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Jeremy Morgan

Mostly Coherent Ramblings of a Silicon Forest Software Developer

What You Should Know Before Hiring an SEO

By: Jeremy Morgan

So, are you thinking about hiring an SEO? As more and more small businesses look for opportunities to grow, the term SEO (Search Engine Optimization) always seems to come up. Someone has a story about some business who made millions off tweaking a meta tag, and people get very excited. But before you go running out and hiring someone, there are a few things you need to know.

Don’t fall for the get rich quick story.

For one thing, let me be the first to tell you that a lot of stories about SEO are either exaggerated, or simply untrue. Yes, you can make a lot of money from SEO, there is no doubt about that. But in talks with people at parties, or other social gatherings I hear more and more “SEO stories” that sell a too good to be true situation and you should be aware of it. If they are unaware of my SEO background, they even tell me this stuff.

They talk about some kid who tweaked a few tags and made millions of dollars off his blog, or a company who boosted their profits 300% in a month from a little SEO. I’m not sure where these stories originate, but you must keep in mind that SEO is new, but the same old rules apply. There is no get rich quick method, and you won’t get something for nothing. SEO will certainly be a positive addition to your business, but it requires hard work and sacrifice just like anything else. Which brings me to my next point.

Manage your own expectations

SEO is good, it’s obviously what I base this website on. It’s what I do for a living, and I don’t want to try and downplay it’s importance. However, it is by no means a silver bullet that will make any business successful. It’s not the “secret trick” to make you rich. It’s something you do to grow your business and it works, but don’t expect millions to pour in every night.

SEO takes time.

SEO is a long, continuous process that requires work and maintenance. Gone are the days where you could hire someone to tweak some code, and sit back to collect the riches. It takes a long time to get going, and requires maintenance. It could be months, or longer before you see any improvement in traffic and sales. Many times I’ve seen people talk in forums about hiring an SEO, seeing no immediate results and feeling “ripped off”. While it’s certainly true in some cases, in other cases the person or company actually did positive things for your site, and it took a while to kick in. It can take days, months or even years for the effects to be seen, so be patient. Content has to be spidered, links have to be built and indexed, and the major search engines do this at their own pace. While there are anomalies here and there, for the most part top rankings come with time.

There may not be a crowd of people waiting to find you.

This has been the hardest point for me to sell to a customer, and something I’ve personally been involved in before. Let’s say your business sells webkinz. If I work hard, and get you ranked up high, you’ll get thousands of new customers a day, because webkinz are hot. There are 7 million people a day searching for webkinz of some type. This is a hot term, and will get a lot of traffic (and will also have a lot of competition).

But what if your business sells heating elements for clothes dryers? If I manage to get you a top spot, should you expect 7 million people a day? Of course not, in fact around 1,900 people a day search for this, and at best you can expect 10-20% of those people if you have a number one spot for it. Then, you have to convert those 190-300 visitors into sales. It may not yield the results you were expecting. That’s why you need to analyze your business, and your market. Are a lot of people searching for your product?

I may get rotten tomatoes thrown at me, but there are times where you shouldn’t hire an SEO. If you are a small business that runs on a shoestring, and you have a small market, and an extremely limited niche market, it may not make sense to pay thousands for some top SEO company to get you a ranking. You may be better off grabbing a copy of SEO for dummies (which is actually a decent book for beginners) and seeing what you can learn on your own. Another option is, finding an SEO that’s “creative” enough to find other search terms and streams for your business.

The final word on this is, don’t expect too much but make the best of what you can get. I have worked with several companies who were fully aware that only 300 people a day were searching for their product, but wanted to dominate the listings anyway for branding purposes. As a business owner this is your choice to make.

Ask up front

If you’re hiring an SEO, ask up front what they are planning to do, and what it’s going to cost. Make them go into detail. If they are concerned with trade secrets you may have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. But ask them specifically “what are you going to be doing to get these ranks”. And do a little research. If they say they are going to buy 1000 links from various sites, look up some things on google, or SEO forums to see what ramifications this method has. Ask the SEO for this information, and if they aren’t totally up front and honest with you, don’t hire them. I tell my customers exactly what I’m going to do, and why I do it, if they are concerned. Transparency is key, if they are trying to hide it from you it might be something sinister.

Ask about their rankings.

Ask them what rankings their company has. Check on them, and see how well they do for SEO. Because after all, what kind of SEO company wouldn’t employ their own tactics for themselves? Presently my website sits at the number one spot for “Portland SEO” on the big three, and has for quite a while. But am I the busiest SEO in Portland, Oregon? Not by a long shot. There are companies who are doing 10 times the amount of business I am, and they are nowhere to be found in the search engines. They employ traveling salesmen and cold calling to sell their product to hundreds of customers. Think about that for a second. If they are so great at SEO, how come they aren’t able to squash the rankings of a “little guy” like me? Why do they spend so much money on print ads and telemarketing? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Would you hire a painting business who had a building that looks like it was painted by a group of preschoolers? If the answer is no, then don’t hire an SEO person or company who isn’t able to get their own site in the rankings (without paying for google ads).

Understand the Process

I can definitely sympathize with the business owner who doesn’t have time to learn SEO. You’re a business owner, a lawyer, insurance agent or painter. You’re not a marketer or computer programmer, and that’s why you hire an SEO. If you had the time, you’d do it yourself but that would take away from your own role. I have heard this from customers before, and I understand completely. However, knowledge is power. The more you understand what’s going on, the more you can control and contribute to your own site’s success. Browse through some SEO forums or websites in your spare time, or pick up a book on it. You can still hire an SEO but at least you’ll have a better understanding of what they’re doing, and maybe even be able to pitch in some valuable ideas. Who knows your own business better than you?

Be prepared to contribute

In a perfect world, you would be able to hire and SEO, throw them a small amount of pay and sit back and watch the numbers go up. But it’s not that easy. Be prepared to contribute and help out. Make sure your SEO knows everything you know about your customers, your business, and your market. The standard marketing rules apply here. Know your product, why it’s great and how it helps people. Know what makes you stand out from the competion, and know who you’re selling to. Then turn that information into power for the person doing SEO for you. Bounce ideas off them, answer their questions and help them out. You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

Treat SEO like any other service based investment.

To conclude, treat this like any other business investment. Take care to make sure that you are being treated well, and getting the most for your money. Get as much information as you can, and use common sense rules when searching for an SEO. If you can do this, and you get the right company or person you will go far and grow your business. Good luck to you all.