It is an unfortunate reality that there are many frauds masquerading within the SEO industry. 

I’ve had the misfortune of having to work with several, and the even worse fortune of having to work for a few of them. 

I don’t believe that every SEO fraud is necessarily malicious. Sometimes it’s as simple as an overconfidence in one’s own ability. 

It’s kinda like putting “car mechanic” on your resume because you know how to change your car’s air filter. Sure it’s technically correct to say that you “work on cars”, but having completed a low-level task does not make you a specialist, professional, or least of all—an expert.

Over the past decade that I’ve been in the SEO industry, I’ve picked up some strategies to sniff out a phony and I can usually do it within seconds. It’s like a sixth sense for me because of my experience—but how are business owners supposed to sniff out a fake?

Here are a few pointers for what to look for when hiring an SEO company in Vancouver, WA. 

Benchmarks and measurable results

It’s important when you hire an SEO company that you define your expectations upfront.

What does success for the campaign look like? What would failure look like?

If you’re a local business, it’s likely that the goal of your campaign is to set up a new stream of revenue that will pay for itself while also providing a nice profit.  

If you’re a bigger company, maybe conversions aren’t quite as critical and you’re looking to also build brand recognition in your space.

Either way, I recommend speaking with your agency about how they intend to measure success and when you should expect updates on progress so you can gauge whether or not to continue with service. 

With that being said, some of the responsibility of tracking campaign success might fall on you. Your SEO consultant might not have access to all the data they need in order to accurately track the leads and revenue that’s directly attributable to an SEO campaign.

For instance, if you are a plumber, I can tell you how many people landed on your site from an organic Google search—but I can’t tell you how many people landed on your site from Google and then decided to call your phone number which they found on the site. 

If you don’t already, it’s important to put protocols in place where you’re tracking the referral source of every single lead that comes in so that you can decide which marketing channel to focus your time and budget on. 

Proof

One solid way to start the proceedings is to have them show you hard proof of previous success.

I want to see screenshots of first page search rankings along with the search volume of the keywords so I can gauge how competitive the search term was. 

I also want to see reviews and testimonials from other clients specifically as it relates to search rankings.

This should really only be one factor that you use to judge credibility. I’ve worked with people before who solicit reviews by offering discounted services to hobbyist business owners that really don’t know the difference between solid SEO and a total waste of money.

Certifications and trainings

As far as I know, you can’t get a Bachelor’s degree in Search Engine Optimization yet, so the SEO community relies on websites like Yoast, Moz, Coursera, etc. to provide training, tutorials and certifications.

I personally have over half a dozen SEO certifications and I make it a point to continually seek out webinars, conventions and interviews from industry leaders in order to make sure I stay sharp. 

One common pitfall I see within the SEO community is the agency owner that refuses to stay on the cutting edge of SEO tactics, and instead cites their years in the game as the only experience they need. SEO is an industry that changes every day and the continued search for knowledge is absolutely crucial to success.

I would be wary of any “expert” who isn’t Google Analytics certified at the very least.

Secret sauce

Early in your conversation with an SEO company, you should ask them how they intend to achieve the search rankings that they are promising you. Ask specifically about what projects they intend to execute in order to rank your website higher for your keywords.

If they can’t tell you specifically about the projects that they intend to initiate on your behalf, that’s a giant red flag. 

If you ask an SEO consultant about their methods or strategies and they decline to tell you because it’s proprietary or a trade secret…run! 

Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, just get out of there.

SEO is a very straightforward process and they should be able to tell you the kind of projects that they’re going to execute on your behalf in order to improve your search rankings.

If they can’t walk you through their methods, they either don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re going to do something shady that could end up hurting your website more than it helps.