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If your business needs some help in optimising your site for the search engines, make sure you’re getting the help you really need.

At this point, this far into the digital commerce era, most website and business owners know that if they want their website to run successfully and draw in traffic and new business leads, they need to be paying attention to their search engine optimization (SEO). You can be running a great business that offers a unique value proposition for your clients, but if your potential clients can’t find you, you simply won’t grow. In response to this universal need, an entire industry of an SEO experts€ has arisen to help web-based businesses become more discoverable.

There is no question that SEO is big business, and that hiring an expert to help you get your house in order can be a huge help to your website performance. Indeed, a recent report found that “Businesses in 2016 will spend an estimated $613 billion for digital-marketing services worldwide, triple what was spent in 2008.” However, the problem is that many of the people purporting to be SEO experts are actually just amateurs at best and scammers at worst. By making big promises to company CEOs or directors, who don’t necessarily know a lot about how SEO actually works, these charlatans manage to make money in an industry that’s unregulated and difficult to police.

As writer and business owner Mark Templeman wrote for, these scams run the gamut from the clever to the ludicrous. Likening them to snake oil salesmen, he says “I receive hundreds, yes hundreds of unsolicited emails every day from marketers promising to take my brand to the #1 spot in Google (total lie). Or to bring me thousands of visitors in a matter of weeks (liar liar pants on fire). They tell me that my site is breaking numerous rules set forth by the search engines and if I don’t fix them my company will die a fiery death (oh really?).”

So how can you tell if the SEO expert you’re thinking about hiring is legit, or just full of it? Here is a look at some ways you can vet your SEO expert.

Too good to be true: Watch out for people whose promises simply sound too good to be true. If they insist they can get you to the top of Google search results for a competitive keyword, think twice about whether that’s really possible for a business of your size. Don’t be tempted by believing their delusions of grandeur, no matter how appealing they sound. Never fail to see the reality that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Saying they understand the Google algorithm: Similar to making bold promises, if someone says they know exactly how the Google algorithm works, your suspicions should be aroused immediately. Why? Because no one knows exactly how the Google algorithm works (at least no one who doesn’t work there), and it changes all the time. Any good expert should have a comprehensive understanding, of course, but claiming to know all the secrets is almost always a claim that is not true.  

Do your due diligence: Just because someone seems legit or says they’re an expert doesn’t mean they are. As Templeman writes, “Check the background of the founders, look for third party reviews. Ask them for case studies, testimonials, and references. Do not look at a slick sales deck and assume that because they can put together a decent PowerPoint that they can provide you with proper marketing services.”

Require full visibility: If an agency or so-called expert claims they can’t show you their methods or practices because they are proprietary, you should insist on full visibility. You are, after all, not their competitor but their client, and you have a right to know what tactics they are using to improve your SEO rating. If this is not possible, think twice about hiring them.


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This article was originally published in 7 November 2016. It was most recently updated in November 28, 2022 by

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