You’ve no doubt heard of SEO – perhaps you’ve even tried some tactics for raising your search rankings. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s a recipe for disaster. Your search rankings won’t rise significantly, and you’ll be several pages behind in search results with lots of money down the drain.

“The good news about digital advertising [is] you get instant visibility and basically as much traffic as you can handle,” says the digital marketing organization Single Grain. “The bad news [is] you can go broke in record time if you’re not experienced and careful.” 

To save yourself the time and money you’d waste on an unproductive SEO campaign, it may be time to hire the technical expertise of a quality SEO company. Use these tips to find the expertise you need:

1. Get Multiple Consultations

You wouldn’t purchase a home without seeing it, and you shouldn’t hire a marketing company without seeing what they can do for your business. Most SEO firms offer free consultations to test the waters. They’re happy to give the free trial because they don’t want to work with a company they can’t help as it will ruin their reputation.

Consultations can be done in person, on the phone, through email, or over video conference, and during these meetings, you’ll learn a little more about what a firm can do for you. It may take a few days of asking questions and going over the details, but by the end of the meeting, you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not the relationship will be a good fit.

However, don’t tell SEO firms that you’re shopping around. The firms will invest more in you if they think you’re going to buy. They also probably won’t fight over you because there are plenty of other customers out there.

2. Ask for References

SEO firms are particularly skilled at making themselves look good. It’s part of their job to write compelling advertisements, after all. But you don’t want to be pulled in by a company that looks great online, but won’t pull through in the end.

Always ask for references from current and past clients. A reputable SEO company will hand you a list without hesitation, and you can talk with real clients about their experience. This is the most accurate depiction of what it will be like to work with them.

3. Aim for Experience

During your initial consultation, ask detailed questions about how long the firm has been operating. If someone says they’ve been doing SEO for more than 20 years, they’re lying. SEO hasn’t been around that long, and only the largest companies have been doing it from the start. The majority of SEO companies have been around for less than 15 years.

But just because everyone is fairly new doesn’t mean you should hire someone with little experience. If they’ve been operating for less than 5 years, ask how they learned SEO. If they practice regularly, they’ll probably do a good job, but if they mostly learned through YouTube videos and minimal practice, be wary.

Additionally, the number of years in the industry doesn’t necessarily denote a strong company. Some organizations are stuck in SEO tactics that worked five years ago, but they’re outdated now. Ask the SEO firm to share stories about past experiences. That way, you can get a good idea of how they’ve solved problems and dealt with the ever-evolving nature of SEO over the years.

4. Don’t Fall for Empty Promises

Non-reputable, desperate companies will often tell you things they think you want to hear to get your money. Empty promises are a major warning sign of a company that’s tanking.

For example, if you ask a company, “Can you promise that I’ll be number one on Yahoo, Bing, and Google?” and they say “yes,” run the other way. There’s no way to guarantee top search rankings, and only unethical consultants will promise such.

5. Hire Within Your Budget

Finally, don’t overpay for SEO services. It’s true that by ranking higher in the search engines, you’ll gain more business and become more profitable. It’s an investment, to be sure, but you shouldn’t go broke over it.

Set a budget when looking for an SEO company. Usually, if you tell a firm what you’re budget is, they’ll offer you a list of services that fall within that range. Most companies can afford SEO at its basic level, and as your profits grow from higher rankings, you can add more services. Don’t make the mistake of paying more than you can afford from the start.

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