How to Vet an SEO Expert. (Hint: this works for almost any pro)

Snake Oil, Anyone?  Creative Commons Image Attribution
Snake Oil, Anyone?
Creative Commons Image Attribution

I might get some flack for this: but I think most SEO experts are con artists.

Sure, there’s room for legitimate folks who study Google (and other) algorithms. Some of them are extremely knowledgeable, and do great work.

But there is a serious undercurrent of snake-oil salesmen and half-baked “consultants” in the field.

Here’s my guess as to why, and a way to sift out the chaff.

At its fundamental level, SEO is the attempt to help websites rank better in search engines. It’s a legitimate pursuit: for many businesses their customers come at least tangentially from a web search. Even if you aren’t selling anything online, people are finding you there. It’s this generation’s version of a phone book.

But here’s the thing: it’s a short trip from “helping you rank better” to “gaming the algorithm.”

There might be a shortcut right now that will help you rank better. These SEO firms might truly know something we don’t. But put yourself in Google’s shoes: your users (via advertisers) pay the bills by finding the most useful information they can from you. If some SEO firm has figured out a way to serve different content in search results, that is in the best interests of a third party (subpar content websites), you (as Google) would probably find a way to close that loophole, right?

So the long term game is to create better content. Serve your target audience, provide content that target audience actually wants, on a regular basis. Then you can pay a knowledgeable SEO firm to help you tweak your approach.

Here’s the simple method to know what type of “expert” you are dealing with: the good ones are teachers.

Your SEO firm's job is teach you. If they aren't teaching you, they are selling you. Share on XDon’t pay for something you don’t understand. Certainly don’t just hand over the keys to your site and let them “optimize” your site for you. Ask them what they are doing. Ask them how this will change if Google changes their algorithm. Ask them the long term strategy. If they talk about a shortcut, not a long term strategy, consider that strike one and two.

And no, they don’t need your Google account credentials.

They are teachers. If they aren’t teachers, there’s a good chance they are con artists.

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