A needle in an SEO-stack
Finding a good SEO is as difficult as finding a good accountant*. There’s an abundance of options to choose from, most look good on paper, and they usually sound good when you reach out to them. More importantly still, there’s a good chance that you don’t have the right skills when it comes to separating the sub-standard bullshitters from the trustworthy experts.
So consider this a starting point: a non-exhaustive list of points to consider when choosing an SEO consultant, written by an SEO consultant. If you have other ideas to add to the list, please send them my way, as this could prove to be a useful resource.
So in no particular order:
If you approach me with a view to considering using our services, there’s a lot that I’ll need to know before we can get anywhere close to discussing a price. I’ll want to know details of your SEO history, who you consider to be your competition, how much organic traffic you receive at the present time, the quality of that traffic, whether you’ve been doing anything you shouldn’t, your link history and more.
If your SEO consultant is asking a lot of questions from the outset, it may be a little irritating, but it’s actually a good sign. If they’re just going to plug your site into their crappy automated software that does nothing worthwhile, they won’t need this information.
Access to data:
The only way that I can begin to understand how your website is performing on the search engines is to take a look at the website itself, your Google Analytics data and your Google Webmaster Tools account. This can then be followed up by a quick look at what shows up when I search for your obvious keywords.
Yes it’s a nuisance for me to explain how to set up the access, yes it’s time consuming for me to even just dip my toes into the data, but without this it would be impossible for me to get a realistic understanding of your situation.
Two rules of thumb have been helpful to me over the years. Never give a sales pitch unless it’s specifically asked for, and always be generous with sharing information freely.
Once an SEO consultant has dipped their toes into your data, website and general situation, they will have a pretty good idea of some of the issues that need to be fixed before they can really sink their teeth into your project.
I’m always happy to share our findings with a potential client, whether or not they choose to use our services. I don’t believe that my sending them a list of dead links, incorrect redirects, duplicate content or even a full site audit will make or break them signing up with our services. If they want to fix these things on their own, and go no further with their SEO, then they should do so. And as a buyer of other products and services myself, nothing irritates me quite as much as the “pay and we’ll tell” approach.
If your potential SEO consultant really doesn’t want to share their site audit with you, I’d be concerned that this will be the backbone of their work efforts. Not a good sign.
We’re still (sadly) a long way off from the Droids of Star Wars being a reality, so the present reality is that SEO tools don’t do SEO. But an SEO’s tools are every bit as important to their work as those of a mechanic – if not more so. Most SEO tools are clumsy, inaccurate and/or pointless. So an SEO’s choice of tools says a lot about the work that they do.
For example we use the following main tools:
Moz – all-round powertool for most aspects of inbound marketing, with phenomenal reporting capabilities.
Raven Tools – fantastically powerful suite of tools for SEO, content marketing and PPC.
ahrefs - reliable and thorough link reporting and analysis.
Screaming Frog Spider Tool – incredibly useful desktop application for spidering websites.
Agency Metrics – excellent reporting tool that connects the dots beautifully.
When a potential client asks me about which tools we use, I not only consider the question reasonable, but view it as an indication that I may be dealing with someone with an above-average understanding of SEO.
And most decent SEOs will tell you that they generally prefer educated and knowledgeable clients than clueless – speaking from an SEO perspective of course.
How to handle (not provided):
Remember the film Deep Impact? Remember the scenes of pieces of comet debris hitting the earth?
That’s more or less what most SEOs initially imagined once they knew what was coming their way. Yet incredibly, there are still an incredible number of self-proclaimed SEOs who not only don’t have a solution for dealing with (not provided), but in some cases don’t even know what (not provided) is.
Your SEO should have a good methodology and approach in place. (not provided) is far from an insurmountable problem.
Oh and by the way, Deep Impact came out more than 15 years ago. Oh yes.
Why are my rankings so low?
I like this question, mainly because while there are a fair number of right answers, there are many more wrong answers.
Wrong answers may include (but not be limited to) anything to do with PageRank, AdWords, spend, algae-rhythms, social media and more.
You should be able to get a feel for how much the SEO knows by how they answer this question. And don’t be too discouraged if the answer isn’t 100% clear. There will often be a combination of different factors responsible for your rankings.
How will progress be monitored?
Ultimately the client gets to decide the answer to this question, as they’ll be deciding whether or not to continue when the next invoice arrives.
In days gone by I would have paid a great deal of attention to the volume of traffic for significant and high-converting keywords, but those times have now passed. A good rule of thumb is to keep an eye on performance of the organic traffic. For example if the volume of organic traffic increases, and so do the performance indicators and conversion rates, then something is obviously working correctly.
No-one with any degree of credibility can make any guarantees when it comes to SEO. The reason is simple. As well as depending on your website/s and incoming links, your incoming organic traffic will also be affected by your competition’s websites, their incoming links, and obviously Google’s presentation of results, and their algorithms and updates. It is simply impossible to make any sort of guarantee when it comes to SEO.
If your SEO makes any promises about rankings or results, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
There are plenty more ideas for ascertaining how much an SEO knows about their field. If you have any more I’ll be happy to include (and attribute) any good suggestions to this article. Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Note: This post focuses almost entirely on choosing an SEO. When it comes to choosing an accountant, I managed to strike gold by sheer luck. Our old accountant charged far too much, did very little for the money and had a knack of making everything seem overly complicated. We’ve been with our current accountant for just over three years, and I can’t believe how lucky we are. For example he likes to put clients in touch with each other when they can both benefit. We’ve acquired a fair number of successful clients in this way. Other accountants out there: why are you not doing this? If you’re based in the UK and wondering how to find a great accountant, your search is over.