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Lucy Griffiths

5 Questions You Should Be Asking Before Outsourcing SEO

23rd Apr 2010 SEO Blog 6 minutes to read

We look at the vital questions that you need to be asking your potential SEO Company before signing on the dotted line.

At Koozai we deal with a number of enquiries every day about how we can help companies improve their search engine visibility. Some prospective clients have an understanding of SEO, some don’t. This is what you would expect.

But for those who don’t know exactly what search engine optimisation is, outsourcing it can be a real leap of faith. You have invested time and money into creating a website that you’re proud of. This website is there to promote your business, products or services; therefore it is only right that you want it to succeed. Then you have to pass it over to somebody else to do work that you may not even be completely aware of; not easy.

SEO Sharks and Wolves

SEO still has something of a reputation for being a dark art [see: Is SEO Essential or an Outmoded Scam Touted by Charlatans? Part I]. This isn’t completely without justification either. There are sharks out there, looking for a good opportunity feast on unsuspecting website owners. But worse still are the wolves in sheep’s clothing

These are a collection of seemingly qualified, established and successful SEO practitioners who will take risks with your site’s reputation to hoodwink you into believing the statistical hype. Yes your site will get links, it will, in all likelihood, improve Google rankings and you will see a rise in traffic as a consequence.

They have no qualms dropping you into a pool of links, along with other clients and third party sites. These so-called link farms work a treat; that is until they are discovered of course. One errant link picked up the Googlebot, one whistleblower going to the search engines, one tiny shred of evidence and your site, along with all the others, will disappear into the search engine abyss.

Why? Because Google hates link farms. They are there to game the algorithm and, funnily enough, this doesn’t sit too well with the powers that be. Therefore, as punishment, you will most likely see your rankings fall and have all your hard work nullified.

Still not convinced? Well, take a look at the Google Webmaster Tools Help page for Link Schemes. Here is a rather telling extract from that self same page:

However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include:

Links intended to manipulate PageRank
Links to web spammers or bad neighborhoods on the web
Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
Buying or selling links that pass PageRank

So, question one to definitely ask your prospective SEO company is:

How will you build my link profile, do you use black hat methods like link farms?

This is particularly pertinent if the SEO expert in question is promising to boost your PageRank and linking profile by an inordinate amount over a short period of time. If they can’t provide assurances that all their methods are ethical, don’t go near them.

A website is your property and it has a lot of value, both financially and personally. No SEO should be willing to risk that for financial gain.

Some companies will promise a number one ranking in Google within X amount of months, or a 300% increase in traffic. Both of these are empty promises; as we have already covered, there are no guarantees in SEO.

There’s nothing wrong with offering targets or outlining the expectations for both rankings and traffic, but bold claims like these should be taken with a pinch shovel load of salt.

(Trick) Question two should be:

What guarantees do you offer for traffic and Google search engine rankings?

If the answer is anything but ‘we don’t make guarantees, however we have achieved major increases for clients in the past and are confident that we can do the same for you’, then alarm bells should be well and truly ringing.

Another issue you may have is with the length of time you’re contracted in with an SEO firm. If things aren’t going well, your budget becomes stretched or you don’t have a good working relationship with your agency, you want to be able to get out. Don’t get tied into a long-term agreement that will end up costing you thousands and return next to nothing; find a company with the confidence to offer shorter, bespoke packages that will suit your changing requirements.

Question three therefore is:

How long will I be tied into a contract for?

A big issue faced by most site owners when they come to outsource any aspect of their business is confidence. If you have never worked with someone and you are allowing them access to the inner-workings of your company (in this instance, the website) you want to know that they can be trusted.

You wouldn’t just hand over the keys to your bricks and mortar store to a near stranger who claims to be an expert in building traffic would you? Therefore it is only natural that you would treat your online presence in the same fashion.

So rather than just doing a Google search and picking a few SEO contacts from the first, do some digging. Find some trustworthy reviews and see what the word on the street is. You will get a far better idea of what you can expect if you get a personal recommendation or can find plenty of positive feedback from clients new and old.

Go on their website. Look for some case studies or testimonials and see who is on their client list. This is at least evidence that the SEO Company in question has some experience in the field and is willing to share this information publicly.

If you aren’t able to find anything on them, your fourth question should be:

Can you provide testimonials or client contacts to get a reference?

Those who can provide neither should go back to the bottom of the pile.

You should always remember that SEO isn’t just about getting in traffic for traffic’s sake. Whilst your site could be ranking well for a phrase, that very same phrase could have little to do with what you actually offer; therefore any visitors that land on your site are soon going to discover this and will, in all likelihood, scarper.

Your SEO should be relevant. You need to be targeting keywords and terms that your potential customers are looking for; not just phrases that are popular. It is easy to become blinded by statistics and green arrows on your rankings report, what you really need is focus.

Return on investment is your real target. SEO can help you achieve this, but only when done properly. So what you should be asking with your fifth question is:

How will you help me attract customers, not just visitors?

By asking these five simple questions you should be able to sort the SEO wheat from the chaff. You don’t need to go to the biggest or most expensive agency to be assured of a decent service, you just need to be aware of exactly what you are getting in to.

Search engine optimisation is a fantastic way to promote your business and improve the revenue you get from your website. Whilst they are few and far between, there are sharks out there that have latched onto this and are exploiting it as a consequence. By being confident about what you are looking for and doing a little investigating, you can successfully navigate around these unsavoury types and get the service you deserve.

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