The phrase search engine optimization (SEO) is only gaining in prevalence with each passing day. Deciding to hire an SEO agency can be a major decision that could improve your website and save you considerable time, but you could also be at risk of damage to the website and your reputation.
Advertising with Google does not have any effect on your website’s presence in its search results. Google does not accept money to include or rank sites in search results, and it will cost nothing to appear in Google’s organic search results.
Resources such as Google Search Console, the official Google Search Central blog, and Google’s discussion forum can provide you with a lot of information about how to optimize your site for organic search. When you operate a small local business, you may be able to do a lot of the work yourself.
Good resources can include:
- The Google video series on building an online presence for a business
- Google Webmaster Guidelines
- An overview of how Google works, namely how it crawls, indexes, and serves the web
- The SEO starter guide describes a lot of what SEO can do for you.
You do not need to know the SEO starter guide well yourself when you are hiring a professional to do the SEO work for you, but it can be useful to be familiar with techniques so you can be aware if an SEO agency plans to use a technique that is not recommended or even strongly discouraged. The important thing to remember about SEO is that takes time to see results, typically four months to one year from the time you begin making changes until you begin seeing benefits.
When you think that you will need help from a professional, know how to choose an SEO agency. If you are thinking about hiring an SEO agency, the earlier you do it will be the better.
A great time to hire will be when you are considering a website redesign, or you are planning to launch a new website. At this time, you and your SEO agency can ensure that your website is designed to be search engine-friendly although a good SEO agency should be able to help you improve an existing website.
You need to be committed to implementing any recommended changes. Making any changes recommended by an SEO agency can take time and effort, so it is not worth hiring an agency if you are not going to take the time to make changes.
Interview your potential SEO agency and some useful questions to ask an agency could include:
- Did you have examples of your prior work and success stories?
- Do you provide online marketing services or advice to complement the organic search business?
- Do you adhere to the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
- What type of results do you expect to see, and what is your timeframe for these results?
- How will you measure your success?
- What is your specific experience in this industry?
- What is your experience in my country or city?
- What is your experience developing international websites?
- What do you consider to be your most important SEO techniques?
- How long have you been in business?
- How can I communicate with you? Will you share all the changes you make to my website with me and provide me with detailed information about all of your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
After asking these questions, you should see if the SEO agency is interested in you and your business. The agency itself should ask you questions such as who are your customers, what makes your business or service unique or valuable to customers, how can search results help, how does your business make money, what other advertising channels are you using, and who are your competitors?
Check your SEO agency’s business references and ask their past clients if they felt that this SEO agency was easy to work with, provided a useful service, and produced positive results. You should also ask for a technical and search audit for your website so you can learn what they are thinking needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and what the expected outcome should be.
You will probably have to pay for such an assessment and will probably have to give the agency read-only access to your website on Search Console. Do not grant them write access right away.
Your prospective SEO agency should give you realistic estimates of improvement, and an estimate of all the work involved. When they guarantee you that their changes will place you first place in search results, find someone else because that is never true.
While SEO agencies can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical agencies have given the industry a bad name by using overly aggressive marketing efforts and attempting to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways. Practices that violate Google guidelines can result in a negative adjustment of your website’s presence in Google or even removal of your website from the index.
When your SEO agency comes up with a set of recommendations for your website, ask them to confirm these recommendations with some kind of trusted source, such as a Google Search Central blog entry, Search Console help page, or Google-sanctioned response in the forum. Other things to consider include the common scam of creating “shadow” domains that funnel users to a website by using deceptive redirects.
Shadow domains often will be owned by the SEO agency claiming to be working on a client’s behalf. However, when a relationship sours, the SEO agency could point the domain to a different website, or even to a competitor’s domain.
Another illicit practice involves “doorway” pages loaded with keywords on the client’s site somewhere. The SEO agency may promise that this will make the page more relevant for more queries.
Such promises are inherently false because individual pages are rarely relevant for a wide range of keywords. Additionally, doorway pages usually contain hidden links to the SEO agency’s other clients as well.
Doorway pages can drain away the link popularity of a website and route it to the SEO agency and its other clients, which could include websites with unsavory or illegal content. Finally, avoid getting involved in any link schemes, such as buying links from other websites to increase your ranking.
Buying links is against Google’s quality guidelines and can result in manual action against some or all of your website, negatively affecting your website ranking. When you feel that you were deceived by an SEO agency in some way, you could report it.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the agency that handles complaints about deceptive or unfair business practices. You can file a complaint by visiting its website and clicking on “File a Complaint Online,” calling 1-877-FTC-HELP, or writing to:
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
If your complaint is against a business in a country other than the United States, file it at econsumer.gov. Be especially wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that email you out of the blue.
Always beware SEO agencies claiming to guarantee rankings, alleging a “special relationship” with Google, or advertising a “priority submit” to Google. Virtually all these promises are bogus, and the only way to directly submit a website to Google is through its URL Inspection Tool or by submitting a Sitemap, which you can do yourself.
Be careful when an agency is secretive or does not clearly explain what they intend to do. Ask for explanations if something is not made clear.
If an SEO agency creates deceptive or misleading content on your behalfs, such as “throwaway” domains or doorway pages, your website could be removed entirely from Google’s index. You need to remember that you will be responsible for the actions of any companies you hire, so it is in your best interest to be sure you know exactly how they intend to help you.
When an SEO agency has FTP access to your server, they should also be willing to explain all the changes they will be made to your website. Always avoid SEO agencies that talk about link popularity schemes or submitting your website to thousands of search engines.
While you are considering whether to hire an SEO agency, you could also benefit from research on the industry. Google does not sell better rankings in its search results, but several other search engines may combine pay-for-inclusion or pay-per-click results with their regular web search results.
Some SEO agencies may promise to rank you highly in these search engines, but then place you in an advertising section rather than in the organic search results. A few SEO agencies may even change their original bid prices in real-time to create the illusion that they are controlling other search engines and can place themselves in the slot of their choice.
A few other warning signs to be mindful of include an SEO agency that is:
- Guaranteeing rankings, but only on somewhat obscure, long keyword phrases you could get by yourself anyway
- Owning shadow domains
- Getting traffic from fake search engines, spyware, or scumware
- Putting links to their other clients on doorway pages
- Operating with multiple aliases or the falsified WHOIS info
- Offering to sell keywords in the address bar
- Having domains removed from Google’s index or is not its3elf listed in Google
- Not distinguishing between actual search results and ads that appear on search results pages
SEO Assistance in Houston, TX | SERP Matrix
SERP Matrix has a wealth of experience in SEO throughout the Houston area as well as many other cities in the United States. Call (713) 287-1134 or contact us online to set up a free consultation so we can review your case and talk to you about everything you are dealing with.