How To Evaluate An SEO Company

Have you ever received a message sent through your site’s contact form that went something like this:

Hi! In case you are wondering why you are not receiving more Google visitors, you should know that your site is not ranking at all for many important keywords. We can get you first page spots for your keywords and increase your search traffic. Be in touch with us [email protected]

If you have, I hope you ignored it.

Spammy offers sent through a contact form (or worse, as comments on your blog posts or company Facebook page) are dead giveaways of a company with whom you do not want to do business.

But even if you actively sought out an SEO firm, there are plenty of fly-by-night companies out there that you might land on by mistake. Unprofessional operations will – at the least – take your money and not do anything productive. At most, they could do actual damage to your site’s standing in search engines with their “SEO techniques”.

How do you know when to stay away?

The following are three tip-offs that will help you keep your money in your pocket – ready to give to a better contender.

1) They pick keywords without performing competition analysis

Ask the company how they will decide on the keywords for your site.

If the answer sounds like, “We use our heads and/or a tool to brainstorm all the possible keywords that might be relevant for your market. We use a tool to find the search volume for each of those keywords. We optimize your site for the relevant keywords with the highest search volume” – stay away! You may end up having a well-optimized site for your keywords – but if you’re competing against the likes of Apple, IBM and Wikipedia for the same keywords– you ain’t got a fighting chance.

Instead, the answer should be something like: “We use our heads and/or a tool ( to brainstorm all the possible keywords that might be relevant for your market.

For any keyword they end up suggesting, a good SEO company should be able to tell you why they chose that keyword and not a different one. Ask. Request to see their documents with recorded search volume and analysis of the competition. A good SEO company will be transparent.

2) They put keywords in the keywords meta-tag (and say it will help)

Putting keywords in the keywords meta-tag for a web page helped in ranking… about 10 years ago. About four years ago Google officially announced that they no longer look at the keywords meta-tag – and made it sound like it’s been that way for a while. So putting your keywords in the tag is only useful for revealing to your competitors what keywords you’re targeting. Not a great strategy.

If your SEO firm wants to use the keywords meta-tag, ask why. If they say, “To help in getting you to page one,” run! They are way behind in an ever changing and quickly evolving game. If they say, “To put fake keywords in to fool your competition,” your call.  Not my personal strategy, but not a red light as to their SEO-savvy.

3) They won’t tell you what their techniques are OR they tell you what their techniques are – and they consist of commenting on blogs and forums.

This is another example of the two traits mentioned above that are so critical in an SEO company:

    • Transparency
    • Keeping current with technology and trends

If either of those two are missing, do not pass go or collect $200. Walk away.

If they’re not transparent and won’t tell you what their techniques are, be suspicious. That doesn’t mean they need to share every last detail (wouldn’t it bore you?) But they should be able to walk you through the general strategy and techniques they use. If not, it would not be paranoid to suspect that either:

a) They’re using “black hat” techniques (things that are against Google’s Terms of Service and when discovered can get penalized)
b) They outsource their SEO work and don’t do most of it themselves (not uncommon when it comes to bigger companies that claim to do everything digital marketing related). If they’re outsourcing to qualified people and have a hand in what’s going on, that’s not necessarily bad – but if they can’t tell you the techniques, it gives you some idea of their measure of involvement in the process.

If they’re transparent, but they reveal that their SEO techniques are outdated, make like a tree and leave.  The list of techniques below are past their prime (especially when used excessively and/or in absence of any other strategy):

a) Registering your site in lots of directories
b) Commenting on other blogs and linking to your site in the comment
c) Commenting on forums and linking to your site in the signature
d) Putting lots of keywords, separated by commas, in the title tag
e) Take a look at this list of outdated SEO techniques

One more bonus tip-off: Be concerned if the SEO company “guarantees results” – especially if they do so before having spoken to you and gotten a feel for your niche.  To succeed in SEO usually means to come in above the other sites competing for a specified keyword. Your SEO company can’t control the competition and what the competition does.  It’s a little like a baseball coach guaranteeing that if the team hires him, they will win the championships.  Ask exactly what kind of results they “guarantee” and what happens if those results aren’t achieved. Make sure that’s written in whatever contract you sign… but again, I personally would shy away from companies making promises like that.

May you find the SEO firm of your dreams, that will not only take you to high rankings in Google, but to measurable success for your business!

Share small business news, blogs and social media tips with Project Eve's community of small business owners and entrepreneurs today. Our contributors come from a wide range of backgrounds; so whether you are a small business owner, social media strategist, financial adviser, serial entrepreneur, or write an amateur blog we urge you to contribute a blog to our 500,000+ community today. For more information, please refer to our Content Submissions Guidelines.

Add a Blog

1 COMMENT

  1. I enjoyed your article, Hilary. I’ve received the email you opened with many, many times. There’s been a shift in SEO from what you’ve described to today’s content marketing strategy, but so many people don’t realize. Unfortunately, they can be taken advantage of by SEO crooks. It goes to show the value of networking and making sure you surround yourself with people who can do what you can’t, so that you always have a resource to turn to for advice.

    Great article!