If you’ve reached the point of hiring a SEO consultant to help update your website, then you want to make sure that you hire the right kind of SEO for your needs. With all of the changes that have been made to the SEO landscape this past year there have been many different stances taken on whether or not the SEO field itself has taken a backseat to other types of marketing. SEO, also known as internet marketing, is a continually evolving field and you’ll want to ensure that you hire the best White Hat SEO.
What do hats have to do with SEO?
As in any field, there are different types of SEOs. While there are delineations like On Site and Off Site, the main dividing line creates White Hats and Black Hats. Black Hat originated as a programming term to describe unscrupulous hackers who break into sites to steal information, revenue, and to generally make a site owner’s life a living hell for little more than boredom or personal gain. The SEO equivalent is a person who gets a poorly built site ranking high in the SERPs for terms that have little to do with site copy. They accomplish this through means that are considered down and dirty, such as keyword stuffing, link farming, gateway pages, and hidden content.
White hats are on the opposite side of the spectrum. These are people who work strictly with the practices that Search Engine Giants are looking for, such as quality content, applicable titles and meta data, and most importantly, relevant keywords.
In reality, most SEO’s today are Gray Hats (or Peach Hats, as Noah Dyer had said at the Providence EMA Conference in 2012). These are people who—you guessed it—use a little from Column B and a little bit from Column A to supplement their efforts. This is done because, just like the stock market, White Hat techniques are a low risk investment but take time to show progress; you’ll only begin to see some results after approximately 3-4 months of work on a site and then real results can start rolling in up to a year later. Black Hat techniques are high risk and can strike a windfall of success or a devastating blow when the search engines update their rules. In order to get results that clients are happy with, many SEO providers grab that Black Hat bag of tricks to help get the ball rolling.
How do I tell the difference?
When talking with a SEO provider there are a few things that should tip you off that you’re talking to a Black Hat Internet Marketing Strategist:
1. They make outrageous claims.
If a provider says they can get your core keyword to ranks 1-3 within a few days or weeks, head for the hills. This is (usually) only possible through Black Hat techniques which will then get your site sanctioned and reverse any good SEO done on your site to that point.
2. They reference tricks or secret methods of getting sites ranked quickly.
Getting ranked for keywords is no secret. If you write good content, make your site easily accessible to users and search engines alike, as well as market your butt off via social media, you’ll get there, no tricks involved whatsoever.
3. They have a “Special Relationship” with a search engine.
No one in the business can have a special relationship with a search engine, outside of a dedicated account manager on Google Ad Words or Analytics. Consultants will say this to try and sound like the cream of the crop, but it really shows how green they are.
4. They’ll submit your website to hundreds of Search Engines.
When was the last time you used a Search Engine that wasn’t Google, Bing, Yahoo, or AOL? You probably haven’t. The main players for SEO are Google and Bing, and you don’t even need to submit a website for review on any search engine; it’ll get indexed on its own.
Now that you know what to avoid, what should you do if you find someone who’s legit?
1. Ask for the contact information of satisfied clients.
Many providers will offer you a brag list of high rankings they’ve achieved for clients as well as a list of sites that they’ve worked on. While these lists show that they are able to deliver results, you’ll still want to speak directly with a client because:
A) It’s better to confirm the SEO actually did the work to get the client to the top of the SERPs. Padded resumes are all too common in any field.
B) You’ll want to make sure that the consultant meets deadlines, is personable, and is good at problem solving. Clients are the best source for this information and will offer unbiased and often unvarnished opinions of past interactions.
2. Ask how long it will take to see measurable results.
As stated above, solid results generally don’t show up until about 6-9 months into working on a website due to the time it takes for search engine bots to crawl a website and for certain tasks to be performed, such as restructuring URLs, updating site categories, etc. Good Internet Marketers will tell you any time period between 4-12 months, depending on the scope of the project.
3. Request a written Statement of Work (SOW).
A standard SOW covers the purpose, scope of work, period of performance, as well as Acceptance Criteria of a project. You can use this document to ensure that you’re getting the work done on your site that will get you more traffic and, ultimately, more revenue.