SEO marketing services have really become commercialized and saturated. Everyone is offering it these days. I know that’s especially true in the St. Louis area where it seems like every digital consultant and agency alike are SEO specialists. I’m not harping on those by any means nor it’s my intent on doing so. Sometimes I wonder what happened to the old days of SEO circa 10+ years ago. In reality, how do you distinguish one SEO provider from another? Which provider will give you the biggest bang for the buck? How do you smell the b.s. from one provider to another?

The most honest answer I can give you is that it’s challenging. Finding the most qualified provider for SEO marketing services requires a strategic approach. That’s if you want true value out of the service and increased brand potential. Here’s a few things to be cognizant of when scouring a sea of SEO providers and ensure that you won’t be scammed.

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#1 Success in the SEO Arena

Any viable SEO marketing services provider will have an arsenal of testimonials to tap into. Former or current clientele they’ve done business with where each has experienced success from the SEO endeavors. You should become at least a bit skeptical if your SEO provider is incapable of providing such information. There’s a few basic questions more specifically you can inquire about as well to help establish a comfort level. For example, here’s a few to consider:

  • What specific industries have you worked with in the past/currently?
  • What were some of the challenges you faced with this particular client?
  • Do you have performance reports to show organic growth over time?

This is fairly standard process in inquiring supportive information that validates success. Some challenges you may encounter might entail in NDA/proprietary information sharing which may prohibit the opportunity of acquiring such specific information.

#2 Action Plan

Even to this day a vast majority of so-called ‘SEO marketing services providers’ tend to miserably fail at this initiative. In reality, for SEO to be truly successful, it’s imperative to start with an action plan. A strategy. A long-term investment for organic reach improvement in the SERPs. The development of an SEO action plan can sometimes be a fairly comprehensive process. Remember though, with SEO marketing services and achievement of success you have to factor in time, money, and patience. You’re not going to strike gold overnight in your industry. So, with that being said, here’s a few questions in retrospect that you can inquire about from your SEO provider:

  • Will you be providing an SEO plan? (look for a mention of an SEO audit/performance assessment)
  • How will you approach implementation and execution?
  • Can you provide an approximate time frame?

#3 Content Marketing Strategy

A huge chunk of SEO marketing services should entail in content marketing endeavors. Contextually driven search engines such as Google are huge fans of fresh content. From a consumer perspective, we intend on finding the most recent information possible and therefore Google particularly intends on delivering freshness to its customers. Therefore, as a brand you should not only invest in a content strategy but also ensure that it’s a strategic one as well. With that being said, here’s some questions to inquire from your SEO marketing services provider:

  • How do you approach a content marketing strategy?
  • Do you have a vetted industry writer? (this one is a critical one but it’s not uncommon to identify unqualified industry writers. They can be trained though!)
  • Do you foresee a need for an editorial calendar?
  • Will you be providing a keyword strategy? (a big one and an essential ingredient for long-term SEO success.)

The establishment of a content marketing strategy is a process in itself. The above mentioned questions though should help you identify the level of expertise an SEO marketing services provider possesses. I’ve found that traditional PR & communications companies seem to be far more adaptive to this process though.

#4 Performance Reporting, Measurement, & Recommendations

It’s no good if you can’t measure, track, and quantify it. Excuse the digital marketer in me who strongly believes in the ability to monitor SEO performance closely. At the end of the day every business owner including yourself carries a heavy concern with results. Did your site improve in traffic? Did you generate more inquiries/contact form completions? Did you gain any more referrals? Were you able to establish new online relationships? Here’s a few questions I would suggest asking from your SEO marketing services provider:

  • What kind of performance reports will you be providing on monthly basis?
  • Does your performance reporting include a breakdown? (everyone appreciates the Layman’s Terms approach in gaining clarity)
  • Does the monthly reporting provide information on our conversion funnel?
  • Will we have access to our real-time data for on-demand perusing?

#5 Promised Rankings (i.e. Page 1 of Google)

If an SEO marketing services provider makes a claim to promise you Page 1 rankings then I have a single word answer for you. Run! Nobody controls the pace of search engines. They’re all about quality, relevant, and freshness which in all honesty seems much easier said than done. In 2014, Google specifically implemented somewhere around 500-600 algorithmic updates with intent of improving its overall quality, content, and user experience. Any SEO marketing services provider that claims Page 1 rankings for any search engine is full of it. I’m not sure how else to clearly explain it. The unfortunate part about the SEO industry though remains the fact that plenty of small businesses tend to fall for this gimmick.

SEO is a complex approach. I hate to admit it but have been seeing plenty of brands fail at it miserably. Even certain startup agencies in the St. Louis area who claim to be SEO experts. A DIY approach will get you only so far into the SEO game but an actual strategy paired with good implementation and execution will assist with generating real results. There’s other areas pertaining to SEO marketing services that I’ve not outlined in this article such as social media marketing, link building, or even reputation management.