Finding an SEO Consultant or Search Engine Optimization Agency

Many years ago, a company called TrafficPower caused Google to remove a large number of their clients from the results for using “inappropriate” techniques. At that time we decided to write this because a simple search in a few well known resources could have given anyone considering TrafficPower as a consultant plenty of information which should have guided them to avoid their “services”. Unfortunately, anyone that was scammed by this firm didn’t do adequate (if any) due diligence before contracting them.

Traffic-power was using an extensive telemarketing plan to market their services. This alone should have caused many of those banned to perform proper due diligence. They didn’t. The short story is that any company using telemarketing or UCE (Unsolicited Commercial Email) to sell their services is probably not a firm you should consider. Good consultants don’t use these marketing methods because they’re busy with referrals from established clients and leads from legitimate marketing efforts. A cold call from a local company is less risky but we’d still advise extensive due diligence before proceeding. Unsolicited email from any company offering their services should alert you to the possibility of a scam.

Traffic-Power and some other firms which should be carefully researched often host client pages on their servers. IMO, the reason is that they are protecting the client domain from banning due to “inappropriate” optimization and linking techniques. There is also the risk of losing your site entirely, should you ever decide to end the relationship.

This isn’t the only reason for hosting the optimized pages on their servers or domains. Some firms build sites and drive traffic to your site from them. Another thing to consider when evaluating these services is that if you decide to leave their service they could sell the traffic to your competitors.

Lessons you can learn from the Traffic-Power banning:

1. If you do not initiate the contact, proceed with caution and perform comprehensive due diligence. In the case of telephone solicitation, TrafficPower and every similar situation, we’ve found that the company was using telemarketing as their primary means of marketing. Presently, there is a company using telemarketing and perhaps they aren’t necessarily using bad techniques, but they just don’t get results where it counts, resulting in significant losses to the clients in both time and money.

2. Use a forum’s keyword Search feature for discussion of the firm by name, URL or consultant’s name. You may find info about the firm’s techniques and services, client complaints and support. Keep in mind that what you find, as well as answers to questions, may be posted by a competitor or company personnel that are masquerading as an anonymous poster.

SEW forums and Jill Whalen’s HighRankings forums will discuss SEO techniques or questions about a service you do not understand. Each forum has its own guidelines for identifying firms or consultants by name, so check the forum guidelines regarding links and forum etiquette.

3. Check the BBB and other similar organizations. Seo Pros will answer questions by phone (416-638-4148) or email regarding both Member and Non Member firms and any services you do not understand, free of charge or obligation.

4. Be wary of firms where the pages are not hosted on your own domain or they require additional domains to host the optimized pages.

How Do I Find a Reputable SEO?

Search Engines:

A search engine would seem like a good place to find SEO consultants, but this isn’t necessarily the best way, unless you have a good understanding of the services they’re offering. A search identifies companies that do well for SEO industry terms. The terms you choose to search with may not be competitive. To determine the quality or competitiveness of a term you can search on Google using:
intitle:your search term inanchor:your search term

The total number of results for these searches is at the top of the search. The higher the number the more competitive the search term is. Link text and titles are an important part of the optimization of a page so these two searches can help identify the level of skill required to place well for the term assuming that more competition means it is harder to place it in the top of the results.

This info can be verified using SEO Book’s tool. The more a term is searched for the higher the competition should be for the term. There is a free version of WordTracker but some of the features are disabled.

Another means of obtaining good terms to search is to get a keyword report from SeoResearchLabs. They provide keywords research with competition data.

Niche Directories and SEO/SEM Organizations:

There are two Organizations and one niche directory that list only SEO/SEM firms that I regard as recommended resources. SeoPros and SEOConsultants review SEO techniques, business practices and services. SEMPO does no reviews for Membership to the Organization.

Seo Pros: Reviews firms for use of its SEO “best practices” Techniques, business practices and information on services provided. Organization started as a consumer advocate. This service does not recommend a specific SEO but does provide information on firms that do.

Services:Reviewed searchable directory Provides information on choosing an SEO consultant, services to avoid, skills required and what you should expect from campaign reports RFP (Request for Proposal) service which generates and distributes an RFP to Members Provides support by phone or email to anyone choosing an SEO or in need of clarification of what a service entails.

SEOConsultants.com: Reviews firms for SEO techniques, site design and services. Excellent resource to use for finding SEO/SEM firms with good design and web development because that is part of their review.Subsequently, the HTML validation also keeps some excellent firms out of the index.

Services:Reviewed searchable directory Good search engine marketing resources and references.

SEMPO: Information is primarily focused on the PPC (pay per click) industry. SEMPO provides a list of un-reviewed larger firms able to provide services for larger clients with extensive campaigns and large budgets. The directory includes several firms which do both optimization and PPC.

Services: Un-reviewed Directory of SEM and SEO consultants Good SEO/SEM information, statistics, Quote Service and case studies.

Perform Due Diligence Before Purchasing Any Services!

For the most part, at present, the best searches will likely be found on Yahoo! since Google has been known to be not providing the quality they once did. Industry consensus is they are pulling back on the types and accuracy of searches that SEO’s use to analyze and collect information to aid the optimization process. Note that subsequent to the Microsoft/Bing merger Yahoo’s Site Explorer is no longer available.

Below are a number of searches you can perform on Google which will provide information about a firm’s status in the index and the techniques they use.

1. Checking for a banned site, doorway page strategies, and hidden text

Google: site:www.companyurl.com
Are they banned? Quite likely if are no results are shown. If a page is listed in the index but there is no link to the site, then it is quite possibly a doorway page. Search engines have stated that they don’t like doorway pages. You should also find most of the pages on the site in the results. If you don’t, they may have indexing problems caused by poor link architecture or duplicate content.

A good way to check for hidden text and links is to select the page using the “Select All” option found under the “Edit” option in the browser toolbar. Invisible text and links will become visible due to the highlighting of the page. If a small square or rectangle is highlighted then run your cursor over it. If it changes to a finger it is a hidden link. Hidden links and text are contrary to the guidelines of all search engines.

2. Do they use long term link development techniques?

Google does not list all links to a site using the link:wwww.companyurl.com. This search is used to find all links to the firms site. It is very likely you will also find clients they have provided services to in the past. Go to the sites listed and you can get an idea of how they do link development and the quality of sites they will find for you. Be wary if they are linking between unrelated client sites or sites they own. This could be what is referred to as a link farm. A link technique which is frowned upon by all search engines.

Other methods of looking at a company or consultants link techniques is to enter their site or if you discover a client site put them into Majestic SEO or ahrefs tools. Both have limited free access.

3. Search using company phone number and address

This search reveals mini-site and mirror sites. Sometimes results may include aliased domains so finding them under another domain doesn’t necessarily mean a mirror or mini-site strategy is being used. Check some of the well known directories to see if they are promoting more than one domain for the same business. I suggest checking ODP, JoeAnt, Skaffe, and GoGuides.

You may find several unrelated businesses listed under the same address or phone number. Staying on top of the changes the SEs make is time consuming, requiring specialization and ongoing research to provide effective services. Web design or development, copy writing and Internet marketing are related services a specialist often provides.

4. Evaluating Client sites and getting unbiased references

If they have a client list or you find a client site in the back link check, look at the bottom of the client pages often the link text describes the services that were provided. If you identify a client, repeat all of the above techniques using the clients info.

I would also recommend that reference requests be made directly to clients found, using the techniques in #2. Due diligence is an important part of the process in choosing an SEO. References which are supplied by the firm are not likely to include clients which have had problems or were dissatisfied with the service. Most site owners will be happy to co-operate if you ask in a businesslike manner and tell them why you’re asking them for a reference for the firm.

Conclusion

Due diligence should be done regardless of how contact was initiated or how you found the consultant. SEOs found through industry conferences and Organizations are an excellent starting point, however, it would be a mistake to think that participation at conferences or Organization Membership is an endorsement or recommendation, eliminating the need to do your due diligence.

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