First off, a disclaimer. I'm not an SEO consultant and I don't play one on TV. But, because my startup, HubSpot is in the internet marketing software business, I've had to learn a fair amount about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) . I've found it to be a fascinating industry and have embedded a lot of what I discovered into our (currently free) website grader . Website Grade, among other things, is an SEO tool which makes some simple suggestions on improving the SEO of a website .
Many business executives I talk to are in the process of evaluating their internet marketing strategy , and the topic of SEO is often near the top of the list. Below are a few tell-tale signs that you're probably talking to someone on the wrong end of the cluefulness spectrum and as such, you should be looking for the nearest exit.
7 Simple Signs You Should Be Running Screaming From An SEO Consultant
1. References Unknown "Experts": Instead of citing known and trusted sources like Aaron Wall (from SEOBook.com ) or Rand Fishkin (from SEOmoz ), they make vague references to "experts" that have given them "proprietary" insights and strategies. In my mind, the SEO industry is a bit like the encryption industry. Those that are really good are the ones that talk openly and to put their ideas out on the web for public debate and discussion.
2. Suggests Specific Keyword Densities: He tells you that your content should be written with a primary focus on making sure you embed all the right keywords as frequently as possible. Run away faster if he tells you that the optimal keyword desnity is 14.2%. My guess is that the average engineer at Google is likely smarter than the average SEO consultant. As such, you're better off writing content that people will enjoy and link to instead of writing content to try and lure the search engines into ranking you higher. Sure, your keywords should be in there, but try to make it "natural" sounding.
3. Manic Directory Submissions: She offers to submit your website to a bunch of online directories. Run away faster if she suggests that she has a proprietary list of "high quality" directories that nobody else knows about. There were a ton of these "submit your website to 478 directories" tools that came out a while back. I'm going to argue that most of the directories that let just about anyone in are likely not worth much to you.
4. Overly Focused On Link Buying: Shortly after a $2,000 "assessment" project, his first step is to ask you to create a $5,000 monthly budget to buy links. Anybody can buy links. Many can even buy good links. But, there needs to be some effort to create high-quality inbound links that you're not paying for every month. SEO strategies , particularly in the B2B SEO sector, should be about leverage . It's going to be hard to find arbitrage opportunities (i.e. buying links for less than they're actually worth) by going to what are increasingly becoming "efficient" marketplaces.
5. Naive Use Of Social Sites: She offers to submit your site to the popular sites like digg, reddit and StumbleUpon. Run away faster if she suggests she's got an army of drones in Fictitioustan that will vote on your articles and get you on the front page of digg and drive a bunch of traffic. One reason is that you might just succeed in getting your site's URL banned. Another is that unless the article is interesting and useful, you're not going to get a lot of link-love anyways, so there's minimal SEO value.
6. Black Hat Practices: He suggests any form of black hat (or dark gray hat) techniques like putting hidden text on pages, redirecting users to a completely different site, offering different content to search engines vs. human users or anything that sounds like it's a misguided attempt to "trick" the search engines. Once again, see note #1: If I had to bet on a Google engineer vs. an SEO consultant, I'd bet on the Google engineer. Besides, it's not a fair fight.
7. Overly Complicated Explanations: They can't explain the rationale behind their strategy and approach in ways that a relatively intelligent person (i.e. you) can understand. Though search engine optimization can be nuanced, unless you're in a highly competitive sector, you don't need a PhD from MIT to understand some of the simple, but effective basic practices.
These are just some of the obvious signs that came to me at midnight. I have a ton more that are more subtle (and a big collection of "positive" signals too). If there's sufficient interest, I'l post a follow-up article with some of those.
Have you interviewed or hired an SEO consultant recently? If so, would love to hear your thoughts about the experience (both before and after). If you have any other tips along the lines of the above, would love to hear them. Please leave a comment.