How to tell if your SEO consultant is ripping you off
There are a lot of "SEO experts" out there making a decent living tweaking their clients' websites so they rank higher on search engines. In fact, there are more people calling themselves "SEO experts" than there are actual SEO experts.
So if you've shelled out big bucks to one of these experts who've promised to get your website to top of Google searches, how do you know if you're getting your money's worth? Is there some way to tell if your expert knows what he's talking about or just taking your hard-earned cash?
Actually there is. But first, a word of caution.
In my view, there are no experts. That's because Google keeps changing and improving its search algorithms making it hard for those of us who dabble in search engine optimization (and even the so-called experts) to stay on top of things. What worked yesterday to optimize your website might not work today. The only real SEO experts work for Google. Everybody else is just feeling their way in what is still an internet frontier. Some are better than others, some do their best to keep up with all the latest changes and innovations. But "expert" is a word that should be used cautiously and received with some skepticism.
Second, even if you hire the best SEO wizard around to improve your search rankings, don't expect to see your site zoom to the top of Google searches overnight. It will take weeks or even months before Google crawls your site and changes your ranking, and if you're in a particularly competitive industry, it might take even longer. A lot will also depend on whether you're regularly updating your site with fresh content and other factors.
OK, so how do you tell if that SEO pro you've hired has put you on the right track to improve your rankings?
One way is to look at your site's page title. Not the URL, but the title that appears at the top of your browser's window. This is your most valuable real estate on the web. It's what appears as a link on Google's results page after you've completed a search, along with the description underneath.
If the title on your site's homepage just contains the name of your company (or worse says "untitled"), then your site has not been optimized for searches.
Take a look at this: http://bluemermaid.com/. This is the website of a great little restaurant and bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You'll notice that the name of the restaurant isn't even mentioned in the title (not something I would necessarily recommend). Instead, the homepage title says, "Restaurant downtown Portsmouth New Hampshire | Live music and entertainment."
The reason is because most people won't Google the term "Blue Mermaid," or if they do, they'll probably find this restaurant anyway. Instead, it's far more likely that someone who's looking for a place to have dinner in Portsmouth will Google something like, "restaurant in downtown Portsmouth." Try it. You'll mostly get listings or dining guides like Yelp and Yahoo. But in between those listings, maybe third or fourth on the page, you'll find The Blue Mermaid. In fact it's the only restaurant (outside of the listings) on the first page of the search.
See how that works? It's inbound marketing, baby!
For the same reason, Berman & Simmons, a law firm in Portland, Maine, has as its title, "Maine Personal Injury Lawyers - Car Accident - Medical Malpractice - Wrongful Death." These are keywords they know that potential clients will type into the Google search box, not the name of the firm. It's why HubSpot, the Cambridge marketing software company that we partner with, has as its title, "HubSpot | All in one marketing software." Or why DBMediaStrategies Inc. homepage title says, "A Boston-area crisis management, PR and social media firm."
You'd think that this would be a simple fix that every SEO pro or webmaster understands. But surf around and take a look at the websites of some other law firms or PR companies (I won't single any of them out to spare them embarrassment, particularly onces I might have once worked with). You'll see a lot of bad examples – the company's name in the title and nothing else, or the same title on every page (a huge no-no). I recently had a client complain that his website wasn't showing up on Google searches even though he had an "SEO consultant" on retainer. The title of his site's homepage? "Home."
Page titles aren't the only thing you have to pay attention to in order to improve your SEO and inbound marketing. And with Google's Penguin and Panda algorithm changes, more emphasis is being placed on quality, relevant content. The best SEO expert is you, or whoever manages and posts to your website. But page titles still count, a lot. And they're a glaring red flag that can tell you if your "SEO expert" is really an expert or is ripping you off.
A version of this blog entry first appeared on the Savvy Inc. blog.