Outsourcing SEO? Watch Out for These Red Flags

Saturday, April 30, 2016 3:09 PM | Frank Geremia

By Ivy Lamb, Manta Webinar Editor - April 19, 2016

First-page rankings are often held up as the holy grail of search engine optimization, and you may be tempted by an SEO consultant’s promise to push your small business to the top of the results page. But should you believe them?

“If a company comes to you and says, ‘We guarantee top ranking,’ that should make you say, ‘We don’t want this service,’” said Jennifer Sable Lopez, senior director of community and audience development at Moz. Claims like these raise a red flag because they’re virtually impossible to deliver.

That doesn’t mean outsourcing SEO isn’t a worthwhile investment for your small business. It just means you need to do your homework and find a reputable agency or consultant to work with. Good SEO can boost organic web traffic and generate new leads. Bad SEO isn’t just a waste of money—it can damage your website and your reputation.

“Small business owners need the most basic understanding of the difference between good and bad SEO, and that comes down to the nature of an SEO tactic,” said Scott Beckman, digital marketing specialist. “Are they optimizing things based on how Google operates and how users operate, or are they trying to trick Google to make those rankings?”

Beckman said small business owners should ask questions like, “I understand you’re going to put a keyword on the page to optimize it, where are you going to put the keyword?” If the answer sounds sneaky—placing white keyword text on a white background so that only Google will see it, for example—be wary.

And when it comes to “top results” claims, good SEO can help you get first-page ranking when searchers type in your specific business name. Otherwise, “No legitimate SEO company can guarantee page ranking,” Beckman said. That’s because Google results vary widely depending on the geographic location and search history of the user.

“Google has worked hard to make each unique search unique to the person,” Lopez explained. “That’s why it’s so hard to say what’s going to happen [in terms of ranking position].”

Of course, you’ll want some way to measure the success of your SEO investment. Instead of page ranking, you should look at other metrics. “An SEO company should be reporting on organic search traffic, and even better than that would be some kind of conversion metric,” Beckman said. For example, look for an increase in calls as a result of higher web traffic, or set up a prompt for customers to register for promotional emails or an e-newsletter.

In terms of time investment, it can take anywhere from three to six months to start seeing results from sustained SEO. Be patient in the beginning, but if you don’t see any movement within that time frame, ask to revisit the strategy.

For more SEO tips, watch the Manta Expert webinar, “SEO for Small Business: 5 Simple Tactics to Generate Leads.