Hiring an SEO Expert for Your Business?: 4 Signs that an SEO Consultant is Incompetent

Business owners seeking to hire an SEO consultant to help them with their online marketing and search engine ranking tend to misunderstand or at least underestimate what it takes to bring visitors to their site. Without an extensive knowledge of how search engines and the Internet at large work, choosing a competent person or company to help with  SEO can be a sticky process.

If you start looking for am SEO professional, it won’t take long before you begin to realize that “SEO Expert” is a very relative term. This label can be attached to a whole spectrum of people: from highly competent marketing experts, to those who wouldn’t know a meta tag from a clothing tag; from empirically informed, scientifically minded search obsessives to incompetent buffoons who will completely destroy your site’s reputation.

How can you tell the authentic SEO expert from the incompetent buffoon? Here are 4 red flags that will signal you to move on to someone more qualified to do the job:

1. Promising the Moon

Search engines are extremely complex pieces of software, and they are getting more complex as time goes by. Any SEO who guarantees a top spot in the SERPs for a reasonably competitive keyword in a timescale shorter than several months is probably selling snake oil.

There are reliable methods that all good SEOs employ to increase search rankings, but most of them involve creating high-quality optimized content and honest link-building that will take a considerable amount of time.

2. Bamboozling Google

If your prospective SEO tells you he has discovered a previously unknown method for gaming Google’s search engine algorithms and rocketing your site to number one, trust him about as much as you’d trust someone telling you that they’ve discovered the secrets of perpetual motion (not at all).

In the unlikely event they have discovered a chink in Google’s armor, the benefits will last only until Google figures it out and changes their algorithms to account for it, which means at best you’ll have paid for nothing. At worst, you may see your site penalized and sent to the search engine backwaters.

This sort of “black hat” SEO is often the cause behind so many webmasters wailing about Google dropping their site’s position in the ranks. It’s very often because they were doing something other than providing great content for their users and building a natural link profile, so an algorithm change knocked them off the pedestal they didn’t deserve.

3. Too Cheap One

The best SEO is a time-consuming process engaged in by smart people who can charge quite a lot for their services. If your prospective SEO is offering you a full SEO audit for $50, then it’s unlikely to be very helpful to you. Calibrate your expectations somewhere in the region of what you’d expect to pay any highly-skilled professional or you won’t get a highly-skilled professional. To get a more concrete idea of how much you can expect to pay, see this post over at SEOmoz: SEO Pricing: 600+ Agencies Share Costs of Services & Pricing Models

You get what you pay for, and if you don’t have a reasonable budget for SEO, you’re probably better off reading a few decent SEO books and doing it yourself. At least that way you won’t be paying some low-rent black-hat to spam forums with his bots.

One possible exception to this is when SEO companies are using audits as a loss leader for other services. In that case the audits might be worthwhile or they might not. In either circumstance you can expect some heavy upselling later on.

4. Too Cheap Two

Say you’re browsing around some SEO forums and blogs and come across someone offering a package of scripts or a document that contains the One True SEO Secret for a Very Low Price. If you’re tempted to pay for this, I have a bridge I can sell you.

These packages are either a straightforward con, with no value at all, or an SEO tactic with marginal benefit, but which is coming to the end of its useful life (perhaps because of algorithm changes). If they did have the one true technique, they wouldn’t be selling it in a package for $9.99 or $999, they’d be using it with their own clients.

Don’t fall for this stuff, there is no easy long-term solution for ranking well. Google pays geniuses with Ivy League educations millions of dollars a year to make sure they can’t be gamed. Mr. (or Mrs) Blackhat will have a hard time beating that.

So if you’re beating your head against the wall trying to find a good SEO expert for your business, just remember the points above. If things seem too easy or too cheap, then it’s probably too good to be true.