There are thousands of SEO agencies and consultants out there....
Some are great SEO providers who utilize "white hat best practices", while others are simply great salespeople who promise you rankings on the first page of Google for any keyword you so desire.
Due to the complex industry of SEO, it's easy to be mislead or misinformed by agencies who "talk the talk", but don't "walk the walk." If and when there comes a time that you need to evaluate SEO from your current provider, there are key indicators you should look for and others you should avoid.
When you first started with them, did they complete competitive and search landscape research for your business? No SEO initiatives should be proposed until there is a firm understanding of the competitors in your market. These are not just your direct business competitors who sell the same products or services as you, but for other entities that rank for the same keywords that you would. Say for example, that your company is United Plumbing. You want to show up 1st whenever anyone searches for ‘plumbing’ in your local area. When it comes to the search landscape, you not only have to compete in search engine rankings with your direct competitor Joe’s Plumbing, but you also have to compete with Wikipedia, industry bloggers, etc. By determining who is in the market, your SEO company can more easily assess your competitors SEO efforts and craft a plan that will work for you.
The next step for SEO is to determine which keywords you should be putting your efforts and money into. Using their competitive landscape research and your Google Analytics data, an effective SEO agency should build you a comprehensive keyword strategy that covers all of your service and product lines with keywords that are most relevant to your business. This way you are sure to optimize for relevant keywords. Relevancy is extremely important because it cuts down on unqualified traffic and yields the highest ROI for your SEO initiatives.
Now that your keyword strategy is complete, the next step should be on-page optimizations for your website. This includes utilizing these keywords strategically and with relevance throughout your website so that they can be indexed by search engines. There are many elements on the back-end of your website as well that should be optimized. Take a quick look at your website’s title tag, meta description, header tags and alt tags. Each one of these should contain a relevant keyword. If your SEO company has not optimized your website then they have missed out on a major opportunity to improve your rankings. The latter is an extremely important factor to consider when evaluating your SEO provider.
Learn the secrets to performing your own foundational SEO audit
Some SEO professionals have figured out how to utilize these keywords in a way that could affect your ranking negatively. Keyword stuffing is considered to be an unethical SEO technique. Keyword stuffing occurs when a web page is loaded with keywords in the meta tags, alt tags or in content of a web page. Some SEO professionals have even figured out ways to hide keywords on your website so that they will be indexed by search engines but the website viewer would be none the wiser. These are considered to be ‘black hat’ practices, which will be further discussed later in this article.
Google Webmaster Tools
Now think back again, did your SEO company have a process for installing Google Webmaster Tools on your website in order to submit a site map to Google? This effort is analogous to ‘Knocking on Google’s door and providing them with a map directly to you’ rather than sitting and waiting for Google to find you amongst the World Wide Web. It helps Google better crawl and categorize your website, after which it will show you on more relevant searches. And upon installation, Webmaster tools will also provide you with detailed reports about your pages' visibility on Google.
Before Google began updating their search algorithms, a primary element of their index capabilities was following links to and from a website. SEO aficionados began figuring out ways to build fake links, sell fake links, and have even compiled databases of fake links for their clients. Because of these unethical practices, Google has updated their algorithm to provide search results based more on the quality of a website’s content. When it comes to the newest algorithm Hummingbird, Google judges SEO based on relevance and reputation as well as visitor satisfaction, not just keyword count and link juice.
Google has released several statements stating, “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
Regardless of Google’s search algorithm shift, many SEO companies today still live and breathe by building illegal links back to your website, a practice that could get your website blacklisted from internet searches.
All of that being said, credible backlinks are still used in ranking algorithms today, but Google has lessened the significance to focus more on a website’s relevance, reputation and visitor satisfaction. We haven’t even touched on Local SEO efforts, which you can read more about here… Why You Should Optimize Local Listings for Your Business. But long story short, SEO companies should ensure that your business is posted on local listing websites such as Bing, Yahoo, Yellowpages, Foursquare, and many more. This not only provides you greater reach on the web, it is an effective and Google approved way to build credible links back to your website.
The final, and what I would argue is the most important practice for improving SEO, is blogging. We believe that your current SEO company should be compelling you to blog at least 3 times a month. A motivated and dedicated SEO provider should suggest posting one to two genuine blog posts a week. Each time you publish a new blog post, Google comes back to index your website. If your blog posts contain the keywords form your keyword strategy, then you should see your ranking increase drastically as the blog posts on your website begin adding up. Blogging is also one of the best ways to build quality, white hat backlinks to your website. It’s all about writing quality content, something that would be worth linking to. Blogging consistently and adding new content to your website is the #1 way to not only increase your credibility for potential customers, but also to Google.
However you choose to evaluate your current SEO agency or provider, It is our belief at AdVision that any service should be 100% transparent in their efforts with clients. If they do not choose to ‘Open the Kimono’, as we say in the office, we believe that they may be utilizing black hat strategies that could negatively affect search rankings and even get a website black listed by search engines. Even if they are operating illegally under the radar and are producing real results today, there’s no guarantee that Google’s next algorithm update could pick up on the activity and administer punishments. In this industry it is important to be aware of the future as well.
There are 2 approaches to Search Engine Optimization – White Hat and Black Hat.
White Hat SEO initiatives have adopted Google’s methodology that your website should provide the most reliable, expert and significant content relevant to that search. White hat SEO experts keep up on trends and consistently utilize best practices within the industry. This includes competitive and keyword research, on page optimizations, submitting a site map to Google, link-building to and from reputable web sources, and producing high-quality content that real people, not just search engines, enjoy.
Black Hat strategies are methods that people have come up with to ‘game the system’ so to speak, and trick search engines into showing the website higher in search rankings. But there’s a fatal flaw in this logic. Google employs some of the smartest people in the world. They have created the machine, they own the system, and they know a fool when they see one. Link building schemes, keywords stuffing, lack of relevant content and a lack of visitor satisfaction are all practices that will negatively affect search rankings and could even get your website black listed from future search results.
So we end with this question… Do you know exactly what your SEO company has been doing to increase your rankings?
February 28, 2014