How to Choose an SEO Firm or Freelancer

By now, everyone knows that simply having a website is not enough in order to be successful in today’s digital world.  Whether you’re operating an ecommerce site like Keekipureandsimple.com or Sassypantsgirlsboutique.com, or if your site is more informational in nature such as Pamscustomsewing.com, the build-it-and-they-will-come mentality is a sure-fire path to failure.  You need more than just a site; you need a presence.

Furthermore, you need to be visible to your prospective clients and customers.  Driving targeted traffic to your site is the single biggest challenge facing business owners today in the world of conducting business on the Internet.  Most people are aware of the assets that search engines like Google, Yahoo and Bing can be, but few possess the knowledge or technical savvy in order to successfully acquire the traffic necessary from these powerful entities.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the act of preparing a website and it’s pages’ on and off-page elements for favorable placement in the results pages of search engines for the keywords that are relevant to the content on their site.  And, while SEO alone is not enough to be successful on the web, it is fundamental to the point that you can’t not do it.  It is not optional.

The practice of search engine optimization can include but is not limited to:

  • Meta Information
  • Titles
  • Tags
  • Content
  • Keyword Density
  • Image Titles & Alt Descriptions
  • Internal Links
  • Inbound Links
  • Directory Listings
  • Etc.

There are people in this profession who would probably disagree with this, but the truth is that fundamentally, SEO is not difficult to understand.  Essentially, most elements of SEO come back to on-page optimization and inbound links.  Even the application of these concepts is not hard to implement once you wrap your mind around the central idea and gain a little experience with it.  That said, SEO can be a long process and can be very time consuming.  The truth is, your SEO efforts may show a quick dividend, or it may be months or even years before significant progress is made.  Every situation is different, and the amount of time and effort required depend on a variety of factors such as number of competitors, degree to which they are optimized, number of keywords targeted, etc.

While this is definitely something that can be undertaken in-house, you may not be inclined to try to tackle these tasks on your own.  That is certainly understandable and if you’ve decided to hire an SEO firm or freelancer, here are a few guidelines to help you make a good decision on whom you choose to do business with.  There are a lot of pretenders and scam artists out there, but luckily they are pretty easy to spot and avoid as long as you keep a few things in mind.

  1. Avoid SEO firms and individuals who promise immediate results.  The fact of the matter is, no one can predict how the pages of your site are going to be indexed in the search engines.  Anyone who promises results such as this is most likely engaging in tactics designed to game the system, which may or may not offer a short term benefit – but will most certainly incur a penalty from Google and other search engines when they catch on to what you’re doing.  That penalty can range from a ‘slap’ (having your link drop several pages in the rankings) to outright banning from the index.
  2. Don’t hire an SEO firm or freelancer who offers to build thousands of links to your site in a very short period of time.  Instantaneous spikes in the number of inbound links to a site is a red flag to search engines, and could result in a adverse effect to your rankings.
  3. Avoid people who promise a set number of links within a specified period of time.  Firms that make claims like 5,000 links in 30 days are almost certainly engaging in ‘black hat’ or unscrupulous behavior such as link farms and reciprocal link exchanges.
  4. If you have no keyword data, a quality SEO firm or freelancer will need to perform the necessary research to determine where the opportunities lie for your business.  This can only be accomplished once the data has been acquired.  If a firm simply asks you which keywords you want to rank for – or worse – doesn’t ask at all, that is a huge red flag that they should probably not be hired to manage your SEO efforts.
  5. Ask about the tracking methods they employ.  Google Analytics is the most common tool for tracking traffic and SEO efforts.
  6. Ask about past successes.  If an SEO firm or freelancer can demonstrate a favorable ranking they’ve achieved for a past client, ask about their methods.  Use the Yahoo Site Explorer tool to view the inbound links to their site, and see if there are an excessive about of links to their site from sketchy sources, such as foreign language directories, sites with no seeming relevance to their site, etc.  Generally, inbound links should come from sites that are similar in nature in one capacity or another.
  7. Look at the sites of previous clients.  Are they keyword stuffed?  Does the content appear to be written for humans or computers?  Are the page titles optimized to the content of the page or are they all the same across the entire site?

The unfortunate thing about this industry is that there is an abundance of free information available, and therefore it is relatively easy for someone with a rudimentary level of talent to get into the game and call them self an expert.  The truth is though that it is pretty easy to spot the pretenders if you know what to look for.  Hopefully now you have a good idea of what questions to ask so and what types of people to avoid so you don’t get burned.

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