By Nancy Rausman
Small business owners, like independent ODs, are frequently pitched by search engine optimization consultants. Here’s how to make a smart choice by separating the SEO wheat from the chaff.
Many optometrists are rightly dubious of search engine optimization companies claiming that they can promise to get their practice web site to the top of the search engines. While a good SEO can really improve site traffic and ultimately bring in more patients, such suspicions are not unfounded. There are scams out there from search engine optimization companies and it is important to know how to identify them.
False SEO pitches often come in the form of an e-mail from a self-proclaimed expert claiming that traffic to the practice site is poor and that aggressive SEO improvements are needed. These “experts” even go as far as to say that they have checked the stats for the web site (and sometimes social media profiles), citing numbers such as the site ranking or the current number of backlinks (an important SEO factor).
Most of the time SEO vendor claims are false.
Such e-mails from spammers capitalize on “SEO paranoia” and assume that most recipients don’t know how or just won’t take the time to look into their legitimacy.
The truth is that you can easily identify some surefire signs that such an e-mail is a fake.
Here are some tips on what to look for and how to spot a fake “your SEO is no good” e-mail:
Generic nature of correspondence. It is usually easy to identify a template e-mail text that is sent out en masse. If anything strikes you as incongruent or odd about the wording, this is probably a sign that you should hit the delete button. Look out for any of the following:
a. Formatting oddities in key areas of the e-mail such as your name or any numbers they claim are related to you. This may include extra spaces or unnecessary punctuation.
b. Grammar or spelling errors (e.g.: ‘0 back link’ as opposed to 0 backlinks).
c. Generic nature of the greeting or the address lacking names (e.g.: “Dear Eyecarepro Team”).
d. Generic nature of the information, lacking details (e.g.: You are not doing well for “many terms in your industry” or you do not have “enough” backlinks).
e. Generic or vague identifying details. If they link to their site, look for REAL evidence of customers (name / phone / URL), not a testimonial from “Dentist in Pensacola.”
Promises or guarantees. Be wary of any vendor that makes promises such as a number one site ranking or fast results. As a general rule, SEO is a dynamic process which requires constant research and improvements and which depends largely on a number of variables. Site improvements usually involve a gradual process and ranking can fluctuate in the short run. Any “expert” who promises quick, consistent #1 results isn’t being honest about the process. Even worse, he may be using shady tactics such as bought spam or link farms that might momentarily bump up your site but could end up hurting it in the long run.
Beware of guarantees such as:
No one can promise a #1 ranking except Google and it has never offered guaranteed positions even on paid results.
A specific number of visitors or traffic packages.
Stay far away from such promises as these indicate bought spam traffic, from which you’ll see zero conversions. Such numbers lose sight of the real goal of SEO which is to bring relevant visitors to your site, not large numbers of visitors who aren’t looking for your services.
E-mails or other contact from unknown solicitors that provide a laundry list of things you’re doing “wrong” or not doing at all is a red flag. If you get an e-mail that rattles off warnings such as “you’re not in this directory,” “we found 18 photos that have no title” or “your page rank is 6,” steer clear of any further correspondence.
If you still aren’t sure after looking for suspicious signs within the e-mail, do a quick Google search to see if the company is legitimate.
Top Signs Your SEO Vendor is a Keeper
On the flip side, if you are seeking or already working with an SEO provider, here are some signs that the company is reputable and providing you with quality services:
Proven successful track record. Most companies will provide testimonials or references, if not openly on their web sites than certainly by request. Be sure to go beyond just reading the testimonials. Speak to clients and check out some of the web results for yourself.
Willingness to educate. Another good sign is when an SEO team keeps clients up to date on Google changes and policies and at least tries to explain the SEO process as much as possible. In other words, there is good communication. SEO experts are not “afraid” of you doing their job and are usually very open about what goes into the work they provide.
Transparency. Look for companies that use universal tools such as Google Analytics and share access to statistics with clients. Those that use their own proprietary analytics tools or just report statistics back to you can easily alter or misrepresent results. Your SEO team shouldn’t be trying to hide any dips in performance but should be willing to explain and detail the strategy to bounce back.
Can answer the question “What’s new?” Ask them what they know that no one else does because it is not really public yet. SEO experts are ahead of the PR curve and know several months in advance what needs to happen to your web site before the rest of the world does.
Admits that SEO doesn’t always work. As mentioned above, one of the biggest red flags is a company that offers a “guaranteed” first place ranking on Google. You want a provider that is honest and realistic about what can be done to improve your exposure.
Overall improvement. If you are already working with an SEO company, don’t judge the quality of your SEO just by your number on the search results page. As long as you see that your overall rankings and your traffic are on an upward trend, that’s an excellent sign. It is perfectly normal to see some months when traffic is slower or rankings fluctuate.
No tricks. Make sure your SEO company is not employing black hat or grey hat techniques which can permanently damage your web site ranking. Signs of such tactics include poor quality content that doesn’t make sense and appears to be stuffed with keywords or a sudden acquisition of hundreds of backlinks from irrelevant web sites or directories. Ask your reps how they feel about grey hat and black hat methods. If they use them or have no idea what you are talking about, stay away.
SEO is their passion. Is SEO/online marketing their main business or are they a web host, local web designer, etc., that also happens to offer SEO services? If SEO is offered as an add-on service, you’re probably getting optimized on either a very basic level or only occasionally as time permits. In other words, you probably won’t see much value.
At the end of the day you want someone who is knowledgeable but also passionate about what they are doing.
Search engine optimization is not black magic and if you don’t get the feeling that your provider is being straightforward and honest with you, he probably isn’t. You want a company that will take the time to get to know your business and that will communicate openly with you about strategy and progress. Most importantly, if you are considering hiring an SEO company, speak to colleagues and get references. When arrived at through proper investigation and forethought, a reputable and experienced SEO company can really do wonders for your practice.
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Nancy Rausman is the managing editor at EyeCarePro. Nancy is responsible for providing ECPs with educational content that helps them advance their practices through technology, management strategies and digital marketing. EyeCarePro is one of the leading providers of online marketing and practice improvement services in the industry. EyeCarePro serves both industry and practices and is the only company of its kind solely focused on the optometric space.