How A Small Business Should Choose An SEO Provider
When it comes to SEO, Small Business people are almost in a Catch-22 situation. They need SEO to stay competitive and they’re too busy running their business to do it themselves, so they have to outsource. However, they have a small budget, limited knowledge & limited ability to oversee the process in order to protect their investment. Unfortunately, I’ve seen these people as the easiest prey for either unscrupulous SEO’s who take their money and either not perform or perform worthless services that won’t help the business achieve their SEO goals.
What are some ways Small Business Owners can protect themselves and their SEO investment?
Get Knowledgeable Themselves: It’s really unlikely that a Small Business Owners would enter a marketplace, take out a lease, or buy capital equipment without doing research and becoming somewhat knowledgeable about their choice. Why should SEO be any different? While they don’t need to know the wherefores and whys about Panda / Penguin, they should be familiar with how a search engine works and what sorts of rating factors Google uses to evaluate websites. SEOmoz recently updated their SEO Beginners Guide and there is enough good information here that can empower a Small Business Owner to be better at evaluating prospective SEO vendors.
Get A Trusted Recommendation: One of the safest ways to choose an SEO (when you know little or nothing about SEO) is to work with somebody that has already achieved results for a colleague whose judgment you trust and whose business is similar to yours in scope and size. However, even in this situation, I wouldn’t just take the person’s word at face value…I’d try to ask probing questions to delineate some of the positive outcomes from the engagement. While I wouldn’t expect your colleague to share confidential business data, they should be able to give you general indications as to how web traffic and lead generation / sales have changed as a result of the SEO engagement.
Social Media: While SEO’s aren’t always the most social group of people, it’s pretty much accepted that SEO’s marketing themselves should have a web presence. Google the person’s name, and if the name is common, Google the name + “SEO”. If the person is active in their industry, you should see some mix of industry references, social media accounts / musings, and (best of all) blog posts. I would be very wary of engaging with an SEO that doesn’t have any web presence. Pay particular attention to their LinkedIn page. A well-developed LinkedIn page showing the SEO with connections to many in the industry (especially with LinkedIn Recommendations) won’t guarantee you a good SEO engagement, but will guarantee you are considering a person with industry visibility who others can vouch for.
Watch For Red Flags: Any SEO you hire should be totally transparent as to the tactics they would utilize on your behalf…if they aren’t willing to be open and forthright, don’t work with them under any circumstances. If they offer any sort of guarantee (besides their best efforts), run away fast…there are no guarantees in SEO. If they won’t give you any references or they don’t have a professional website with contact information, they’re more likely to be operating on the “SEO Fringe” and the risk factor for such an engagement goes up exponentially. If they talk about buying links on your behalf, that is a sign they’re breaking Google’s guidelines…while buying links might work for a while, it is high risk and not appropriate for a Small Business engagement.
In closing, it’s really important that a Small Business use the same due diligence to select their SEO as they would their lawyer or accountant. SEO can provide a huge business ROI…however, the wrong SEO choice can damage the business greatly. If you are considering an SEO that comes across as the 21st Century version of Earl Schieb / Tom Peterson, you might want to look elsewhere.