Why You Shouldn’t Hire an Arizona SEO Company – Just Yet

Before hiring a third-party company to manage your search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns, it’s important to understand that there’s a real difference in the way many companies operate.

If you go with a big company that has a lot of clients, you’re one of many, and the time and energy your account gets often feels that way. At a smaller operation, you may receive more attention, but you may also feel like the company doesn’t have the sort of firepower and resources you need to really grow your business online.

There are plenty of places online to rank and review SEO companies – you can find them with a simple Google search – but these reviews and rankings are often based on a pay-to-play strategy that rewards those willing to pay for a spot on the list.

There’s no real third-party ranking system that does not have its own incentives, but you can find lists of reputable SEO companies like the recommended list of SEO providers compiled by Moz, one of the leading SEO software services available.

You’ll notice that there is one recommended provider in Arizona – Vertical Measures. That’s not to say they’re the only reputable SEO company in Arizona, but it does show you that there are far more average or below-average providers than there are industry-leading ones, like Vertical Measures.

(We aren’t associated with Vertical Measures in any way, by the way – we just noted them as the only company on Moz’s list)

Know How Bad (and Good) SEO Services Can Be

The point we’re making is this: as a business owner, marketer, professional – in whatever capacity you’re seeking SEO help – keep in mind that the range of quality you receive from SEO providers is far greater than you might imagine. There are fly-by-night companies that pop up with new names, there are SEO providers whose clients rank well and drop and rank again (and drop again), and there are those companies who have a long-term approach that benefits their clients and not just themselves.

Finding these companies is extremely difficult, and in my ten years of working in digital marketing, I’ve worked with far more below-average companies that I didn’t see a positive ROI with rather than the other way around.

Here, it’s worth noting – if you’re in the market for really solid, premium search engine help, check out the guys and gals over at Internet Marketing Ninjas (formerly WeBuildPages). I’ve worked with them as the in-house marketer for several companies and have never been anything but impressed by the work they’ve done.

So, if you’re looking for quality search engine services, it’s important to do some due diligence before hiring. As an in-house marketer looking for outside help, I have a great idea of what I’m looking for when I essentially interview an SEO vendor – transparency, honesty and solid work ethic.

Those are all sort of the same thing, and it’s the thing that will make a difference in your online business. If you find a company that’s not transparent, cuts corners and doesn’t exactly tell you what they did to improve your SEO, you’re putting your website – and your business – at risk.

On the other hand, if you find a partner who is well aware that you plan on being in business for a long time to come, and your website is going to be up and running for just as long, then you’ll have found someone that understands the importance of long-term success online.

That’s worth repeating. No matter how much you want the top rankings in Google and all sorts of traffic, you must keep in mind the long-term end goal of your website and business. Building up a business, acquiring links, gaining trust with your audience and communities is extremely difficult work, and if you’re going to do it, you want to do it right.

There are plenty of businesses that have been negatively affected by a below-average SEO provider, and if your business relies heavily on organic traffic, that’s not something you want to jeopardize all because you want to rank higher and higher for keywords (that may or may not actually be driving real results to your business’s bottom line – but I digress).

What to Look for When Hiring an SEO Company

Let’s say you have a list of 5-10 potential companies you’d like to hire. Maybe you were impressed by their past clients, case studies, whatever. The first thing you want to do is make a list of questions to ask when you contact each company.

The questions are basic, but the companies should have solid answers. If they dodge your questions with sales fluff and some generic jargon to skirt the real stuff, then I’d suggest moving on. If the sales person you’re speaking with isn’t completely familiar with the SEO strategies the company uses, ask to speak directly to someone on the SEO team who is in the trenches day in and day out.

Here’s a big secret that a lot of SEO companies don’t want you to know: many, many companies and marketers in SEO don’t really understand – or want to take the time to do – real SEO work. It’s difficult stuff creating content, reaching out to influencers, making resources that actually provide value to people and building up a strong, loyal audience.

If you think SEO is limited to what keywords you’re ranking for on Google, you need to reconsider SEO in general. Think of SEO as one slice of your digital marketing and public relations and community relations pie, and instead of individual slices, they’ve all sort of blended together into a big messy pie that’s still delicious.

So, when you ask these companies direct questions like “what strategies do you use to acquire links for my website?” and they don’t give you specific details, you could be working with a company that’s more concerned about cutting corners than being transparent and working on behalf of the long-term success of your business.

On the other hand, an SEO company might say, “well, we create information-rich resources that practically beg people to link to them, then we reach out in a natural, honest way to people we think would benefit from this resource, and it’s easy for us to have people naturally link to us. Here’s an example…”

That’s one of the big differences in SEO companies, as I’ve experienced it in my time as a digital marketer, both in-house and as a third-party contractor.

So, before getting to the questions, recap: if a company doesn’t provide you with concrete, tangible strategies and details, and they give you jargon, fluff and sales BS instead, simply move on. You don’t need that, your business doesn’t need that.

Questions to Ask Potential SEO Providers

What is your overall strategy for search engine optimization?

What specific strategies do you employ for on-site optimization?

What specific techniques do you use to acquire links?

Can I see examples of links you’ve acquired in the past?

Do you create on-site and/or off-site content?

Can I contact a past or current client for their feedback?

Can I see a sample report of what I would receive each month?

Who is doing the actual work, and how many work hours will my account receive?

What is your ultimate goal as my SEO provider?

Have you had issues with Google penalties or client sites being deindexed?

Can I see keyword rankings for a current client?

Will I see a detailed report of what work was done, or a broad overview?

 

This list is far from exhaustive, but it will point you in the right direction of finding a quality SEO provider. Remember, look for transparency and concrete tangible answers – even if you don’t know the ins and outs of SEO, you should be able to tell if someone is giving you real, practical information or sales fluff.

Here are a few notes on each question.

What is your overall strategy for search engine optimization?

This is a big, open-ended question to get an idea of their strategy. Are they focused on linkbuilding? If so, then you’ll want to see if they’re going to completely ignore your on-site elements. If they’re heavy on the technical side, does that mean you’ll need to get another company to handle content?

Ideally, the best strategy is often one that touches on all these bases and more, and makes SEO a part of your existing business/marketing strategy and not something separate from your main business objectives. Every piece of content, on-site SEO data and link pointing back to your site should reflect the direction and goals of your business, and your SEO provider should be on the exact same page.

What specific strategies do you employ for on-site optimization?

Here, you’ll want to look for concrete information based on the type of business you operate. If you’re an e-commerce store, you’ll want to know that they’ll be working on making each product page more unique or optimized than your competitors.

If you run a local bakery, you’ll want to know that the company is properly using Schema data to classify your site, and that your local contact information shows up consistently and accurately across the board and all major local platforms.

On-site optimization isn’t as sexy and cool as linkbuilding, PR and outreach, but it’s an important element of SEO and often one of the first areas to be overlooked. There’s low-hanging fruit with on-site optimization that can create immediate gains, and your SEO provider should tackle this just like any other area (except, of course, if you’re hiring for a special need, such as links only).

For example, if I created a page on Blue tactical flashlights, and optimized it for that keyword, then discovered six months later that it was ranking and performing well for something different, such as “navy blue tactical flashlights,” then I would adjust my on-site strategy to reflect that momentum.

If I ignore on-site elements, I do so at my own risk, and I also run the risk of giving my audience something that doesn’t quite reach their needs.

What specific techniques do you use to acquire links?

There are hundreds of ways to acquire links, and you won’t have the time or patience to learn them all, but they should be able to give you something concrete here. If they say “we create world-class content and share it with our network of social influencers,” that’s a lot better than “we have a secret formula that not even Google knows exist.”

Essentially, you want details and concreteness.

Can I see examples of links you’ve acquired in the past?

This is pretty straightforward and will give you an idea of the caliber of links they build. If you get a list of forums, WordPress blog comments and the like, you’re not dealing with the best of the best.

But if you get a list of high quality blog posts, sponsorship opportunities, resource links, government or educational links, etc., then you’re on the right track.

Do you create on-site and/or off-site content?

Good to know – some companies won’t go out and promote content, and they’ll stick to your own site. This can be helpful in some ways, but you also want to diversify the content (and links) that are being built around your brand.

Can I contact a past or current client for their feedback?

If they’re good, they should have someone that can say so.

Can I see a sample report of what I would receive each month?

SEO reports are pretty standard, but you’ll want to get an idea of what one looks like and how in-depth it goes. I’ve seen SEO reports that are literally a list of 10 keywords with a number ranking by them, and although this may be helpful, it doesn’t show any why or how that went into the numbers for that month.

If you get an SEO report, on the other hand, that looks detailed, exhaustive and breaks down the work and improvement that was made each month, you’ll have a much better idea of what’s working behind the scenes and where your site – and business – is headed.

Who is doing the actual work, and how many work hours will my account receive?

There’s a really, really big SEO provider here in the valley that has dedicated SEO managers, specialists and so on – but all the work comes from a third-party content provider who often supplies content from writers who have a loose grasp, at best, on English.

That’s a long-winded way of saying that you don’t always know where the work is coming from, which means you don’t know what kind of quality you’ll be receiving. Remember that everything that’s done to your website in the name of SEO can be seen, so if you start building links from a casino website or adult forum, people whose job it is to research the competition’s SEO will see this and know that you’ve been cutting corners. And Google will see it, as well, which will be even more harmful.

And that’s not to say that all work that comes from overseas is not good – there are some great content providers outside the US – but the point is that you want to know where the work is coming from, and a provider who wants to hide this probably doesn’t have your business’s long-term goals in mind – it’s all about their own bottom line.

What is your ultimate goal as my SEO provider?

Here, some companies will focus on keyword rankings and traffic. And that’s okay, those things are important – but only to a certain degree.

Keyword rankings don’t pay the bills.

Traffic doesn’t put money in your bank account.

Those are simply tools and ways of getting to what really matters: leads, sales, revenue, profit, clients – whatever is important to you.

So if a provider is focusing too much on traffic and rankings, remind yourself that those are tools and not end goals in themselves.

On a related note, many providers will show you an example client and example keyword rankings, and it’ll be something like this:

My client in New York is currently ranking #1 for “ladder accident in Manhattan NY.” Well guess what? You can rank for all the keywords in the world but if 1) no one is searching that keyword and 2) it isn’t bringing in real, tangible clients, then that ranking, keyword and example is completely worthless.

Don’t be thrown off, then, by keyword rankings like this. When you ask for specific examples, ask to see the search volume for those keywords as well – this will give you a better idea of how effective those rankings and keywords really are.

Have you had issues with Google penalties or client sites being deindexed?

I know of a few companies in the valley who have clients ranking really well for part of the year, then I won’t see them for a few months, and then the next year, they’re back. This back and forth often suggests that the provider uses gray or black hat methods that require them to clean things up after a penalty.

Penalties can and do happen, but the SEO provider you work with should understand that the changes at Google are relatively surface-level modifications on the main message, which is create sites that offer the best value to users. If an SEO provider says they have an inside scoop on what Google wants, just laugh. And don’t hire them.

Can I see keyword rankings for a current client?

See the note above when it comes to checking out keyword rankings for their clients.

Will I see a detailed report of what work was done, or a broad overview?

This is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced when working with companies. They won’t provide an actual list of the work that was done, so instead of saying “we acquired links from x.com and x.net,” they’ll say something like “we’ve built 2 links from relevant websites.”

That’s horsepucky – it doesn’t tell me anything about the quality of the service I’m getting. Two links from ESPN.com and Huffington Post are a lot different than two links from Grandma’s brand new cookie baking forum.

So if possible, get as much detailed information as you can. When I worked with Internet Marketing Ninjas, one of the things I admired was how transparent they were: I received an actual list of content that was created and who it was sent out to each month. I knew the direction and quality of the service and they were upfront about everything that was done.

That’s what you want.

A Viable Alternative to Hiring an Arizona SEO Company

Look, I’ve worked as an in-house SEO for several companies over the course of a decade, and to this day I still get calls from third-parties asking if I’ve ever heard of SEO and would I like to be on the first page of Google guaranteed.

There are just too many bogus companies out there and too few good ones. And that’s not being cynical – it’s realistic. Where there are vulnerable people – business owners looking for better traffic- there will be companies praying on them, and that’s the case in today’s SEO world, for better or worse.

But there is an alternative to hiring an SEO company, and that’s to learn SEO yourself and do a few key things that can make a world of difference.

Yes, if you’re a business owner or marketer with other things going on, I know it seems difficult to fit in even more tasks.

But, in my experience, the business owners I’ve met really valued learning the principles and vision behind quality SEO, and even if they didn’t have the time to implement it themselves, they at least knew what to ask of the people they worked with.

I’ve seen firsthand the damage that’s been done by working with sub-par SEO companies. I’ve had to manually clean up links in order to be re-evaluted after a Google penalty because of links built years before I had touched my employer’s site. I’ve had to remove hundreds of pages of over-optimized content that brought down an entire domain. I’ve had to condense hundreds more pages because they were thin or not useful to the end user.

All this because a company didn’t want to take the time to do things right in the first place. And I get it – these SEO companies are themselves trying to stay afloat, and real SEO is hard work. It takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes money (donations, sponsorships, etc.).

I understand all that.

But as a business owner, I also understand the value of working with people who can work with me in a way that supports both our long-term objectives. It’s entirely possible to work with a marketing provider who wants your business to prosper in the long run just as much as their own.

So, if you’re looking to understand more about SEO – not just receive work, but to really understand the few core principles that can bring more and better quality visitors to your business, we’d be glad to help.

We provide consulting services for small businesses, marketers and other professionals looking to learn more about real, legitimate and effective SEO. We focus on what matters to your business: leads, sales, clients, revenue – real things that move your business forward.

Yes, we also work with keyword rankings and traffic and all that, but we see that as our own tool of getting to the real finish line, which is whatever drives your business.

We only work with clients who have the same values, and we work with those who have realistic expectations when it comes to improving your business’s growth online. To see if we can help your business, contact us with the form below. We’ll review your information and get back to you shortly.