Do a quick search for “SEO statistics” and you’ll see some compelling evidence that anyone with a website should be concerned with SEO.
According to Search Engine Journal (April, 2012), SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, but the close rate for traditional print and direct mail advertising is closer to 2%.
Business 2 Community (September, 2013) says that pages in the top three ranking positions get roughly 60% of the clicks for that search.
ComScore reports that in one month (January, 2011), 67 million search clicks were driven by “what is” queries such as “what is refinancing?”
Being concerned about SEO can lead you to a few different courses of action, including:
Doing your own research and practicing DIY SEO.
Asking another vendor (such as a traditional ad agency) to do your SEO for you.
Getting advice from your brother-in-law who has his own website and seems to know about SEO.
Hiring an SEO company.
There are pros and cons to all of these actions, but let’s talk about the last one: hiring an SEO company. If you are a marketer or business owner who doesn’t know much about SEO, this may be the most intimidating route. But you can get past that easily enough—if you can avoid picking the wrong SEO partner. Read on to learn what not do when hiring an SEO company.
#1 Pay for Performance
Pay for performance in SEO means your SEO vendor doesn’t get paid until some specific goals have been achieved. Usually the goal involves ranking in a top three position for a specific keyword. That sounds pretty good, right? Well, it’s not.
The problem with pay-for-performance SEO is that it always involves bad practices. Bad practices can get quick results, but they are risky. These are the tactics that Google actively penalizes. Your SEO company may achieve the rankings you want and maintain them just long enough to get paid. You are left with the risk of future Google penalties, which can be very difficult to clear up. If you do get penalized, you’ll have to invest more cash to undo those SEO actions that got you the rankings in the first place.
You may be tempted to sign a pay-for-performance SEO agreement with lengthy terms — because if Google doesn’t penalize the site right away, then you’re safe, right? Nope. I have seen sites penalized years after the bad-practice SEO tactics were implemented.
Pay-for-performance SEO only works if your website is a short-term play and you intend to make money and then get out fast. Pick those keywords carefully!
#2 Focus on Rankings
It is a mistake by you and your SEO company to be focused on keyword rankings only. Keyword ranking improvements are a waste of resources if they don’t lead to increased sales or leads. And there are two main scenarios in which strong keyword ranking improvements do not lead to increased sales or leads:
The volume of the targeted keyword is very low.
The people searching that keyword don’t want what you have.
Both of these are strategic errors on the part of the SEO company. If they sell you on the idea that keyword rankings determine success, then they’re not being held responsible for a sound SEO strategy.
Rankings are a leading indicator, rather than a direct measure of success. They only tell us when we’re moving in the right direction. Success isn’t achieved until the website gets more visitors and those visitors become leads or customers.
#3 Make an Independent Decision
You can also have problems with your new SEO company if you make the hiring decision in a vacuum. SEO is not a discipline that’s practiced in isolation. The golden road to SEO success involves collaboration among your social media manager, online reputation manager, content producers and website design manager. Your product folks and leadership team may need to participate too.
Involve your key players in the decision process, so they’re not blindsided by the requests and needs of the new SEO company. The last thing you need is division among your digital marketing professionals.
#4 Take the Hands-free Option
For the same reasons as above, it’s a red flag if an SEO pro says she can work alone. At a minimum, you’ll need to support your SEO provider with clear communication of your business goals, who your customer is, what your product is, etc.
The best SEO results come from creativity that’s built on a thorough understanding of your customer at all stages of the buying cycle. Your SEO company needs to get that information from you to be successful. And, if you don’t have it, your SEO company should either guide you through the process of getting it or refer you to someone who can.
Your SEO company needs some support from you and your team. Without it, they may not be aligned with your business goals and customer needs.
#5 Accept that You Don’t Understand
You don’t need to understand what alt tags are, but you do need to understand the strategy. When you accept ignorance, you stop asking questions. That’s why the biggest mistake you can make when hiring an SEO company is accepting that you don’t understand.
Don’t ever feel dumb asking SEO questions. Reputable SEOs expect you to ask tons of questions. They know their field is misunderstood, and they want you to be comfortable. They need your support after all, and they’re more likely to get it if you are 100% onboard with the strategy.
You can pick a reliable SEO partner even if you know little about the field. Rely on your business instincts and trust radar, and don’t believe anything that sounds too good to be true.
This article originally appeared on the Speak digital marketing blog and has been republished with permission.
The process of chosing an SEO agency is unarguably a complicated one. I really liked your way of approaching the topic and listing (in my opinion) the really important things to consider before hiring an agency. We just recently conducted an international market study on the state of SEO agencies in 2014 whose findings pretty much correlate with the information given in your article. I’d love to hear your opinion on it, so please feel free to have a look at the corresponding infographic and let me know what you think of it. http://blog.linkbird.com/en/infographics/state-of-seo-agencies/
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