There’s been a lot written about J.C. Penney’s major SEO drama that erupted over the weekend. If you’re interested in the Five Ws of all that, you can start at Search Engine Land and work your way out. Personally, the drama of another big brand doing bad things to little consequence (consequences that would CRUSH a SMB) doesn’t particularly interest me. What does interest me is how loudly J.C. Penney is claiming they had no clue what their SEO firm was up to. Not because I believe them, but because of all the Fortune 500 executives and SMBs who will believe that J.C. Penney is a victim of yet-another-unscrupulous SEO company. If the SEO reputation management problem wasn’t big enough, well, here we go again.
I supposed I can’t blame them. If I was investing serious money (or, any money) into SEO consulting services, my red flags would certainly be raised after the New York Times coverage. I mean, if J.C. Penney could be “duped”, how do I know my SEO isn’t participating in methodologies that could get my site banned? How do I know what’s being done to my site? How can I even check?
Whether you’re in the process of hiring an SEO or you have one you’re already working with – it’s important you know what’s being done to your site. If you’re not sure, here are some good questions to ask either yourself or the person applying their magic.
How is my SEO getting results?
Do you know what tactics are being employed on your site to increase your rankings and bring in new conversions? It’s okay if you can’t recite, verbatim, your SEO firm’s secret sauce, but have you had this conversation at all? Any SEO worth their salt should be able to explain, in terms you can understand, how it is they’re going to help you meet your goals. If they have their hands in your site, what parts of your site are they touching and why? If they’re engaging in link building, what techniques are they using? Is it natural link building or are paid links involved? It’s not just your Web site they’re touching; it’s your BUSINESS. Make sure you know what someone is doing to it. And if your SEO company can’t explain it to you, find one that can.
How will they NOT be getting results?
Sometimes just as useful as knowing what your SEO vendor is doing is what they’re NOT doing. Just because we don’t practice blackhat SEO at Outspoken Media, doesn’t mean we’re not aware of the tactics that exist or strategies that could get a site banned. Because we are, and it may be worth having a conversation with your current company to see where they draw the line. What tactics won’t they perform on your site and where is their gray area? Does their level of risk match your own or are you uncomfortable with how aggressive they’d be willing to go? If you want the complete picture of what your SEO company is about, ask where they won’t go. It can be pretty revealing.
How is your SEO measuring effectiveness?
Pretty simple question – how are you and your SEO company quantifying “success” in your campaign? Is it pure traffic? Increased rankings for targeted terms? Increase in leads or phone calls? Conversions? Besides just being really important information to know, it will give you some insight into what your SEO is working toward. Are they employing tactics that will simply attract a crap-ton of people to your Web site to dazzle you with traffic…or are they doing something a bit more targeted so they’re attracting a crap-ton of the RIGHT people?
Do the results you’re seeing match the time frame?
Before you start any type of SEO project, you should be given a time frame for when you can expect to see results. That time frame will vary depending on the size of your site, the type of project, and the results you’re seeking. However, if you’re a small site and you’re seemingly overnight ranking for super competitive terms,
Do things smell right?
As discussed earlier, hiring an outside SEO vendor does not dissolve your responsibility to know what’s happening on your Web site. Part of being a responsible SEO client means doing your homework and staying aware of what’s happening. Even if you’re not the one physically making changes to your site or the one doing the work, you should still be monitoring your search traffic, the links coming in, mentions, rankings, etc. If there’s not a process in place to allow you to do that, why isn’t there? It’s really up to you to ask the right questions. While it’s tempting to just accept that the IRS really does owe you a $50,000 tx refund, sometimes you want to double check before you cash that check.
Bottom line – If you don’t know what your SEO is doing, find out. Today. Because it doesn’t matter who’s in charge of the work or how great your SEO claims to be, this is your business we’re talking about. J.C. Penney can afford to be outed for dodgy SEO techniques because they’re large enough to get the preferred Google treatment. Chances are you’re not and that “oops” won’t work for your business.
Worth noting: If you’re looking social instead of SEO, here are 52 questions worth asking when hiring a social media company.
About the Author
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.