9 Things to Know and Do When Picking an SEO Firm

By Peter Kent

Picking a good SEO firm is a little like picking a good multilevel-marketing firm. You might get lucky and get rich, but far more likely is that you’ll waste a lot of time and money.

In fact, one of the most common questions is, “How do I hire an SEO firm?” So, here are nine things you need to know and do when looking for an SEO firm that is worth the money you’ll be paying.

You don’t need an SEO firm to optimize your site

You actually don’t need an SEO firm to optimize your site. Ideally, the people building the site should be doing that.

Remember, SEO is essentially about two different things:

  • On-page optimization

  • Off-page optimization (for example, linking)

In most cases, when you sign up for a third-party SEO service to optimize your site, very little gets done, and some really important page-optimization issues are ignored. It’s hard for a third-party firm to come in and restructure your site, creating good keyworded URLs, for instance, or rebuilding your page templates to use H1 tags, or implementing extensive internal linking — and thus, they don’t. Instead, the SEO service tweaks a few things here and there, such as by fixing title tags and description tags (usually badly) and creating keyword meta tags (mostly pointless).

Hiring a third-party firm to optimize your site is, in most circumstances, a bad strategy. Rather, the team that is building and maintaining the site needs to understand optimization and optimize as it builds.

So what’s the role of an SEO firm? It’s all about linking. It doesn’t make sense to hire an outside firm to do on-page optimization, so that leaves the other part of the equation, linking. If you plan to hire an SEO firm, focus on linking.

There is one exception: a situation in which an SEO firm is going to come in and take over your entire website for you. Then that firm has control over everything and can make all the necessary changes. This doesn’t mean it’ll do a good job, necessarily, but a good firm could, in such a situation, do a good job. The average SEO firm, without having full control but instead just tweaking a few on-page issues here and there, won’t.

Find firms through referrals

Perhaps the best way to find an SEO firm is through referrals. Do you have friends or colleagues who have worked with a good SEO firm, one that actually did help their sites rise through the search ranks? If so, that firm’s a good place to start.

Unfortunately, you probably dont have a friend or colleague who has successfully hired a good SEO firm, so you’re going to have to dig a little deeper.

Look for niche services

Some of the better SEO firms focus on particular areas, such as the legal business, insurance firms, or medical clinics.

So, you might look around and see whether you can find any firms working in your particular business. However, beware: Many firms focusing on a particular niche dont do a good job.

Understand what the firm is providing — sdpecifically

SEO firms love to blind with science. It’s easy to do, because most people don’t understand SEO. So ask specific questions about what the firm will deliver to you.

For instance, when a firm says, “We’ll get you blog links,” you can ask, “What does that mean?” What kind of blog links? Are they follow or nofollow links? Are they on sites that are indexed by Google? How many links? How many different blogs? And so on.

Understand what the firm expects of you

Here’s a common SEO scam. You sign up for an SEO program, the SEO firm does a little work for you, but then it starts sending you emails telling you what you should be doing. Eventually, you realize that the service you signed up for involves the firm telling you what to do!

“Here are some good blogs related to your business,” an email from the SEO firm states. “You should get links from them.” Following is a list of blogs, something that took the firm all of ten minutes to put together. That’s its work for the month.

So, before you sign up to spend your hard-earned money, make sure you understand what your prospective firm is going to expect you to do.

Look at samples

Before you start, make sure you see examples of the firm’s work. If you are hiring a firm to do on-page work, take a look at sites it has done. What did it do? Did it do it well? Are the title and description tags good? Are the URLs well keyworded? Do the pages use H1 tags, have good keywords scattered throughout, and so on? (After you’ve taken a look, you’ll probably decide that it isn’t worthwhile to hire a firm for on-page optimization.)

If you’re using a firm to create links, do a link analysis on sites it has worked for in the past, using a tool like Moz Open Site Explorer, ahrefs Sitee Explorer, or MajesticSEO. See what sort of links it’s creating and how many. Are they good links? That is, well keyworded, follow (not nofollow) links, ideally from sites with some PageRank (although that’s not always essential). Are the sites the links come from indexed in Google? Is there a range of different types of links?

Whatever you do, do not hire the firm until you’ve seen, and evaluated, what it can do for you.

Ask for references

You should also ask for references or simply call the owners of sites you know the SEO firm has worked for and ask them how their experience was. Did their site’s rank improve in the search engines? Did the firm do what it said it would?

SEO work can be expensive, so a little time spent checking references can save you a lot of money.

Compare dollar for dollar

After you understand what you are getting, services become easier to compare. If you’re not paying for on-page optimization especially, you can even figure out pricing per link.

It’s often possible to get good keyworded links from sites with a PageRank of 2 to 4 for $3 to $6 per link, or low-value links (low PageRank links, for instance) for as little as 10 cents a link. On the other hand, low-cost links like that are bound to be “purchased” links — garbage links. They’re the sort of links that the search engines hate.

Will the firm provide reports?

Make sure you’ll get reports; ask to see an example and make sure the reports provide useful information that you can understand. Many millions of dollars have been spent on SEO without the clients knowing what they are getting in return. (Think of this as faith-based SEO.)

It’s an old management adage that you cant manage what you dont measure. If you don’t get reports, you’re not measuring, you’re not managing — and you’re quite possibly being scammed.