Like most industries, the Internet Marketing industry has its fair share of scam artists and poor performers with a slick sales message. Here are a few pointers to help you understand if the guy with the shiny suite and white smile is worth your time and money..
1. Were you cold called by the person offering you
If so, huge black mark. I don't care what they are promising, but if they have to cold call to get clients they are probably not that good. The reason is there is a shortage of savvy internet marketers and anyone who is any good does not need to cold call. Internet marketers should be good at, ahem, marketing . If they can't find clients for themselves, what makes you believe they can help your business find clients?
2. Are Their Own Search Rankings Misleading?
What some companies do is to drive rankings for a few keywords with a significant investment in 'paid links. It costs a lot of money, but if it gets them to number one in the search rankings, they can then use that to impress prospective clients. They can do this over and over recouping the cost of the paid links by way of increased sales and billing rates. So, If they only show you one site and after investigation you find out it is their own, and ranks for just a few key terms, beware. Some level of paid-link driven optimization is fine, but that shouldn't be their only approach.
3. Who is actually going to do the work?
In search engine optimization for example, a lot of companies will operate as a sales operation in the US and have a bunch of people in India, Philippines or any other developing country with relatively low labor costs. Not that you can't get quality work out of these countries, you can. But because you can never talk to the people who actually do the work , it is difficult to monitor the quality. Also, a lot of offshore SEO work tends to indulge in practices which Google frowns upon, endangering your site with a complete ban or penalty.
4. Talk to the person who will work on your
Like talking to the garage mechanic, an SEO professional can easily confuse you with language that does not explain things. This does not have to be the case. It is perfectly reasonable to be expected to be spoken to using common English. Some shady characters will like to use big and complicated terms like "Latent Semantic Indexing" to baffle you into thinking they know what they are talking about. Do not feel stupid because you have to ask questions. Ask lots of questions and make sure you speak to the person who is actually going to work on your project.
5. Never trust a guarantee
If a search marketing professional guarantees you a #1 spot on Google for any keyword, end the conversation and show them the door. The only company who gets to decide whether or not you rank number one in Google is Google. There are many factors which go into the search results page and only a limited number of them are actually in the hands of your search marketing professional. What you want is not a gurantee of rankings, but credible assurances that they have the experience and expertise needed -- and that they will actually spend time and energy on your project.
6. Stay away from black hat SEOs
You may have heard the term black hat and white hat search engine optimizers. "Black hat" is a broad term for those practices that do not follow search engine guidelines and use tricks to coerge the search engines to rank content that would not otherwise (and should not otherwise) rank. Over the long-term, black hat practices rarely work. For small businesses, it's almost always a bad idea to try black hat approaches -- you will be out-gunned at best and penalized or banned at worst. [For more on this topic, read " Silly Rabbit, Tricks are for Black Hat SEOs "]
Internet marketing is becoming an increasingly important way for businesses to reach their best prospects. However, the industry is still relatively new and it can often be hard to find the right professionals to help you.
If you've recently hired (or considered hiring) an internet marketing consultant, would love to read your experiences in the comments. I think increasing transparency and raising the overall level of awareness is a good thing.
The above article was written in collaboration with Lyndon Antcliff , a social media marketing expert.
For more tips on picking an SEO consultant, read " 7 Signs You Should Run Screaming From An SEO Consultant ".