The answer is probably “yes.” The search marketing business is already incredibly large and growing fast, and because of how lucrative it is, it’s attracting all types of “snake oil” salespeople. According to a Forrester Research study done in July 2009, the search marketing industry is expected to grow to a $31 billion dollar industry by 2014, with 21% of that total on advertisement spending like Google AdWords. This most certainly is related to the fact that over 85% of all products purchased started with an online search.
It’s also amazing how such a large industry is still very much in its infancy. Google launched their first version of a search engine in 1998, so the industry is really only 12 years old; yet what’s fascinating is that what you knew back then almost certainly doesn’t apply now. For instance, in the early days you used to have to “submit” your site to Google in order to let them know you existed. Today all of that is done automatically through “crawling.”
The other fascinating thing, at least in the SEO world, is how disparate the expert opinions can get. One says keyword density is a myth, the other says it’s important. One says the h1 tag matter the most, the other one says it’s the title tag. It’s enough to make a skeptic out of anyone. Who should you believe? And why do they charge so vastly different for their services? One SEO consultant will charge $400 per month, and another one won’t take you unless you spend $5,000 per month. How are you supposed to evaluate the differences between costs and expertise to make sure you get a “bang for your buck?”
Let’s look at a few basics that you should understand from your SEO:
1. Does the SEO himself rank in the search engines?
You’ll have to take this one with a grain of salt since you might not readily know what terms the SEO is actually trying to rank for. They should at least rank for their own name and some moderately competitive terms related to their field. You can ask them what terms or phrases they are trying to rank for. Maybe you got to them via a Google search anyway, but you’d be surprised. I remember responding to an RFP where one of the other respondents was not even following their own advice on their website.
2. Does the SEO tend to talk about or use old practices?
When evaluating the SEO, ask he or she what kinds of techniques they will use to help rank your website higher. Beware of words or phrases that involve “keyword density”, “buying links” “one-way reciprocal links” or similar. Developing inbound links is probably the most daunting task in any SEO workplan, yet can be the most rewarding. Links are meant to look and feel “natural”, not purchased or manufactured. Google is smart enough these days to pick up on footprints from link farms and other tricks. It simply does not work anymore. We once saw an SEO who built web pages for a client by creating them over 3000 pixels wide so that you had to scroll all the way to the right to see hidden content. Folks, there are better ways to do this now.
3. What was the last search marketing event the SEO has attended?
With an industry that can literally change overnight, it is important that the SEO keep abreast of the changes within the industry. Ask them questions about how Google Caffeine will affect search, or semantically related words. Or how is real-time search going to affect SEO? If they don’t have explanations for these kinds of issues, then it’s likely that they don’t get out much or read some of the top search marketing blogs. Beware of this person. A good SEO will invest in the time and expense to travel to big cities, which is where all of these events are.
4. Does the SEO speak at events?
For an SEO to speak at events, particularly search marketing events, it’s likely that this SEO is regarded as a highly knowledgeable and trusted colleague in their field. They will probably have to present new technology or techniques that are new the field, which means they are more than up-to-speed with what’s going on.
5. Does the SEO tend to talk over your head showing off their technical prowess?
Beware of these people. Yes, technical prowess is good, but for most of your audience, they won’t be web developers or IT experts. A good SEO is able to water down the explanation of what they are doing and why into “Fisher-Price” language so that you can understand it. If the SEO is talking over your head, it could mean they are trying to over-impress you, and if they know that no one in the room can challenge them, they are probably embellishing most of what they are saying. An SEO who openly admits for not knowing something is probably worth more and speaks volumes to their character.