Good news to those who wish to embark in a career in SEO: passion and basic knowledge about online marketing gets you on board. There is no specific college degree, skill certification or affiliation with like minded groups is necessary, only confidence that grows with hands-on experience.
But this also means anyone with basic knowledge can also claim to be an SEO expert, a debatable title on a field where there are no certification exams like Cisco, name extenders like MD or MBA to prove proficiency, whether they are indeed experts or not. This self-confessed proclamation is evident on embellishment on personal profiles, website wording and even on AdWords ad copies.
A self-anointed SEO expert can just be a good writer, good programmer, or specialist in link building with no surrounding skills to complement his or her field of expertise.
It’s never wrong to say you are an expert, if only you can back it up. But in the world of search engine optimization where many clients are being duped into believing the so-called Google secret formula and ended up seeing their websites receiving penalties and reputations tarnished, the word expert can sound so superficial.
Let us understand what are the signs that make that self-proclaimed SEO expert just someone with a fancy job title.
1. The SEO expert dodges questions and fails to explain basic SEO knowledge
Whether it’s flat out refusal to explain or simply unable to do so, not divulging SEO knowledge to client isn’t a hallmark of an expert. If a client asks questions — what’s your take on mobile-first indexing, RankBrain or what’s your strategy on multilingual websites — this expert is good at diverting them into something else, often adding terms curated from a random social media strategy generator, failing to provide clear understanding to everyone in the room.
Even with “I’ll get back to you on that question” is nowhere to be expected. This expert also fails to establish a clear blueprint of how the campaign will unfold, even if the business objectives were laid out by the client in the request for proposal document.
You hear him or her say:
“Just trust us — this SEO recommendation is too technical for you”
without attempting to elaborate what a task means or suggesting that a technically-savvy staff should join the discussion.
Lack of transparency can cause clients to doubt the ability of an agency and drive them to be more suspicious about how an SEO campaign is being executed.
2. The expert preaches old SEO methods and even myths
When he or she starts telling you to advertise on AdWords because this gives bias on Google’s organic search results, we have a problem.
“We are glad to announce that we just added your site to 129 other search engines — let’s cover all bases.”
SEO landscape often changes and search signals are updated often. The failure of this expert to get updates on what works and what no longer works can lead to exercise of futility as wrong or low-priority recommendations, like submission to hundreds of search engines or usage of Meta keywords, take precedence over important ones.
Clients often rely on agencies to give them guidance and direction, and when they are fed with inaccurate or plain incorrect claims, their campaigns could take longer time to succeed. Or worse, bound to inevitable failure.
3. The expert relies only on on-page optimization
He or she provides a wide range of recommendations – from the type of keywords to use, content to publish, placement of header tags and canonical URL tags.
“We will optimize what we can control — the website — and let the off page elements link to us organically.”
However, this expert fails to touch any off-page strategies such as creating synergy between SEO and other marketing channels such as email marketing campaigns, social media presence and link building opportunities even if client presents them to further enhance its online presence.
To this expert, SEO works best in a vacuum without any disruption from other marketing channels to be effective.
4. The expert hides ‘proprietary’ information — like where links are built
In case this expert is involved in creating inbound links essential to SEO success, he or she is careful not to disclose where these links are going to be built even if the client can get a software to track inbound links to his website.
“We will submit your site to DMOZ” and other similar sites.”
Now, DMOZ is dead, and other similar websites are nowhere to be found. All the client is getting are unfulfilled promises.
This expert continues to build opportunities on his or her old reliable field — low-quality forum posts or random articles posted on websites that have not established niche in the industry. Afraid of being asked why links are built there, the expert just chooses not to disclose them even if clients have all the right to know; those hyperlinks are going to be pointing to their website after all.
5. The expert has questionable choices in measuring SEO success
To be successful in an SEO campaign, one has to clearly establish improvement — traffic, rankings, revenues, brand exposure — which should be measurable in the first place.
“We will increase your website’s Internet presence.”
The expert chooses metrics that do not entirely reflect with SEO efforts — unique visitors, for example, instead of organic traffic or retail sales without segmenting by traffic source.
Without setting a baseline measurement before implementing any SEO recommendation, it becomes difficult to picture a before-and-after scenario and it seems that this expert is only keen on getting recommendations done without checking their impact.
6. The expert makes trivial recommendations without showing any citation
As if arriving from a mathematical computation, this expert makes precise recommendations and applying them to all pages.
“You should apply not more than 5% keyword density for every blog post”
“Each article should be between 300 and 400 words”
Some topics can be explained in less than 50 words while others require longer than 1,000 words to fully explain the idea. So restricting content length to certain number of words regardless of topic is not a narrow-minded idea.
Unless this expert finds a way to cite Google, Bing or Baidu that this is the way to go, such claim is merely speculation and should not be given enough merit.
7. The expert offers unique pricing model
While agencies can forecast revenue on PPC campaigns based on budget, price is something that is not really well-established in SEO and that rates which are a measure of how much effort is put into achieving business objectives and potential gain.
As much as a low price point is indeed attractive, it also raises eyebrows. At that price what services are included? Are there hidden charges which may or may not come as optional? How much time of quality SEO job is devoted for that amount? We know quality SEO work, itself a subjective term, doesn’t come cheap so can we have the best of both worlds — cheap and effective SEO service?
Others charge by the link: “For your website we recommend our platinum package — best value and most popular if I may add — worth 250 links for $3,000”
The payment is permanent but the links may not be.
Some agencies employ a performance-based pay model where they are only paid the market rates once they achieve certain targets. But if you are engaged in a low-risk monetary arrangement on a project with low chance of reaching its goals, you are actually trading money with time, a more valuable resource to invest in a field that requires significant amount of time to see results.
To help clients pick the right SEO agencies, Google has itself created a video guide which features guidelines on what points to consider in shortlisting SEO vendors. Perhaps, Google has seen too many SEO experts that failed to deliver their promises.