsible for punishing sites that were managed by bad agencies, so I know firsthand the nasty techniques they use.
Google has been working hard in the last few years to make sure that the search results are spam-free and only trustworthy sites are shown – the days of fast, technical trickery are over and authenticity is key. As a result, SEO agencies that rely on bad practice are in trouble.
But while many have gone out of business, there are still plenty of bad apples around. That only serves to make the good ones very much worth the spend and can help you realise your ROI goals. The question is: How do you go about separating the good from the ugly?
Here are 4 tips to help you make an informed choice:
1. Sound too good to be true? It probably is!
SEO takes time, bad SEO doesn’t. A solid, penalty-proof SEO campaign can take anywhere from 6 months to over a year. You need to commit to a long-term strategy that will rely on long-term investment with long-term benefit. If an agency promises you results in a matter of weeks – avoid them like the plague! They most probably rely on techniques that might work fast, but it’s just a matter of time before Google finds out and punishes them for bad practice. A penalty can significantly lower your site in the rankings or even remove it altogether, depending on the severity of the agency’s malpractice.
The amount of time it takes to properly position your site depends heavily on the amount of competition you face for your keywords. If you operate in a very popular segment, SEO will have to be an expensive and time-consuming enterprise. If you are creating a new niche or operate with little competition, results can be achieved much quicker – food for thought when considering starting a new web-based business. Always ask your agency about the competitiveness of your market and how they assess the time required.
2. FULL transparency
I cant stress this one enough! There is absolutely NO reason why your agency wouldn’t want to share their way of operating, apart from knowing that what they do is against Google guidelines. This applies mostly to link-building, the old way of doing SEO, based on building a high amount of bad quality links to your website, which agencies used to be able to get away with. A link-building campaign should resemble a high quality public relations process that results in relevant, authentic interest and the occasional backlink.
Quality over quantity is the message. If your agency doesn’t show you the links they build, fire them immediately and ask an expert to have a look at your backlink profile to make sure you are not in the danger zone.
3. Make sure all elements are covered
Good SEO is dependent on a few elements. Make sure that your agency can cover you for all key elements, including;
- On page optimization – Making sure that your titles, descriptions, headers, markup, keyword density in content, URLs, page structure, images, sitemap and robots.txt are all search engine friendly and descriptive of your site and product or service. A good agency will have these types of basics covered as a first priority.
- Off page link building – This is a key part of a good SEO campaign but often the one that causes the most damage when executed poorly. Google looks at authenticity above anything else so make sure that the links you get are there because of a genuine reason, the topic of the linking site is relevant to yours and, above all, that the link is not there purely for the benefit of your SEO or Google will smell a rat.
- Social presence and interaction – Google notices and uses your social media presence as a ranking factor. Be sure that this is covered by a dedicated specialist and again, authenticity is the key. Make sure that the agency doesn’t buy followers or likes, it’s a strategy that will damage your business the long run.
All of the elements above are part of a good SEO plan. Make sure that your agency is aware of the fact that the combined value is worth more than the sum of its parts.
4. Case studies
Ask your agency to show you past success. Let them demonstrate increased visitors on Google analytics or impressions on the Webmaster tools interface. Ask them to send you a list of successful PR campaigns that resulted in increased interest or the occasional quality backlink. There is no harm in calling one of their clients for a reference.
About the Author: Andre Weyher is the marketing director of LegalVision. He is an ex-Google employee from the Organic Search quality team where he was a content quality and backlink profile expert. You can contact Andre on [email protected]