The two most important elements that qualify companies to promote themselves as SEO experts are competence and professionalism. And the way you find out if a company is competent and professional, as well as legitimate, is to do your due diligence and check their credentials thoroughly, by exercising good old common sense and following these steps:
1. Verify Their Contact Information
If the company provides a street address, Google it to see if it’s a real address. If they provide a telephone number, call the number to see if it’s answered by the company or an answering service. If they don’t provide a telephone number, walk away. SEO is serious business. You need to have the ability to talk to whomever is going to be handling your account. You need to be able to ask questions, and you have a right to expect your questions to be answered in a professional manner.
2. Talk to Previous Customers
If the SEO company publishes testimonials on their website, contact a few of their customers and get their feedback. If the company can’t provide testimonials, walk away, or if the testimonials don’t have contact information, they’re probably bogus. Walk away.
3. Visit Reputable SEO Forums
Visit reputable SEO forums like Jill Whalen’s High Rankings Forum to find out what forum members have to say about the company. If an SEO company has a bad reputation, it will race across the Internet at warp speed. Conversely, if a company has a good reputation, you will find that out also.
4. Check Their Better Business Bureau Record
Most companies who are members of the BBB post it on their website with a link to their record. Check their record to see if they have any complaints, but don’t panic if the company has complaints. All companies receive complaints from time to time. What you want to find out is whether or not the company has an inordinate amount of complaints, and how those complaints have been handled.
5. Check Them Out with Their State’s Attorney General’s Office
If the company is located in the United States, check them out with their state’s Attorney General’s Office, Division of Consumer Affairs. All companies aren’t members of the BBB so often unhappy or dissatisfied customers will file a report with the AG’s office to get satisfaction.
6. Check Them Out with Local Police Agencies
Before you give a company your hard-earned money, do your due diligence. In addition to checking them out with the BBB and AG, put a call into the police department in their city to see if they’re involved in fraudulent activities. You’d be surprised how cooperative many police agencies are when it comes to fighting fraud in their city.
7. Check Them Out with Online Scam Watch Sites
Like I mentioned a moment ago, if an SEO company has a bad reputation, it will race across the Internet at warp speed. If a company is ripping people off, someone will know about it. Before parting with your hard-earned money, always check companies out with various online scam watch sites like Scam.com.
8. Avoid Companies That Send You Unsolicited E-Mail (spam)
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times, legitimate companies don’t send unsolicited e-mail. They don’t send sp@m. Do you know what kind of companies send sp@m? Scam artists intent on ripping you off, that’s who. The best thing to do when you receive sp@m is delete it. Don’t open it, don’t read it, don’t consider it…delete it!
9. Avoid Companies That Aren’t Ranked Competitively
If an SEO company doesn’t have the ability to secure a competitive ranking for their own site, then how on earth can they secure a competitive ranking for yours? Answer: They can’t. While far from perfect, sites like Alexa can give you a fair idea about a site’s ranking.
10. Don’t Make a Hasty Decision
Choosing the right SEO company is critical to the success of your company, so you want to make sure you get it right. Take your time and leave no stone unturned as you do your due diligence. Don’t rush the process, and walk away from companies that try to pressure you into making a quick decision.
11. How Long Has the Company Been Around?
When choosing an SEO company, the length of time they’ve been in business matters. A company’s longevity is a good indication of stability and how good they are at what they do. When it comes to SEO companies, the longer they’ve been in business the better.
12. Have They Written Articles About SEO?
Ask if anyone from their staff have written any articles that have been published on reputable websites. Has anyone on their staff written any books? Do they speak at major SEO conferences? Are they moderators at SEO/SEM forums? All of these things are indicators of professionalism, reputation and expertise.
13. Read the Contract
Don’t sign any contract until you’ve read and completely understood its terms. Better yet, let your attorney look over the contract. Contracts can be tricky, so it’s best to let a professional check things out. It’s too late to read the contract after the fact.
14. Money-Back Guarantee
I’m a firm believer that if you aren’t satisfied with the results, or if the company hasn’t delivered on their promises, you are entitled to either a full or partial refund, depending on the terms of the contract. Avoid companies that aren’t willing to stand behind their work.
15. Avoid Companies That Guarantee First Page or Top 10 Rankings
No company can guarantee you a first page or top 10 ranking. I repeat: No Company Can Guarantee You A First Page Or Top 10 Ranking. Here’s why: There are far too many variables involved in the ranking of a website – not the least of which are the age of the domain, relevancy and quantity of content, number and quality of inbound links, competition, and of course Google’s ever-changing algorithms. That’s why legitimate SEO companies don’t make those kinds of outlandish promises.
16. Make Sure They Answer Your Questions
Ask plenty of questions and monitor the companies willingness to answer your questions. If they seem argumentative, evasive or unsure, walk away.
17. Pay Attention to Response Times
Whether you call or e-mail a company, monitor how quickly they respond to your communications, or if they respond at all. Slow communication is a huge red flag. Walk away.
18. Do They Engage in Black Hat Practices?
In case you don’t know, black hat SEO practices consist of unethical methods like cloaking, hidden text, doorway pages, link farms, mirror sites, duplicate content, etc. Ask questions to see how the company feels about these types of practices. If they don’t strongly denounce these types of unethical practices, walk away.
19. Does the Company Have a Portfolio?
Before making your decision, carefully look over the companies portfolio, the projects that they have worked on in the past, as well as current projects. Does the portfolio accurately reflect the information you’ve been given, or does something seem not quite right? If you don’t like what you see, walk away.
20. Listen to Your Gut
Over the years, listening to that little internal voice has served me well. The times I ignored that little voice is when I’ve gotten into trouble. Listen to your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, walk away.
In closing, in a perfect world, we would be able take SEO companies at face value without being suspicious. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world, so be suspicious. Be very suspicious…the money and aggravation you save may be your own!
David Jackson is a marketing consultant, and the owner of Free-Marketing-Tips-Blog.com – Powerful, free marketing tips to help grow your business! http://free-marketing-tips-blog.com