Before we tackle this one, let’s set the scene for a second. I don’t think a lot of business folk realize there are different kinds of SEOs. SEO is a household name today (especially in business) but since its inception SEO has gone through several different iterations. In the early days an SEO was more of a designer/developer type, and focused on crawlability issues. Later the SEO started focusing on improving findability – that is, how well do you spotlight content on your website for search engine spiders. Finally, SEO became a web marketing channel that works with other online and offline marketing channels and tries to generate mindshare and improve conversions.
So, today we have SEOs that may consider themselves experts in all three areas. Or, we have SEOs who may only have expertise in a certain area, but not in the others. When looking for an SEO, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Are my problems in crawlability? Findability? Marketing? Or all?” That will help you ask the right questions of your SEO prospect.
Now that we understand the concentrations of an SEO, you also have to consider there are different classes of SEOs. I think of them this way:
1. The scammer
2. The dabbler
3. The expert
The scammer is a plague in the SEO community. They’ve been around forever. They are very web savvy, but don’t spend a lot of time studying SEO. They probably know a few black hat techniques that may get you rankings initially, but could also get you banned if discovered. They’re not likely going to do testing or research, and they’re quick to tell you things that can’t be proven – instead, they prey on the customers who are more trusting and even less educated. In reality, an SEO that says they can guarantee a number one ranking is probably a scammer. Be skeptical. Pick a top-of-mind, hugely popular keyword and ask them how they intend to get you a number one ranking. If you choose “football” and they spew some language using words like “easy” or “no problem,” put your credit card away and head for the hills. That is a term that would be incredibly time consuming to get, very expense (time equals money), and to be honest, quite possibly impossible to win in your website’s lifetime.
The scammer tends to take the money and run. Or they use paid search (Google AdWords) and buy they’re way up on the paid listings, then lie to you and tell you you’re number one in natural search. Ask the scammer about reporting. Ask them how they’ll use analytics. Ask them about connecting SEO to other channels. If you get a blank look, move on.
The dabbler can be dangerous or helpful. This person is typically a designer or developer who studied some SEO. Since the technical part of SEO should be part of the designers skill set, they may have read a few books, or blog posts, but really aren’t experienced in all of SEO’s moving parts. If you’ve asked yourself the questions I asked above, and determined that all you need is ‘crawlability’ or ‘findability’, then a high-end dabbler may be very helpful.
It’s easy to be a dabbler and put “SEO” on your resume, and claim to be an expert. Unless you’re being challenged by other SEOs, experienced hiring managers, or others in the know, a dabbler can easily come off looking like a pro. Sometimes the dabbler simply doesn’t realize that their entry-level position is indeed just entry-level – I’ve seen a few dabblers get good positions only to struggle immensely when tasked with analytics, link building, and even content writing.
The expert is, well, generally speaking, what the others are not. The expert has experience, has overcome enterprise level obstacles, does their own testing, and can contribute to the SEO space. An expert SEO will sometimes have their own unique take on the philosophies of search optimization, and can usually connect the SEO channel with other online (and offline) marketing channels. They’re generally more expensive – but often, like any marketing professional, you get what you pay for. The expert SEO knows that building content and authority for your site works much better than trying to quickly trick an algorithm. The expert can build links, can code appropriately, and turn data into actionable plans.
Good luck! It’s definitely tricky, no doubt about it. The kind of SEO your business needs may not be what another business needs. So do your homework and ask questions, don’t be afraid to take chances. Stay away from SEOs who offer guarantees, be patient, and you’ll cut through the fog.