How to avoid getting scammed by an SEO

scam-truckI didn’t get into SEO because I thought it was a way to get rich. In fact, I sort of learned about it against my will, but I stuck with it because I enjoy helping people. Let me give you a little context. Before I started FAT Media, I was a freelancer. I built a couple of websites for some local business and the word slowly got around that I was pretty good. The thing is, I kept getting clients who were more interested in making their site rank well in Google than having it look good and work correctly. Apparently, they wanted to make money with their websites. Ridiculous, I know.

At the time, I didn’t want to get involved with SEO. I was just getting into WordPress development and wanted to focus on learning that side of the business. Writing code was fun and challenging, but choosing keywords and writing optimized sales copy sounded boring as hell. With that in mind, I started looking for ways to hire out SEO. It didn’t me take long to learn that all is not what it seems in the SEO industry. Long story short, I got burned a few times by some companies which will remain nameless. Since I don’t really enjoy making myself look like an idiot, I gave up on contracting out SEO services.

For a while, I told my clients that I didn’t do SEO. I explained that they’d need to find someone else for that aspect of the project, which most of them were happy to do. I also warned them that I’d tried to hire it out myself and never had much success.

For a while, this tactic worked but I always felt like I was leaving money on the table.

Some people just don’t understand the word “no”

One day, I met a client who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I told her that I didn’t do SEO and gave her my usual reasons why. Well, that wasn’t going to work for her. She literally insisted that I do it and she came right out and told me that she didn’t care if I wanted to or not. (Just FYI these are some major “clients from hell” red flags, but I was a noob at the time. I took almost any job I could get.)

Like me, she had been burned in the past and, because I came highly recommended, she wanted me to do it. I was totally upfront with her about the fact that I didn’t know a lot about SEO and would basically be figuring it out as I went. She was fine with it and we agreed on a price. That was my first SEO client and it was also the last time I told someone I didn’t do SEO.

I’ve learned a lot since then

I’ve spent years scouring the Internet, reading, testing, and talking with other people about how to do SEO correctly. Oddly enough, I found that my gut feelings about what needed to be done were pretty accurate. I analyzed what other people were doing and came up with my own strategies for helping clients. It turned out that it wasn’t boring at all and it could actually be just as interesting and challenging as coding. In fact, sometimes it even requires coding! Win-win, right?

Over the years I’ve helped a lot of people make a lot of money and I’m really proud of that. I hope that as I continue to grow and learn more, I’ll be able to help even more companies be successful. I also try to spread the word that not all SEOs are jerks who make big promises, shuffle paper around, and don’t actually do anything. In the spirit of that, I’d like to provide a few questions that I think will help you sort out the SEO scumbags from the people who can really have a positive impact on your business.

Here are 3 Questions to Determine if Your SEO Company is Legit

Are they publicly accessible?

This is one of the easiest things you can do to check up on the SEO provider you’re thinking about hiring. If you’re going to hire someone to help you get more visibility, shouldn’t they be visible?

Can you find them on the web easily? Are they active on social media? I’m not saying they need to have 20,000 followers on Twitter or brag that they’ve spoken at every SEO conference on the planet. There are plenty of low-key SEOs out there as well as plenty of people who are just getting started, so don’t write someone off just because they’re not at the top of the heap yet.

The important thing to check for here is that they are engaged. 

They should have an actual business and be regularly interacting with customers and other professionals in public. If they’re not, there’s a good chance they’re full of it.

Does their website actually look professional and work correctly?

This might not seem like a deal breaker for your SEO, but it is. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, SEO is about more just where you rank in the Google results pages. If you rank well, but your site is slow, broken, or difficult to use, you’re throwing money in the trash.

Every visitor who lands on your website is a potential customer and should be treated as such. 

The company you’re hiring to help with your SEO should understand this and do everything in their power to help you improve the experience people have on your site. I’m not saying they need to be UX or UI experts, but they need to understand the value of usability and performance.

Hiring someone who approaches SEO in a holistic way will benefit your business much more than someone who focuses entirely on technical aspects or the latest marketing buzzwords of the day. A quality SEO firm will provide feedback on everything from the way your content is written and structured to the page load speed and your design. They should also provide real, actionable ways to improve across the board.

Are they upfront about costs, expectations, and timeframe?

This one is huge. When you’re talking to an SEO professional, they should be very frank with you about what they are doing and how it will help your business. If you have trouble getting a straight answer and they lace every conversation with jargon, you might want to find someone else. A real SEO should be able to communicate with you in plain language exactly what it is that they are doing and why they are doing it.

A quality SEO provider should also be very clear about pricing and the amount of time things will take. A classic sign of a shady SEO provider is vague pricing and timeframes. If the company you’re working with can’t set and meet reasonable milestones, they probably don’t know what they’re doing. That said, be leery of anyone who promises you page one rankings or X number of visitors by a set date. Nobody can promise things like this because nobody can fully control the search engines.

In summary, trust your gut

In the end, you really have to trust your gut. You know when someone isn’t telling the truth or when something feels off. If your initial meeting with a SEO professional seems too good to be true or strange somehow, turn and walk away. There are plenty of ethical, high quality providers out there. I’m happy to be among them and I hope that as the industry gets more mature, the accountability and standards will continue to improve.

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