I don’t need to tell you that SEO has become tough, especially for affiliates. If you are a lone operator or a small business, resources are probably limited. I am sure that your tolerance for trial and error is low, much lower than a larger operator with deep pockets. Many affiliates have used the services of external consultants, with mixed success, even from the “SEO experts” who frequent the conference circuit. Buying SEO services can be a minefield, and holding an SEO agency to account can be tricky. I hope to share some valuable advice and provide important questions you should ask any SEO service provider, and in so doing save yourself money, time and disappointment. Unlike the handful of super affiliate groups and operators, you do not have deep pockets to afford projects that do not deliver results.
SEO for sale
My intention is not to rubbish SEOs, but as a customer you are entitled to hold your service provider to account and in SEO this is incredibly difficult. Like in any industry there are good gambling SEOs and bad ones. Over the years, some have established excellent reputations. Unfortunately there is a fair share of scam artists too (again, no different to other verticals). SEO services come in many forms, including complete outsourcing of onpage and off-page optimisation or specific projects that may include very targeted link acquisition. Whether you are looking to outsource a big project, or just supplement your own resources, you should use the following criteria to help you decide if you are prepared to engage their services.
- Demand transparency: “We can’t tell you how we do it without giving away your intellectual property,’ or “We can’t really show you past specific projects because of client confidentiality.” I don’t expect an SEO to give away their bread and butter, but they have to provide you with clear evidence of their ability, and a means of verifying that the work is indeed theirs.
- Obtain case studies: Demand to see case studies and speak to past clients. If you are not satisfied with what has been provided, ask for more. You will be amazed at how much you learn through unconvincing examples. If they are reluctant, trust your instincts.
- Performance-based remuneration: I get it, SEO’s charge for services but this is a high-risk game. Structuring professional services deals on a risk/ reward basis is not exactly a new idea. This should be non negotiable on your part and will be a show of good faith on your SEO’s behalf.
- Set clear project goals and time lines: Nobody can guarantee you rankings. However, do not allow this to become an excuse to lead you down the road of an endless project with budget blowouts. Define the tangibles very clearly. For a link-building project, what is the link profile going to look like? How many links will be acquired? What will the blend of link sources look like? What is the link velocity? What is the link quality distribution? How is quality defined? Most importantly, what happens if these quality standards are not being met? Protect yourself.
- Define an evaluation schedule: In line with the goals, agree how they will be reviewed. Again, it is very difficult to tie key performance indicators (KPI’s) to rankings but make sure you reach agreement on what has to be achieved by when and tie it to payment. This could be the number of links acquired and their SEO metrics, or something simple like a content schedule. Stay on top of the project. You can only do that if there is a plan.
- Demand a cooling-off period: Structure your remuneration schedule in such a way that you can get out early with the least possible financial risk to yourself. Never agree to pay any penalties.
- Never stop learning: Don’t for a minute think that outsourcing any SEO services absolves you from deepening your knowledge. Quite the contrary: now is the time to learn. You need to be in the best possible position to evaluate your SEO partner’s performance, track their performance and spot risks and shortcomings in their strategy. Don’t fall victim to the age-old “bullshit baffles brains” tactic that consultants love. Become knowledgeable.
- Your biggest ally: Common sense. Don’t make rash decisions, especially when things aren’t working well in your in-house SEO projects. If it sounds too good to be true, it most probably is.
If this article ends up helping just one affiliate who would otherwise have walked into a dodgy SEO deal, it was worth writing and hopefully reading. Good luck in your ranking endeavors!