What to look for in a quality SEO (and what to avoid)

If you’re in the market for a quality SEO, how do you know what to look for? What’s the difference between an SEO who knows their stuff and one who’s selling snake oil?

Let’s find out by taking a look at what makes a quality SEO and why being picky in your search matters.

How to spot a shady SEO

First, let’s point out some of the traits of a bad SEO and the reasons to avoid them.

Claims to get you “number one on Google”

This is an especially dirty trick.

An SEO may claim they were able to get XX business appear as the first organic result in search but they don’t tell you for what keywords, topic, or region.

Verifying that you’re the first result in a search but only when using your domain name as the search query is one way they may try to snow you.

Well, of course that would work. But that’s not an achievement.

hide the pain harold seo serp meme

They practice black hat techniques

Black hat SEO are the techniques used to manipulate search rankings. These are tricks that are against search engine guidelines and can lead to either having your site ranked lower or removed completely from search forever.

Not awesome.

Activate cloaking device!

Cloaking is the practice of tricking a search engine into seeing something different than what visitors are seeing. Manipulating content for higher ranking can get your site de-ranked or erased from Google’s index very quickly.

They use keyword stuffing

Search engines have become very smart at knowing the difference between using keywords organically and using keyword stuffing. Your content has to be written naturally. Shoehorning keywords into every paragraph results in terrible content that can hurt your rankings.

They buy links to your site

You could say that it’s akin to buying subscribers or followers on a social network but it’s actually worse for websites. Paid links can end up hurting both the buyer and seller of those links.

Backlinks are important in SEO but if they’re from low-quality sites or ones that Google has deemed as paid links, down your ranking goes. Using Google’s disavow links tool can help if you’re worried about backlinks you can’t have removed.

They can’t write great content

The hallmark of a solid SEO is one who gets web content. They know the difference between brochureware content and content written for users with a focus on engagement, site stickiness, and conversion.

The sneaky SEOs will scrape content from other sites and post it on yours as if it’s your own. They may use CSS or JavaScript to hide content on the page that they still want crawled. They may also add internal links that are unrelated to the topic of a page in an effort to try to booth those linked pages (which confuses users as well).

A few things to watch out for in content that a crappy SEO will do includes:

They post spammy comments on blogs

An SEO might post a slew of comments on blogs that includes links to your website. They’re pretty easy to identify as spammy when you see them and search engines notice this, too.

screenshot sample spam blog comment
A sample spam comment from an article on AintItCoolNews

Their ‘free SEO audit’ is more about up-selling

There are a lot of freelancers, agencies, and marketers out there offering SEO audits through their sites as a way to generate sale of their SEO services.

But many of them are ultimately just another lead generation tactic by self-proclaimed ‘SEO experts’ and the results they provide aren’t any more insightful than what you can find on your own by spending no more than a little time.

Unless there’s enough information like testimonials, case studies, or sufficient article content that clearly demonstrates their value as SEO specialists, proceed with caution.

If you’d like an audit of your site using a quality online tool, try one of the following:

How to spot a quality SEO

Now that we’ve gone over some of the bad, let’s look at the good.

They take the time to do proper research

Before conducting an SEO review or planning a new project, an SEO takes the time to learn about you, your goals, and your current strategy.

This is critical because it provides context to the data collected during a review and provides direction in a deeper way than a superficial understanding of your industry and organization offers.

They provide details in reports and not just the numbers

When a quality SEO runs a site audit or runs a monthly report for stakeholders, they don’t just focus on regurgitating the data and then make assumptions in summarizing the results.

They’ll go into great detail about what the data suggests, what steps were taken that may have resulted in those numbers, and then provides a thorough outline of what can be done as next steps.

The real SEOs will also be open in admitting that a previous step taken to improve a result didn’t work, why it didn’t work, and what they will do to try to improve it.

An SEO worth their salt is not just a number cruncher, but also a guide and an educator.

Their efforts targets people, not search engines

Back when search engine optimization became a thing, it was all about targeting the crawlers.

Many of the tactics used back then are now obsolete or considered black hat.

Today, it’s all about the user and the importance of making user experience and content quality the main priority cannot be understated.

The SEOs that stand out are the ones who know more than all of the technical and on-page requirements for optimal ranking potential.

They’re also marketers. They understand your goals and they may not necessarily know your users at first, but they’ll take the time to find out by analyzing data, their feedback, and results from A/B testing.

Liam Neeson taken seo meme

They rely on data and not just their ‘expert opinion’

A worthy SEO is a kind of scientist. They’re analytically-minded. Their experience may give them confidence in relying on their gut feeling when it comes to certain aspects of the job but they value the facts above all else. The facts are in the data.

A good SEO, like any professional, is OK with saying “I don’t know”. They don’t pretend to know what they don’t know and are eager to dig in and aim for better results – even if it means eating some crow from time to time.

They know SEO takes time

Whether it’s making improvements to your site or content, or executing a full re-build, they not only get that SEO is not a quick process but one that takes time – often months in order to see results.

Sure, there are quick wins here and there depending on the issues, but an SEO strategy is one that doesn’t unfold by flipping a switch.

This is especially true of on-page SEO and content marketing because not only do you have to wait for an accumulation of enough user data to determine trends and problem areas, you also have the time spent A/B testing, ongoing competitor analysis, and experimenting with new ideas.

Wrapping up

Your quest for an SEO shouldn’t involve taking any shortcuts I hope this rundown has helped draw a clearer line between what you truly need and what you don’t when it comes to the right fit for evolving your online properties.

Be sure to check out my article of some image memes I created that SEOs and content marketers will understand.

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