Jared Mumford, Lead SEO

Like Jaxon and his first post, I too had a hard time finding the perfect topic for my inaugural write-up on what will soon be the hottest marketing blog this side of the Port Mann. I too drank many cups of coffee and sifted through my mental archives.  I thought of all the interesting facets and trends in SEO that I could write about. Link bait. Anchor variation concepts. Interlinking strategies. Taxonomies. I thought about all the questions people ask me about SEO like “should I use an ampersand instead of the word ‘and’ for my titles?” or “does the meta keyword tag actually do anything?”

But in the end I decided to leave these topics for later, and start with what’s really important – what to look out for when shopping for an SEO. Here’s the first 5 that come to mind:

No Social Skills

Social media is here to stay for better or for worse. When social media first started to become a tsunami in the online world, big corporations jumped the gun, using these outlets as a way to expand their reach and brand reputation. At first, many SEO’s were sceptical – there was much debate on the best SEO Forums about whether social media will have any impact on SEO. That was about 5 years ago. We now know that Social Media marketing can have a monumental effect on both brand reputation and reach, but can also have a positive impact on SEO as well. Google engineer and search guru Matt Cutts has said time and again that social media ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ are used as a signal for the Google algorithms. I’m lucky – I have a professional Social Media expert on my team to help stay on top of all the latest trends. Some SEO’s are not so lucky, and instead of taking the time to learn the new specialty that is Social Media Marketing (SMM), they tend to minimize its value. It’s true – social media won’t work for every campaign, but be wary if your SEO is not even willing to explore the channel.

Top 10 in 3 Days

Ok, this is one is pretty obvious, but it needs to be mentioned. This is the oldest trick in the book – shop for pretty much any service where you are looking for a return of some sort, and you’ll find the guy who guarantees, no – GUARANTEES, that he can get you to top 10 positioning in Google for your keywords in 10 days – for just (insert ubiquitous $xx.99 dollar amount). People fall for this for a very simple reason – they know that they need to be in the top 10 to make any revenue, but since they aren’t there (and thus have no revenue), they have no money to invest in SEO. It’s a desperation purchase. When they find this guy’s website and they start to see dollar signs – almost always with disastrous results.  The fact is, for almost any keyword that’s worth its weight (has a considerable amount of people searching for it), a custom campaign is needed to guarantee results.

The Guarantee

“There are no guarantees in SEO.” Well that’s not entirely true. Sure, Google could pull the carpet out at any minute causing a doomsday effect on the billions of dollars spent on SEO to date, causing e-commerce behemoth’s to crash to ground and causing panic and feverish clambering throughout the online world – but in all honesty, the chances of that are very low. Remember, Google is not trying to oust SEO, they are trying to oust spam and useless content. That’s why Google clearly states their guidelines on how to get a site indexed and rank a page better. Google has spent billions of dollars tweaking their own algorithms to display useful content for their users – and they’re not about to throw that away. So back to the guarantee.  As an SEO, if you use white hat best practices, and have sufficient experience to perform solid competitive analysis, you should be able to provide a minimal rank guarantee. For example, your target is top 5 but your minimal rank guarantee is position 10, or page 1. Let’s face it – if you’re spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars per year on a service, there needs to be some sort of guarantee.

Web developer Turned SEO

As an SEO for many years, I’ve gotten to know a good deal of web developers and web designers. I’ve dabbled in it a bit myself, and certainly know my way around various languages.  But I’m no professional, and I’ve learned that web developing is a specialty, and to be one of the best, you need to study it daily – a full time passion. The same holds true for SEO – it’s a specialty that needs constant studying, testing and critical thinking in order to be one of the best. Take a look around and you’ll see many small web design companies offering SEO, almost as an afterthought. Be wary. That is not to say that there aren’t any web developers that are also excellent SEO’s – I know quite a few myself. Where the problem lies is that people who don’t know much about the internet tend to trust web designers (the ancient term webmaster plays a large part in this) when the reality is that many unscrupulous web design companies simply know just enough about SEO to combine it with their web skills and call it a service (and charge a pretty penny).

Packaged Results

People love to see packages. Packages are easy to understand, and you see exactly what you’re going to get – or do you? We are considering putting up packages of our own. But if I told you I had an excellent package that provided 20 inbound text links, optimization of 5 pages of your website, Google Places, Analytics and Webmaster Tools setup and it was perfect for your business, would you think that’s a good fit? Would you know if the price was a good value? Would you have any idea how many ‘inbound text links’ your site needed to get top 10 results?  Are 5 optimized pages good enough for your website, which has over 20? The point is that packages really are a guarantee of deliverables, when what you really need is a guarantee of results. Who really cares if your SEO gave you an extra 10 links one month, when you’re still ranking on page 4? Or that your SEO didn’t meet the 20 link count deliverable, but you’re now on page 1 for your best keyword. Don’t window shop SEO packages and lose sight of the real purpose – to rank well in the search engines, obtain relevant traffic, and convert it to revenue.

Due Diligence

Before you trust someone with your online business, get references, and ask to see specific rank results for those references (note: plural). If you get multiple references, it never hurts to check the whois and see if the sites are owned by the same person. Check to make sure all the IP’s are not the same C class (that the same first three sets of numbers in an IP are not the same. Ask if the SEO can provide a brief SEO Audit, showing the areas of your site that need attention. And always shop around and get quotes from numerous agencies. Due diligence – it’s the least you can do for your business – and you’re pocketbook.

Written by Jared Mumford
Jared Mumford is the Director of Search Marketing at All Inclusive Marketing, Inc. He is an avid musician and hockey player, and lives on Canada's West Coast.