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Questions to ask Yourself before Hiring an SEO

Communication is the key to successful SEO. Before you can adequately communicate with others you need to know what your goals are. If you do not have set goals then it is going to be hard for your SEO do to exactly what you want them to.

Am I prepared to wait at least a few months to see any return on my investment?

You can see returns from pay per click marketing in as little as a few days, but the feedback loop for SEO (especially in Google) can take many months.

Do I realize there is risk in any form of SEO?

Aggressive SEO may return greater results, but also stands a greater chance of being penalized by search engines. In any business venture you should weigh your risk and reward. Most websites do not require the use of techniques that will likely get your website banned from search engines.

Some common aggressive SEO techniques are cloaking, creating doorway pages, and setting up a link farm. If an SEO tells you they are doing something just for spiders (especially if it is hidden from site visitors) then they are likely using aggressive techniques.

Even if a person is not aggressive there still is some risk in any SEO service.

Some of the more common search engine penalties are:

  • Filtering out duplicate content. Yahoo! also actively edits their search results to remove low quality websites which lack original useful content.
  • Removing sites from the index for exchanging links with link farms.
  • Removing sites for using invisible or illegible text.
  • Removing sites for using deceptive redirects or cloaking.
  • Penalizing sites for using the same inbound link text over and over again.
  • Penalizing sites for openly selling PageRank.
  • Penalty for using expired domains. Google has penalized some sites for reusing expired domains.
  • Since search algorithms can change tomorrow it is impossible to create a complete list of potential penalties. Search engines try hard not to flag false positives. Across the web few sites are penalized, but the more aggressive you are the greater the likelihood you will be penalized.

Different search engines place emphasis on different parts of their algorithms and find spam using different techniques. In most job fields if a person does a bad job you may be forced to buy again. In SEO if a person gets your site penalized you may need to spend to undue what they did and then spend again on new services. Bad SEO services are extremely expensive in terms of time and money.

  • Yahoo! actively edits their search results. If an editor flags your website you will likely be required to pay the $99 Overture Site Match program inclusion fees to get your site listed. They will immediately accept payment, but your site errors will need to be corrected before they list your site in search results.
  • Google does permanently penalize some websites. Most sites that receive an automated penalty can be relisted in Google within 60 days from removing the problem from their site.

Do I have any knowledge about SEO?

If not: why shouldn't I take a few days learning before my investment? You can learn free at sites like Search Engine Watch & Search Engine Guide. SEO is also an industry filled with slang and jargon. Definitions for some SEO and search engine terms are located here and here.

What words or phrases would I expect people to search for to find my site? (These words or phrases are called keywords.)

Digital Point’s Keyword Suggestion Tool provides rough search volume traffic estimates. (Please note: Overture traffic estimates on the Digital Point tool run a bit high because Overture lumps together singular and plural traffic and automated bots scour the Overture distribution network.) WordTracker is a more full featured keyword tool that many professional SEOs use, but it too can be off with its search volumes.

The best way to find out search volume is to create an ad on Google AdWords and Overture and bid enough to know your ad will show on every search. Please note this is an expensive technique in many fields.

Who is my competition?

If you are uncertain who your competition is search a couple of the various major search engines for some of you primary keywords and take note of the top ranking websites. If you have no idea who your competition is then you have no idea what you are up against.

What profit potential exists using my current business model?

If it is a large sum of money then odds are your industry is competitive. You can get a rough estimate of industry competition (and thus profit potential) by using the Digital Point keyword suggestion tool to look at search frequency and view Overture bid prices.

Please note the Overture search volume estimates do often run high (sometimes 10 fold or more on competitive terms) because of automated bots scouring their distribution network. These two tools should give you an idea if there is much competition and perhaps value in your market.

Hiring an SEO is not economically possible for all webmasters, and there are many effective non search engine related ways to promote your site on products over the web.

Is my business model original? Is something other than price my unique selling proposition? Does my business idea naturally want to spread?

If your answer is no to these questions: are there ways you can improve your message or business model before investing thousands of dollars into spreading it?

Many webmasters buy SEO services before they are even sure of their business model or unique sales proposition. You should know what message you want to spread before you heavily invest in spreading it.

It is far easier to build link popularity into non commercial sites than it is with completely commercial sites. Providing useful information builds trust and can help build your link popularity.

Does my site look attractive compared to that of my competition? Is my site as functional as my competitors sites are?

If not perhaps you should have redesign done before or during the SEO process. It is far easier to spread your message if your site looks good.

Also SEO is a numbers game. If your site is not focused on conversion and your competitors are they will easily be able to reinvest profits and take market share from you.

Do I need pay per click marketing, organic SEO or both?

It may make sense to do both or just either one. They are slightly different skill sets though. Both have different setbacks and benefits. You may want to use pay per click marketing first to iron out conversion issues before investing heavily into SEO.

It may be worth doing both types of marketing concurrently if you have a great idea and know you have found a great SEO firm.

Is my site indexed by the major search engines?

You should check to see if your site is already in the search engine indexes and see how many pages are indexed. If only part of your site is indexed you may be able to make a few quick changes to make your site more search engine friendly.

You can search most major search engines for site:www.mysite.com and see how many pages are indexed.

What do the search engines say about the SEO firm I want to hire?

I would not recommend buying SEO from a firm because they rank well, but the search engines can tell you a decent amount about an SEO firm.

Some SEO firms do not rank well because they get most of their business from referrals and spend little time promoting their sites. If the SEO firm has a site it should show up when you search for their URL. If an SEO firm does not show up in search results when you search for their URL then likely they are being penalized. If their site is being penalized the odds are good that your site may get penalized. To see if their site is in the Google index search Google for cache:www.TheirWebsite.com.

You may also want to look through the search results of various search engines to see what other people are saying about your prospective SEO firm. Obviously the SEO field has many marketers in it. Some stuff that is posted might not be true, but if you have seen dozens of websites saying how awful an SEO firm is that is certainly a reason to use caution.

You may also want to check the backlinks of the SEO firm. Likely you should see some links from other SEO type websites or webmaster resources in their backlinks. If they have a large quantity of inbound links from casino, drug, and other high margin off topic sites and have no other links from SEO type websites then that would likely raise a flag in my mind.

This SEO firm called me with a great deal!!!

Quality SEOs do not have enough time to call people out of the blue. Quality SEOs work off referrals and from inquiries. If a firm calls you out of the blue they do not understand the power of reverse broadcast networks and are likely lousy at their job.

Should I buy the cheapest SEO?

Small SEO investments are likely a waste of money for multiple reasons.

Almost any quality SEO can create a topical site about their interests which produces hundreds to thousands of dollars of automated income a month without needing to worry about customers.

If you are only paying a few hundred dollars for SEO you should ask yourself “Why are they willing to work for me so cheap? Are they going to do anything, or are they just taking my money?”

If you are spending fewer than $500 you must realize that anyone else will likely be able to spend around what you are spending or spend a small amount more and steal your market position.

As long as your business model is functional it is a good idea to overspend to protect your position. The web grows with or without you so it does not hurt to overspend to ensure you will maintain your position for a decent amount of time.

If you are in a high margin field such as credit, prescription drugs, porn, or casinos you should expect to pay at least 5 figures and some ongoing fee.