Two or three years ago there was big news that many of the sleazy sales people who sold the bad mortgages that led to the financial crisis are now selling SEO for firms with great looking websites. These sales people are very convincing–way better than the many obvious scammers out there–and the firms they represent make money on the deposit alone and on the very few clients who actually benefit and continue monthly payments.
PPC hucksters are less prevalent, because results are easier for clients to see and understand, but there’s plenty of poor, if not despicable, work in PPC too.
These days SEO requires as much training as lawyers need, yet there are no degrees or bar exams or other reliable certifications. It’s like I can advertise knee surgery!
In the history of capitalism, a big new technology, like railroads or radio, has many incompetents and scammers in the early years, and we are still in the early years of search marketing.
There are plenty of good SEO firms; it’s just that few of them market aggressively–you don’t have to when you get great results and thus word of mouth referrals.
Here are some ways to ascertain the trustworthiness of an SEO firm:
- Get references, but this alone is not sufficient, for the scammers almost always have a few good references they use to dupe everyone else.
- Get the qualification of and speak with the employees who will actually work on your job.
- Confirm a Google Partners membership if the firm also does PPC (at www.google.com/partners).
- Look at the publishing history of the firm and of the people who will do the work on your website.
- Check the whois listing at Networksolutions.com for the history of the firm’s website–scammers often change their domain name to evade bad reviews and replace a domain that got demoted or banned for using black-hat tactics to rank well.
- Look at results reports for past clients. True, even bad firms have some good results, but the format of the report can tell you a lot about the firm’s commitment to accountability.
- Some SEO firms, like DISC, offer to begin with a small job doing one of the most important SEO items (usually an SEO Technical Audit and Repairs), so you can get a feel for the firm.
Another option is to hire a reputable SEO firm that recuses itself from doing the work, and then serves to vet other SEO firms (DISC offers this service).
It just takes a little due diligence to find the good SEO firms.