It's no secret that SEO is more challenging, complex and risky than ever before. Gone are the days when a small business owner could turn his or her chair and command the office intern to "SEO the site". (Tweet This!)
With Googles Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates, SEO isn't to be taken lightly. One wrong move and you might find your site slapped from Google's first page faster than you can say "paid backlinks".
Like plumbing, SEO is best left to professionals. But how do you distinguish between reputable agencies and snake oil salesmen?
That's easy: by asking these 5 simple-yet-powerful questions.
Question #1: "What's Your Approach to SEO?"
What It Tells You: This will tell you what year the agency is living in. Many SEO agencies hype up outdated concepts like meta tags, keyword density and web directories. A trustworthy agency will talk about keywords, outstanding content and white hat link building.
If you're not sure what exactly you should be listening for, this guide by dubbed "The Ultimate Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide" is worth a read.
Question #2: "What Does Your Reporting Look Like?"
What It Tells You: This question is a barometer that gives you deep insights into their SEO approach. Shady agencies will send you reports with a list of links that they've mysteriously "acquired". Someone worth hiring will focus on publishing and promoting epic content on your site. The reporting will zero-in on how it performed in terms of generating links.
Question #3: "How Will You Build Links For My Site?"
What It Tells You: You probably already know that the number (and quality) of the links pointing to your site is one of the most important ranking signals that Google uses. But if you attempt to manipulate the algorithm with phony links from mass article directory submissions or low quality guest blogging, you could find your site in the doghouse. Ideally you want a company that's going to focus on producing amazing content and promoting that content via manual email outreach.
Question #4: "What Types of Results Should I Expect...And When?"
What It Tells You: It's not unreasonable to expect tangible results from the people that you pay. However, many firms will dodge this question with vague statements like "SEO takes time" and "we don't control what Google does". While those statements are spot on, there's an element of predictability that comes with quality SEO. Namely, a slow but steady increase in rankings and organic search engine traffic.
Question #5: "What Happens if My Rankings Drop?"
What It Tells You: It's not uncommon for rankings to fluctuate over time. If it does, you can usually recover (even if it's from a Google penalty). You want to hear things like, "If that happens, we'll work with you to figure out a solution". Red flag statements include "That's never happened to us. Don't worry about that" or "Hey, Google tends to do that. We don't accept responsibility for what Google does."
Related: You have your 5 questions. Now check out our online vendors.
Unfortunately, due to the large amount of shady SEO firms out there, due diligence is an absolute must. But when you do find someone that you can trust, you'll find your site climbing up the first page while you focus on what you do best: running your business.
Author Bio: Brian is an SEO and digital marketing consultant based in Berlin, Germany. Brian first got involved in SEO after launching an information product and realizing that he had no way to drive traffic to his website. 4-years of in the trenches work later, he finally figured out ways to consistently generate organic and referral traffic to sites in just about any industry under the sun.