The Rules Have Changed – What to Ask an SEO Before You Hire – or Fire – Them

by mjtaylor on October 15, 2013

Few small business owners really understand how their websites work – at best they know how to add content on their blog. When it comes to making their sites more visible in the search engines, they probably understand that links help and little more.  Most have never heard of the updates – Panda, Penguin, and now Hummingbird- that have rocked the world of so many businesses built in the shifting sands of self-service links.

Why have my Internet sales tanked?

If you’ve hired an SEO to “build links” in the past, you may well have seen a significant drop in traffic in the past year. If your current SEO is telling you that ‘fluctuations’ in Google are normal, you might want to raise one eyebrow.  While a sites’ position in the organic SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will vary, it’s not normal to fluctuate graph with downward trend for website trafficdrastically. If you were on the first page of the organic listings for some of your top keyword terms and now you’re on page 4, you may have been hit by the Penguin updates that targeted low quality links. If an SEO wants to win your business, they will be happy to conduct a quick audit of your site to determine the quality of your link profile. Your incoming links need to be primarily from page with relevant, quality content and you want your anchor text (the linked text) to be natural. Ask for an SEO audit that analyzes your backlink profile. Will your SEO identify any suspect, low quality links and take steps to have them removed?

If your SEO even mentions PageRank (PR), give ‘em  the evil eye. Google has not updated the PR toolbar since February of 2013 and is not expected to update it again this year.  And since the toolbar metric is known to be outdated at the time it is “pushed” to the toolbar, the PR of your page is completely unknown and at best, reflects your PR of about a year ago.  Google updates PageRank constantly to rank websites, but doesn’t share that data. And considering the scope of Penguin 2.0 there is a good chance that any site that had an SEO build links has been negatively impacted.

If you want a more reliable assessment of your site’s quality than PR, find out what Moz thinks of your Domain and Page Authority (DA / PA) in its Open Site Explorer tool. Majestic SEO  also provides a backlink analysis tool that plots incoming links based on trust. Both tools will help you assess whether the incoming links you’ve acquired in the past are of good quality.

Ask Your SEO: What’s your link building strategy?

link builder

Has your link building strategy hung your website out to dry?

There are lots of elements an SEO will tweak on your website – it’s called “on page” or on site optimization, but links still rule the search world and you want to know what your search marketer will do to generate links to your website.  If they mention blog commenting, forum links, article marketing and directory submissions, you want to run the other way.  You only have to look at how Google defines link schemes  to see why.  Google’s Penguin updates has successfully targeted the sort of low quality links that can be ‘self-created.’ Of course, there are exceptions.  There are niche directories where you may want a listing; and commenting on blogs that are very high quality can drive targeted traffic and help to establish authority.

Guest posting can be a worthwhile way to obtain links – and it’s just about the only safe ‘self serve’ way to obtain links today. Be sure your SEO copywriter has the ability to generate quality posts on high quality, relevant blogs.  Even better would be for the business owner to write the  content and post as a Google verified author.  Google will continue to look for ways to prevent spam, and knowing the author of any given article can be a signal of trust and authority.

What you really want to hear is how your SEO will generate the sort of content that will attract links. Ask for examples of content they’ve placed on other client sites that have attracted valuable links.

How will your SEO market your content?  

 ‘Build it and they will com’ never did apply to websites. Somehow you have to get the word out. Today’s social networks provide the platform to connect with users who want your information, but it takes time and commitment to feed the beast – and it takes a personal touch. Social networks are about relationships; as a business owner you may  not have time to broadcast content on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook, but be especially careful when you turn over that responsibility to someone else because they hold your name and reputation in their hands.

How have recent Google updates affected they way you optimize web sites? Ask your SEO to explain the recent Google updates to you. Here are a couple of shortcut definitions to help you understand what they’re talking about- and to help you figure out if they know what these updates really mean to website owners.

Panda,Penguin and Hummingbird icons

Panda – (Feb. 2011) – was about low quality content- this change to the algorithm was intended to lower the ranking ability of sites with thin or poor quality content.  If your site had links coming from affected sites, your website’s ranking may have suffered.  Duplicate content is also targeted by this update, sites with too many ads “above the fold,” and other indications of low quality.

Penguin – (April 2012 and subsequent releases in May 2012, Oct. 2012, May 2013 and Oct. 2013) – aims to devalue links acquired to manipulate a website’s position in the index.  If you want to know if your website was affected by these updates, refer to your traffic analytics; if your website experienced a drop off in traffic in the days and weeks following the updates your site has proably been affected.

Hummingbird – (Sept. 2013) – is primarily a change in the way Google handles conversational queries and questions, which is especially pertinent to mobile voice users. “What’s a good Chinese restaurant in Coral Gables?” for example.  Hummingbird actually represents an excellent opportunity for content generation; smart SEOs are delving into natural queries and expanding the site’s content to reflect longer tailed keyword phrases and questions that searchers might ask. A great place to start might be a site’s frequently asked questions. Longer, more in-depth articles are warranted.

Show Me The Money!

Of course, before you hire an SEO, you want to see what success they’ve had with other sites. Do make them be very specific and show you “before and after reports” – and details on what they did to achieve results for other clients.  Pay particular attention to how they acquired links, and to how they propose to acquire links for you. Steer clear of anyone who offers you guaranteed results, though. Google very clearly warns website owners off SEO firms that offer guarantees.


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