By this point, most businesses understand the need for SEO (or at the very least, the importance of a high position in search engine results). But no matter the CMO’s level of comprehension, they all strive for the holy grail of Google: the elusive page 1 rank.
And yet, when it comes to hiring SEO services, people get gun shy. Everyone wants it; few people want to pay for it.
Perhaps this is because, as a marketing tactic, SEO is relatively new. It doesn’t have the same time-honored results as traditional marketing.
Or maybe it’s just a matter of the bottom line.
No matter your level of expertise with SEO, it can be hard to resist the calls, emails and ads claiming to improve your search engine rank for cheap. The problem is that these offers often come from overseas companies that use borderline reputable or decidedly black hat strategies (i.e. spam) to give you a quick boost of internet traffic.
However, hiring these companies can backfire in a big way, negatively affect your reputation, and create a long-term, costly mess from which you may never recover.
Here are just a few of the downsides to outsourcing SEO:
Hardly any client input
Like any marketing partnership, your business should be involved in the decision-making process. Good marketers will talk to you in depth about your company; they’ll ask you to fill out questionnaires and define your buyer personas; they’ll conduct competitor research. In short, they’ll spend time crafting a precise plan to effectively promote your company, and meet your sales goals.
The same goes for hiring SEO services. However, when you hire a small-time or overseas company, they’re typically not very interested in your business. They’ll apply some general knowledge about your industry, and then hit the easy targets.
Whether they’re submitting your website to online directories, or posting less-than-stellar content on third-party sites to yield a low-authority backlink, or worse – using automated software to blindly post your link all over the internet – they take the easy, one-size-fits-all approach.
While some of these aren’t necessarily shady tactics (indeed, you might see a small spike in traffic to your site), they can hurt your business’s reputation. If a potential lead Googles your site and finds it listed on all these nameless, suspect third-party sites, he’ll likely choose a more reputable-seeming competitor instead.
The lack of input from you and your company leads to sloppy SEO work. Without proper analysis, the SEO agency can’t create a customized, thoughtful plan of attack.
Although Google has recently said that it’s starting to de-emphasize keywords, keyword research remains an effective strategy for improving your site’s rank. But don’t expect it from the budget overseas company.
The big problem here is that, without proper tracking, you can’t follow which keywords are performing well for you. SEO is part art, part science. An expert applies both when handling your campaign, but he can’t do it without consistent analysis.
Optimization is critical. By seeing what’s working, an SEO can evaluate successful keywords and tactics, and extrapolate from those examples to other areas. Likewise, he can tweak the underwhelming words and phrases or throw them out altogether to maximize your investment.
Cheap search engine marketing agencies aren’t interested in your R.O.I. For the small amount that you’re paying them, it’s not worth it to keep track of your investment. At best, they might point to bumps in traffic to your site, but they can’t calculate, say, costs per click.
Their “cheap” fee may actually be a total waste of money.
A less-than-reputable digital agency might score some low authority backlinks with ease. If you’re not terribly concerned about users finding these sites from the nether regions of the internet, maybe you can abide by this. But what about the company’s written content?
Most cheap SEO companies overseas reside in countries that don’t speak English as their native language. Consequently, their English skills are typically shaky at best. We’ve all come across content on purportedly “professional” websites consisting of poor grammar and awkward attempts at American slang. This is a red flag.
Most likely, the choppy jumble of English is the result of an internet marketer from another country who’s trying to place his client’s content on a third-party site. It looks totally natural and authentic, right?
The reality is no website with high authority will let this fly. At most, it will allow the content but strip any links or obvious promotion, thereby undermining the entire effort. Content marketing is a great idea, but not when it’s poorly written or haphazardly implemented.
As this Entrepreneur article points out, a less-than-reputable SEO agency might even use software to cull content from different sources, and then effectively spin it together, yielding new, hybrid pieces of content.
Is this how you really want your business to be reflected online?
Potential penalty by Google
While questionable SEO tactics are certainly bad for your company’s reputation, you could face a far more damaging scenario as a result.
A black hat digital agency may use what amounts to a link farm to get your website a backlink. The easiest way to describe a link farm is spam. We all know it when we see it: websites that offer no discernable service or point of view. Shady marketers have become savvier about this since Google started penalizing these kinds of sites several years ago, but they still thrive today, albeit in disguise.
At first, a website may seem specifically about a blog or given industry, but when you read the content it becomes clear that it’s basically spam. Poor English or keyword stuffing are dead giveaways.
Given Google’s dedication to eliminating low-quality content from the internet, and their increasingly sophisticated algorithm updates, these sites will eventually be found and penalized, if they haven’t been already.
If a link to your website is found on spam sites, you will be penalized!
It doesn’t matter if your overseas SEO agency put it there without you knowing about it. Google will kick you to the curb. And the worst part? The damage may be irreparable.
You can either spend a lot of time and money trying to clean up your link reputation, or start over with a new site from scratch. Either way, you lose.
Suddenly, that cheap investment in SEO just became much more expensive.
Okay, so we’ve covered whom NOT to hire. Now let’s quickly discuss where you can focus your efforts.
How do you know if an SEO firm is legit?
Rates aren’t suspiciously cheap
Offers case studies
Involves you in the process
Rates aren’t suspiciously cheap. Like so many other things in life, you get what you pay for. That’s not to say you should automatically go with the most expensive quote, or biggest name brand you come across. You may benefit more from a mid-level company that specializes in your particular industry. But just know that the service provider with the lowest bid is probably not an ideal choice.
Offers case studies. When discussing your potential agency’s services, ask a lot of questions. Find out whom else they’ve worked with and – this is important – what kind of work they did for those other clients. Many agencies cite references even if they’re in name only. Ask for case studies so that you can see how they formed successful plans in the past, step by step.
Involves you in the process. A legitimate agency will seek your input. Perhaps most importantly, it’ll ask you what you want to achieve. Do you want to raise brand awareness? Drive traffic to a specific landing page? Based on your input, it will tailor its quote to ensure that you get what you want.