How to choose an SEO and avoid wasting your money.

June 26, 2007

Choosing a search engine optimisation service provider isn’t an easy task. It’s difficult to evaluate what is essentially an intangible service that can take time to see any evidence of improvement. This business isn’t made any easier by the marketplace being full of people that are quite happy to take your money and run.

The internet is full of tales of woe from clients that used companies that either promised results that they couldn’t deliver, or simply used scams to take their clients money and run. The process can be made easier by knowing what the most common scams are, knowing which questions to ask, what answers you should receive and the warning signs that should make you run a mile.Let’s first start with the scams – these usually involve charging over the odds for services that either won’t help you get ranked in the search engines, or may even damage any existing rankings that you have.

  • The guaranteed #1 listing in Google using PPC. A company approaches you promising to get you ranked at #1 in Google for whatever keywords you want. Sounds great right? The problem being is that these people then use a small proportion of the money that you’ve paid them to get you to the #1 position in the sponsored listings rather than the natural results. Of course once they stop paying for your listing then your website is back where it began and the ‘SEO’ company is walking away with a tidy profit.
  • Search Engine Submission Services. You’ll probably see a lot of people offering to submit your site to 25,000 search engines. While this isn’t strictly a scam, it’s not really a service that you need. You can submit to search engines, though usually they’ll find you though links to your site. You certainly don’t need to submit to 25,000, there are really only three main search engines, and less than 10 worth worrying about. Paying for a submission service is a waste of money – and besides, if you must do it then you can do it for free here, or create a Google sitemap to submit. This format is now recognised and used by all of the major search engines.
  • The guaranteed listing, but they won’t let you choose your own keywords. Many companies that guarantee top 10 or #1 rankings do so while not letting you choose which keywords you’d like to be ranked on. Many companies that ‘guarantee’ rankings apply this to keywords that nobody ever searches for, so while you may want to be found for search phrases such as ‘Estate Agents’ or ‘London Estate Agents’ you actually find that you’re #1 for ‘London Property Estate Agents And Homes’. Of course very few people, if any search for this, so the ranking is worthless. The lesson here is to ensure that you have full control over which search phrases the SEO is targeting.

  • Creating offsite pages or ‘doorway pages’ not on your own site. Many companies offer to create pages that aren’t on your own site to capture and direct traffic to your site. In some instances this can be against search engines terms of service and can result in penalties or bans. Of course when you stop using the company you find out that you don’t retain ownership of these pages and in the worst case scenario you find that they’re sold your your competitor.

Okay, so now you know the scams that you should be looking out for, how do you sort out the companies that know the basics from those that will actually do a good job?Google themselves actually offer some good advice on choosing a search engine optimisation company to work with.

  • Be wary of companies that contact you out of the blue or through spam emails.
  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google – be wary of those that do.
  • Be careful if a company is secretive or won’t explain their methods.
  • You should never have to link to an SEO’s own website.

So what questions should you ask a potential SEO when you’re deciding who to work with?

  • The first thing that I’d ask is for some examples of current work; ask for the sites URL and the keywords that the site is ranking for. By doing this you should narrow the field down to the people who are actually able to get sites ranking well. Check that the keywords that they have the client ranking for are competitive and people would actually search for them.
  • It also doesn’t do any harm to ask for a telephone number of some existing clients to talk to. Not only does this ensure that the rankings that they’re providing are genuinely sites that they’re working on, but you’ll also get some idea of what the company is like to work with from another client’s point of view.
  • Check that the optimisation process involves three clearly defined stages. 1) Keyword research, 2) On Page Optimisation 3) Off Page Optimisation (LinkBuilding)
  • Keyword research – check that you as the client as the final say in which keywords should be targeted.
  • On-Page optimisation – check that the SEO will change the pages titles, meta-tags and where appropriate alt and titles tags. Make sure that they confirm that they are familiar in working in you site’s technology – HTML/ASP/PHP
  • Off-Page optimisation – Ensure that your strategy includes a link building campaign. Links are vital in the ranking process, a strategy that doesn’t involve some form of linkbuilding campaign will most likely fail.
  • Ensure that you are the copyright holder of any work that is completed.
  • Ask the company to confirm that they stick to search engine guidelines and avoid any unethical practices that may get your website banned or penalised.
  • Find out what kind of timescale they expect to start seeing results. Changes can take between 6 and 12 months. Answers of days or weeks should set alarm bells ringing.
  • Check to see how they will update you of any progress. I’d suggest that you should at least receive a monthly rankings and traffic report from them.
  • Ask what you can do to help your SEO along. It’ll probably be the case where offline promotional activities can be synergised with your online efforts in many cases.

Making sure that you ask the questions above and are aware of the common scams should help to minimise the risk when hiring an SEO. Above all make sure that you’re comfortable with the person that you’ve hired and where possible have some face to face meetings to discuss your strategy.

How much should I pay?There are several different pricing models that SEO’s use, including hourly consulting, pricing per project, or on a monthly ongoing basis.Pricing between companies can vary wildly, with the general rule of thumb being that you get what you pay for. If you’re quoted £50 per month for an SEO service you have to ask yourself how much that company values it’s time, and how much your you expect to get done on your site for the price of a half decent pair of trousers?


You probably don’t need me to tell you that ads like the one above end up with disappointed customers rather than #1 results. If it was that cheap and easy wouldn’t everyone be ranking in the top 10?Generally pricing is dependant on factors such as the competitive nature of the keywords and the industry, the age and existing rankings of the website, the size and structure of the website along with any potential problems that that the site structure causes.This table shows the general industry prices for different levels of SEO services at the moment,


Usually, as with anything, if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.