Find an SEO expert you can trust

SEO concept: a young businessman shows the words 'Ask an expert' on a virtual display

If you're confused about SEO, then choosing an SEO expert can be difficult. Danielle Haley of Indy Consultancy explains how SEO really works, what can go wrong and what questions to ask an agency before you sign a contract

It is unfortunate that the behaviour of a few unethical companies has given SEO agencies a bad reputation. This is mostly because some of them use outdated techniques to create quick and easy wins for their clients. But the result is usually no change in search engine ranking, or worse still, a Google penalty.

Avoid aggressive and unethical SEO practices

Google will place a penalty on any website that aggressively builds links. For many years Google has been actively seeking out websites that buy links or manipulate their PageRank in other ways.

Aggressive SEO tactics used to work in the short term, and this is why unethical SEO companies still employ these methods - they get quick results for their clients.

However, Google can and will identify these SEO tactics and if you or an agency take this approach, your website could receive a manual penalty from Google. Manual penalties can often be resolved, but only if the customer is fully aware of what has been done.

There have been cases of unethical SEO companies deleting messages from Google in the Webmaster Tools platform to cover their "black hat" link building methods from their customers. Even after an SEO company has been sacked, it may be very hard for a customer to resolve a manual penalty without a report of all link building activity that was carried out.

Develop a long-term SEO strategy

Good SEO is always a long-term strategy. If you want quick results you need search engine marketing (SEM); one of the most effective SEM channels is Google AdWords. This allows a business to place a link to their business at the top of Google search results or across the huge network of publisher websites.

Safe SEO, also known as white hat SEO, focuses on two distinct areas. First, SEO starts on the customer's website, optimising on-page factors such as web copy, titles and headers, images and navigation. Ask your SEO agency what work they can do in this area.

Link building is still an important area of SEO, but today the emphasis is on marketing, PR and networking with the community to encourage people to naturally link to the customer's site.

Ask your SEO agency how they go about building links to your business. Ask for full reports of all link building activities.

Because SEO involves reaching out to website owners and communities, a lot of work is done behind the scenes before a business mention or link is reported. Bear in mind that a single reported link may have resulted from hours of networking and marketing.

Insist on SEO reports

A good SEO agency should provide full reports on all changes and link building outcomes. All on-site changes should be documented along with the date new content pages are created. Without good reports, it is impossible to determine which changes lead to positive or negative changes.

Every link created should also be reported so that if something does go wrong you can take action to have links and content removed.

Today, most SEO agencies are transparent in their methods, but there are still a few that will take short cuts for short-term results that could lead to long-term penalties. As with any business partnership, due diligence is required when hiring an SEO company.

Written by Danielle Haley, Director of Indy Consultancy.

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