Because SEO has become so popular with businesses and because it is a necessity for nearly every small business, the number of internet marketing and SEO companies has exploded since we started doing SEO in 2006. Unfortunately, many SEO companies are not true SEO companies. Instead, they are what we like to call “sales machines.” These businesses churn and burn through clients with no regard for actual results or the prosperity of the businesses they market.
Nearly every phone call we have with potential clients begins with a horror story of their last SEO company. If you are considering spending money on internet marketing and SEO, you need to be able to distinguish a trustworthy SEO company from a sales machine SEO company.
So many marketing companies take advantage of clients that don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. SEO is not quick, fast, easy, or cheap. We put together this extensive list of signals to look for when you are searching for a trustworthy SEO company.
Did You Hire the Right SEO Company?
Did you hire an honest, trustworthy SEO company, or have you been a victim of the “SEO sales machine”? Not all marketing companies are created equal…
Characteristics of a Trustworthy SEO Company
- Reasonable rates
- Realistic promises
- Monthly reporting & regular contact
- Simple & transparent contract
- In-house experts & access to the SEO experts
- You buy it – you own it (for life)
- White-hat SEO techniques
- Not working for the competition
- Content-focused marketing strategy
Reasonable Rates for SEO
What is a reasonable rate for SEO and internet marketing services? That’s a difficult question to answer without knowing the details of your business or organization, but you should at least have a starting point. The best way to get a starting point for costs associated with internet marketing is to simply consider what an internet marketer would charge you by the hour and multiply that by how many hours a month the agency might be working for you.
The average internet expert charges $75/hr. Does that seem expensive? Consider that a base-level computer guru who removes viruses and works on your computer will usually charge between $40-80/hr. SEO and internet marketing is far from base-level work. In fact, it is extremely tedious and difficult work that is constantly changing. It’s very easy to justify $75/hour for SEO work, but Moz.com (an SEO think-tank) suggests that the average hourly wage for an SEO expert is upwards of $200/hr.! Therefore, $75/hr. is a reasonable rate for this type of work.
Now that you know what you should be paying, it is easy to estimate the average monthly expense for a full team of SEO experts. Most legitimate SEO campaigns start somewhere around $750/month and can reach upwards of $75,000/month depending on the size of the company.
So, when it comes time to identify a trustworthy SEO company, you should not be hiring an SEO company for $250/month. That won’t get you very far and it is a clear sign of a “sales machine” SEO company. In most cases, a small local business should not be looking to spend less than $750/month (10 hours) and no more than $2500/month.
Are you getting a “First Page Guarantee” with your SEO service? Be careful! Those types of promises are often associated with the SEO sales machine. Even if you have a friend working for Google, Bing, or Yahoo, you aren’t going to be guaranteed results for any keyword search. You should ask if there is a first-page guarantee, but use this question to disqualify any company that promises the moon. SEO is not easy and it is constantly changing.
It is extremely important that your SEO company provides a history of the work they’ve accomplished. Without a detailed report, you will never know how good or bad your SEO campaign is doing. There are so many companies that offer SEO services and do not provide regular reports.
SEO Hermit provides a baseline report that shows your rankings before the SEO campaign starts. We also provide monthly reports that compare your current rankings to the baseline rankings. This makes it easy for our clients to see their results and how much progress we have really made.
If your SEO company does not provide regular reporting, there’s a good chance it’s because they don’t have anything good to report! A trustworthy SEO company will provide regular, readable reports that clearly outline progress on a consistent basis.
Consistent contact with your SEO company is just as important as receiving reports. Your business is changing every day and you need a marketing company that is ready to tackle your evolving needs from week to week. If your SEO company sticks you with a salesman that just makes excuses, it’s time to find a real SEO company.
Simple & Transparent SEO Contract
There is absolutely no reason to spend hours pouring over a contract full of legalese. Our contract is less than 2 pages long and simply outlines what we promise to do and what the client promises to do. There is no way to cover every possible scenario in a fair contract.
If an SEO company sends you a contract full of terms and conditions, that should be a red flag! That type of contract is ever-expanding and comprehensive based on years of negotiations and problems with clients. A clean, simple contract symbolizes a straight-forward agreement.
In-House Internet Experts
One thing many clients overlook is the opportunity to build a relationship with their SEO expert and the people working on their website every day. It is our opinion that your SEO company should know your business and what you do best. We provide that type of relationship with our clients.
We need to know what you do best, which products are most profitable for you, and why you are better than the competition. These things give you an edge over the competition and we need to be aware of that!
Our entire staff is in-house and we are all available to discuss your SEO campaign in detail. The sales machine SEO company will typically not provide access to the SEO expert. That’s because the SEO expert is probably non-existent! A trustworthy SEO company always offers clients access to SEO experts without hassle or delay.
Access to the SEO expert is paramount when looking for an SEO company you can trust. If you can’t get a name and email address of an SEO expert, you probably need to look elsewhere. It is likely that he or she doesn’t exist!
You Buy It – You Own It
Unlike print ads or “guerilla marketing” techniques, real SEO lasts for a long time. In fact, longevity is one of the strongest signals for rankings in Google’s algorithm! There are so many SEO companies out there today that lock clients into a contract that offers a “free” website, SEO, and marketing only to take it all away when the contract is canceled or expires. You paid for it and you should own it!
A reputable SEO company should rely on SEO and marketing that lasts. Make sure you aren’t signing a contract for a service that isn’t really SEO. If the company is offering you a free website and landing pages, you can bet that they’re spending your money on ads and that they will take everything away from you once the contract is over.
Occasionally we do have a client that decides to end our contract and we are happy to turn over all logins, accounts, and efforts we’ve made. You paid for it. You own it!
Understand SEO vs. Paid Ads
It is important to understand the difference between PPC (pay-per-click) and SEO. SEO focuses on long-term keyword rankings in organic listings on Bing, Yahoo, and Google. PPC campaigns are paid ads. Many of the SEO sales machines will focus their efforts on paid ads and simply use the money you pay them to spend on ads for you. This is NOT SEO and it is not a long-term investment for your business. When the PPC money stops the ads stop. When the ads stop, the clients stop calling! Don’t fall into the PPC trap; make sure you are getting real SEO and not ad-spend!
White Hat SEO Techniques
It is extremely important that your SEO company uses legitimate techniques to promote your business online. Google uses your website’s entire history to determine its rankings and one bad SEO company can ruin them for a long time. It is also important to check the company for spammy SEO techniques. Most SEO companies can provide a list of websites they have worked on and this is the key to identifying which companies are trustworthy and which companies are not.
It should be easy to find a list of websites marketed by a reputable SEO company with a Google search. With a little work, you will be able to identify the basic SEO techniques of the marketing company. If those techniques appear spammy, you know for sure that SEO company is not the one for you!
Working for the Competition?!
Finally, find out if your SEO company is okay with working for the competition. SEO Hermit does not put two clients against each other in the same market. This is against our code of ethics. It is our job to do the very best work we can for our clients. We want to drive as many customers from your respective market to your website as we can.
By taking on a competing business in the same market, we are essentially splitting our efforts between two clients. If you hire SEO Hermit you can rest assured that we will not be marketing your competition. A trusted SEO company will not work for the competition. This is a must-ask question — “Are you working with similar businesses in my area?” If the answer is yes, your answer should be NO!
Now that you know what to look for, here are some questions you should be prepared to ask!
Quick Questions to Ask a Potential SEO Company Before Hiring:
- Do you offer a first-page guarantee?
- How quickly should I see results?
- Do you offer regular reporting?
- Can I speak with the SEO expert on a consistent basis?
- What is the SEO expert’s name?
- What hours does he/she work?
- What is his/her e-mail address?
- How long is his/her typical response time?
- Do you require a long-term contract?
- Does my lawyer need to review the contract or is it simple to understand?
- Does the contract allow me to cancel if I don’t see results?
- Do your fees include pay-per-click services?
- Do you use my monthly budget to buy ads or “clicks”?
- Is your company focused on organic keyword rankings?
- Does your company build landing pages and drive traffic to those pages via ads?
- Where will I see most traffic originating from in Google Analytics?
- Are you going to build a free website for me?
- Are you going to provide a different phone number that forwards to my real phone number?
- Do I own the work you do for me or is it going to go away when the contract ends?
- Do you turn over all of the accounts you create for me or does your company discard those once the contract ends?
- Can I get a spreadsheet with all of the accounts and logins you make once my contract ends?
- Are you aware of the term “white-hat SEO?”
- Do you write content in-house or is it contracted out?
- Does your company use a content “spinner” to generate content?
- Do you build links through posting articles around the internet?
- Does your company use press releases as a way to build backlinks?
- How much time does your company spend building quality backlinks to my site?
- Have you ever had a client get penalized or lose rankings due to a Google update like Panda or Penguin?
- Do you work with similar businesses?
- Do you have any similar clients in my area?
- Does your company service clients in direct competition with me?
- Are you dedicated to making my site rank in the organic results in Google, Yahoo, and Bing?