Search engine optimization for small and very small businesses.

Can You Trust That SEO Company?

Below is an insightful and helpful article written recently by famed Search Engine Optimization (SEO) expert Jill Whalen of If you’re considering hiring an SEO company, or if you’re trying to decide among multiple SEO companies, I hope this will help. The original article appears in High Rankings Advisor.

Trust is always a tricky issue, and one that is emotionally charged based on our individual experiences with others as we navigate through the maze we call life. In search marketing, trust issues are further magnified by the fact that the industry is still in its infancy and there are no set rules or regulations. Let’s face it, you’d be hard pressed to get a handful of SEO consultants to agree on a definition of SEO. Even amongst SEOs wearing the same hat color, there is often a giant chasm that divides us.

Where does this leave the person or company who wants to hire an SEO firm, but doesn’t know whom to trust? SEO A tells them one thing, SEO B another, and SEO C, D, E, and F completely different things altogether! Who is right? Who is wrong? Whom should they hire? Whom should they beware of?

Interestingly enough, according to an article I recently read in the Sept. 2006 Harvard Business Review (“To Trust or Not to Trust”), people weigh 10 different basic factors when deciding whether to trust someone. I found that many of them are those someone might go through before deciding to trust an SEO company with their business. For instance, one of the factors was how risk-tolerant the truster is. This one is important when it comes to SEO because there are certain risks involved with some SEO practices, i.e., those that are an attempt to purposely trick the search engines in some way. If those hiring the SEO firm are risk takers themselves, chances are they won’t mind an SEO firm who might want to push the envelope a bit. They may even welcome it, and not want to hire an SEO who plays it very straight. And of course, the opposite is true.

Another factor in the decision to trust was, “Does the trustee show benevolent concern?” Which simply means that they demonstrate that they care about the potential client and are concerned with helping them and their business, not only about making money for themselves. There’s of course nothing wrong with making money, but it’s definitely easier to trust those that show a genuine interest in the bottom line of their clients’ companies as well.

From a strictly SEO-company perspective, here are 5 additional factors that I believe businesses should weigh when choosing their SEO firm:

  • Does the SEO firm set realistic expectations about what they can and can’t do, or do they simply promise the moon? Smart SEOs under-promise and over-deliver, so watch out for those that do the opposite (and there are many).
  • Does the SEO firm have a proven record of success and not just for “long-tail” keywords? Be sure to check references in order to learn whether the SEO firm actually improved their clients’ bottom lines in some way.
  • Does the SEO firm provide recommendations for making your site better than it currently is, or are they attempting to do things to it that will actually make it worse for your users? This one sounds crazy, I know, but a good portion of SEOs think that it’s all about the search engines and not the users, and make bad decisions accordingly. Never, ever, ever let an SEO company do something you feel worsens your site’s overall usability or readability.
  • Does the SEO firm tell you what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, or do they just want you to blindly trust them? This one should set off a major red flag to you if you ever encounter it. Sure, you don’t need to know every last detail or to micromanage your SEO campaign, but your SEO should be able to explain their reasoning for why they want to do the things they recommend. If they can’t, or if their answers don’t make sense, then run (don’t walk) to the nearest door!
  • Does the SEO firm use *only* automated methods to achieve their goals? This isn’t necessarily bad; however, you need to be aware if this is what they’re doing. SEO is very much an art as well as a science, and because of this, creativity should always play a big part. It’s very difficult to be creative when everything you do is based on a numbers game. Just keep that in mind!

Like trusting a friend, a dentist, or anyone else, determining whom to trust as your SEO partner should not be taken lightly nor rushed into. Get to know the SEO vendors you’re thinking of hiring, ask them lots and lots of questions, and most of all use your gut and your own common sense to determine if you’ll be a good fit. If you are unsure, then keep on looking. There are plenty of SEO fish in the sea, and there should be a few who use the methods you believe in, who are within your budget, and who will work hard to help you accomplish your website goals!

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