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How to Find a Quality SEO Specialist

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  • Post published:April 8, 2020
  • Post category:SEO

How to find a Quality SEO Specialist (and not waste thousands of dollars on amateurs or scammers

You’re ready to increase your online visibility and decide to hire an SEO specialist but you’ve heard all the horror stories of people wasting thousands of dollars on SEO amateurs or worse, SEO scammers.  How do you find a quality SEO Specialist?  Someone who knows what they’re doing and will actually produce results?   Most people I know will:

  • Get recommendations from other professionals
  • Find the SEO companies that show up on the first page of Google (they must be doing something right)
  • Ask in networking groups for people who specialize in SEO

You narrow it down to 2 or 3, but how do you really know if they will produce the results you’ll be paying for?

I feel your frustration (especially after today’s research)!

As an entrepreneur I’ve wasted a lot of time and money trusting the wrong people and so have my clients.  Nothing frustrates me more than the “those that can, do, and those who can’t, teach” mentality.  If you can’t do, then you shouldn’t be charging people money!    

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I was on a chat with a potential client last week.  They were frustrated because they had just spent thousands of dollars on an “SEO expert” and six months later, no results.

I did a thorough analysis of their website, and their on-page and off-page SEO.  It was bad.  It looked like all that had been done was basic title tags and meta descriptions.  There were over 200 technical issues with their site, and it was loading at 15.3 seconds.  Yikes! I did a bit of research on the “SEO expert” and there were immediate red flags.  They’re site took over 10 seconds to load, they had 2 backlinks and were ranking in ZERO keywords.  But hey, they had an awesome looking website!

The potential clients were rightfully frustrated and disappointed and really wanted to know how I was different?  I could assure them that I was a quality SEO specialist, but how would they know if I would actually produce results for them?

Unfortunately, getting ripped off by SEO scammers is becoming an epidemic.

In fact, it’s the reason I got into SEO.  I was working as a freelancer for an SEO company in the Midwest.  He had 20 or so clients and charged them all $1,000 + every month to do their “SEO”.  I was the project manager, which translated into, I was the only employee and did all the work.  I didn’t mind the work, in fact I loved it.  It wasn’t just SEO either, he was having me build his own personal website, and other side jobs. The money was good, and I enjoyed the work.  The fact that he capped me out at 30 hours a week wasn’t an issue for me, but it should have been for his clients.  On average I was spending 10 or so hours each week doing the owner’s personal website work.  That left 20 hours a week or 1 hour a week for each client.  Any guesses on how much SEO you can accomplish in 1 hour?  Not much!

We argued constantly, because I didn’t feel he was being ethical with his clients.  He was getting paid for work that wasn’t getting done.  He would lie on the monthly reports and often times blame me for the lack of progress.  It was my reputation on the line, so I quit and started my own agency.  One based on ethics and full transparency.

When it comes to SEO, you want someone who CAN do, TEACH, and has a work ethic. 

But back to the average business owner, how do you know if someone is a quality SEO specialist or someone who either doesn’t know what they’re doing, or is worst case, is just an SEO scammer?

Well, if an SEO company can’t rank their own website, has technical issues, and doesn’t show real case studies and testimonials on their site, then they can’t DO.  If they can’t do it for themselves, why would you trust that they can do it for you?

Here are a few red flags to look for:

  • They promise first page ranking. No one can promise that unless you are the child of a Google God.  There are things you can do to increase your chances, but there are too many variables to make promises.
  • They’re cheap, I mean really cheap. This is one of the things that scares me most because you’re going to put your website, your business in the hands of someone who either has no clue what they’re doing or will use black hat methods that could very well get your site put in the Google penalty box (you definitely don’t want to be there).  Quality SEO is not cheap.  It takes hours, and hours of work (when done right).
  • They’re new to SEO.  – There is so much to learn and every website’s different.  What works for one website, won’t work for another.  It takes time and experience to create an SEO strategy that produces results.

It’s not just about title tags and meta descriptions, it’s:

  • Extensive baseline analysis
  • Technical optimization
  • Speed optimization
  • On page optimization
  • Analytics integration (Google & Bing)
  • Keyword research
  • Keyword mapping
  • Competitor analysis
  • Optimized title tags and meta descriptions
  • Google & Bing Webmaster tools integration

You not only need to know how to do all of the above and more, but you need to know how websites are built, how cPanels work, how web hosting works, and all things marketing.

While Google and their algorithms seem to change daily, there are consistencies in what the top-ranking factors are.  They include:
  • Content relevance – Is your content engageable, shareable? Do people want to explore your site and read more?
  • Content quality – do your webpages have identifiable, relevant keywords, internal links, external links, customized title tags and meta descriptions? Are you using alt tags on images properly?
  • Inbound links (backlinks) – Do you have diverse, quality links from other websites?
  • Technical issues – speed is a big ranking factor. Is your site slow?  Are your 301 redirects set up properly?  Do you have any error codes?
  • SSL certificate – if you don’t know by now, search engines are starting to flag websites that don’t have SSL certificates. It doesn’t matter if you sell anything.  If you have a newsletter signup and anything that captures user information, you need an SSL certificate.  If an SEO company does not have an SSL certificate, that tells me they don’t keep up on the latest.  SSL certificates are no longer optional.  Check out this article on Search Engine Journal to learn more about the July 2018 deadline that Google has set and how it will affect your website if you don’t have an SSL certificate.

That’s the basic list.  There are hundreds of things that affect rankings and they change all the time.  But these are the top ones at the moment.

How does this help you know whether you’re hiring an SEO specialist that knows what they’re doing and can actually produce results??  Simple, test them.  This will take a bit of time (a couple of hours), but it will save you time and money in the long run.

My intention in writing this post is to show you how to test a potential SEO specialist before hiring them.  However, the more I tested companies, the more frustrated I got.  I ended up creating a  spreadsheet to track basic data that could show whether or not an SEO specialist/company has successfully executed the top-ranking factors for their own website.  After all, if they aren’t producing results for their own website, how likely are they to produce results for yours?

While I pay for several platforms where I could (and do) get more in-depth data, I only used free platforms that you could use.

Here is what I looked for:
  • Do they have an SSL certificate? (is there site http:// or https://) – Beginning in July of 2018, Google will start flagging any website that does not have an SSL certificate. A quality SEO specialist knows this and has one on their site.
  • Do they have real case studies that show before and after results? – It’s easy to tell someone about the amazing results you’ve produced, but can you show me?
  • Do they have testimonials? – Are people happy with their work? Are the testimonials specific or do they say things like “I really enjoyed working with Stan!”?
  • Are there technical issues on their site? – Are you tapping your fingers waiting for their website to load?
  • Do they have any  quality backlinks? – Do people link to quality content on their website?
  • Are they ranking in targeted keywords? – After all, they’re a business as well, they should want to be found on search engines.

I did my best to test a variety of sites.  I searched “SEO companies near me”, and I also tested people and companies that have offered up themselves as “SEO Specialists” in 3 entrepreneur focused Facebook groups.  I tested a total of 20 “SEO Specialist” websites.  Here are the results (actual URL’s whited out):

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  • 8 didn’t have SSL certificates
  • 13 didn’t have any testimonials at all on their website
  • 17 didn’t have any case studies showing proven results
  • 7 had a website load time of over 5 seconds. 3 of those had a load time of over 10 seconds.
  • 5 are receiving a failing grade for mobile speed from Google
  • 9 are receiving a failing grade for desktop speed from Google
  • 14 had NO backlinks what so ever. Of the remaining 6 websites, only 2 had over 6 backlinks
  • 8 were ranking in ZERO keywords. This includes not even ranking for their own business name.  Of the remaining twelve websites, six websites were only ranking in 1 or 2 keywords.

Very discouraging results.  Of the 20 specialists, I’d maybe take the time to interview 1 or 2, but even they would have a LOT of questions to answer.  If you were just looking at their websites, you’d think “wow, they look like they know what they’re doing”.

There were a couple of websites that I literally gasped at.

 One that stood out had a home page with an SEO eBook for sale.  Everything you need to know about SEO.  And it’s not free.   Here’s a few screen shots of the website’s SEO data.

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Would you trust the advice given in the eBook?

But this one was my favorite. A company here in Southern California. One of the other few websites that had a case studies page.

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Notice anything?  It’s dummy text.  They couldn’t even be bothered to make up fake information.  They used Lorem Ipsum.  Are you freaking kidding me?

While it’s not a full proof method, you will have a better chance of not throwing your money away if you take the time to test potential SEO specialists before hiring them.

You can download my Quality SEO Specialist worksheet below. You don’t have to sign up for anything, just download!  I don’t do the whole “sign up for my newsletter and you’ll receive the worksheet.”  I don’t like gimmicks.


However, if you’d like to know when a new post is written, you can sign up for me newsletter here:

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