*This post originally appeared on Forbes. To read the original, visit Forbes.com.
I’m sure at some point you’ve received the phone call or email from an unknown contact with some variation of this statement:
“We’ve reviewed your website and you do not show up on the first page on Google for your keywords. Call me today and we can guarantee the top spot.”
I certainly see this all the time, as a founder of my own agency. While many reputable businesses are legitimately doing a great job of helping their clients, there is also a large number of companies that are taking advantage of business owners using questionable practices.
To start at the beginning, search engine optimization — or SEO — is defined as a “process of strategies, techniques and tactics used to increase the number of visitors to a website by obtaining a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine – such as Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines.”
The most common practices include updates to on-page factors such as:
- The mobile-readiness of the website;
- Updates to the code that make the site easily read by search engines; and
- A review of the text (content), images and off-page factors, such as incoming links to the site and qualified connections with other trusted websites.
If you are like most businesses today, you are contracting a service to monitor your website and move you up to page one in the rankings. But how do you know if you are working with a qualified firm, or if you’ve hired a hack? Here are a few of my best practices:
- Clearly identify what the company will do for you and what the deliverable will be. Set reasonable timelines and then follow up on them.
- Ask them to recommend a list of keywords and to explain why these terms were chosen. This will force them to fully understand not only your company, but also your competition.
- Ask for a plan, or better yet an audit. Has your SEO company identified the primary issues, and do they have a plan for correcting them? Secure a copy of their analysis and strategy.
- Expect a proposal that includes one-time fixes and ongoing efforts. Be leery of a flat monthly fee for updates, as most projects involve a lot of work up front and considerably less effort as time passes.
- Require a monthly report. This report should include a detailed explanation of the work that was performed the previous month, and the results of that effort. There should also be a recommendation of what needs to be done next to achieve the desired result and ranking.
- Demand accessibility. Your SEO team should be available to answer questions and explain the report data.
Finally, as is true in all aspects of business, you get what you pay for. You will not be able to hire an “expert” at $100 per month and expect they are actually doing anything more than taking your money. If budget is a concern, hire an experienced firm to perform an audit. Instead of paying for ongoing monitoring, review the identified issues and work to fix these items. Skip the long-term contracts and monthly fees.
Ultimately, the best way to protect your company from a bad vendor is to establish clear goals, ask a lot of questions, demand progress reports, check reviews and hold the company accountable — just like you would with any other vendor you hire.