6 Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer BEFORE your Hire Them

Hiring a Search Engine Optimizer is no easy task.  For one thing there are a lot of people out there that claim they know how to do Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and build quality links, when in fact they don't.  Also there are Search Engine Optimizers that will give a great price that undercuts what everyone else told you.  However, what they don't tell you is they will use all BlackHat (meaning Google doesn't like it) link building techniques to rank your site.  You could very well rank for 1st for some keywords for a couple days or weeks, but most likely your site might get deindexed from Google or face penalties.  You could still be listed in other search engines… but who really cares about those?

search engine optimizerAs someone who's seen and heard of waaay to many people getting ripped off by SEO scammers out there, here are 6 Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer BEFORE you make the decision to hire them.

1. What SEO Software and Tools Do you Use?

Search Engine Optimizers need quite a few SEO tools and software to pull data about competitors websites and to try to figure out how to rank your site for certain keywords and terms.  Typically they will have a subscription to some sort of rank tracking software or monitoring service, link analysis software, and have one or several VPS (Virtual Private Servers) for running some of these programs.  In addition they might have to hire workers via oDesk or another freelancing service for doing small tasks and jobs they don't want to do.  This could be writing articles, contacting blogs or websites where they might be able to post an article with your URL above the fold (this means not as a comment or forum signature link), link analysis, filling out forms, etc.

Any legit Search Engine Optimizer should be honest with you about what SEO tools, software, and subscriptions they are paying for and what tasks they sub-contract other people to do.  Many feel sharing with clients is giving away trade secrets, but that just isn't true.  If you bought SEO tools, guess what, other people bought use those SEO tools too.

Even though I would let clients of mine know what SEO software I use, they obviously don't have the expertise or knowledge to use the effectively.  Of course if later they want to learn, that's fine with me.  The client is paying me for my knowledge and there is always plenty of SEO business out there. 🙂

2. What link building Techniques & Strategies Do you Use? Blackhat or Grayhat?

This is an important question you really need to be on your toes about.  If it's clear they completely use BlackHat techniques, then run away very fast!  (This is hard to know if you don't have any idea about search engine optimization.)

I assume most people that read my website are looking for long term benefits from SEO.  You need someone who understands that and isn't going to give you a bunch of crappy low quality links, even if they drive traffic.

Consider how your potential search optimizer answers question 1# and what tools they told you they use.  Guess what, you should Google it.  Is it SEO software that is mainly used for BlackHat link building?  Then ask how they use the tools and what strategies they use to build links?

To be fair and honest and what you do need to keep in mind… no Search Engine Optimizer, and I mean NOBODY, completely does whitehat SEO.  Everyone works in “Grayhat SEO” when it comes to link building.

Larger sites and companies will buy links, which is technically against Google's guidelines, for certain keywords they want to rank for.  Smaller sites and blogs don't care since they need the money.  (I know since I've been there.)  It's not like Google isn't aware of it but I've never seen Google do much about it since a lot of these companies have large advertising deals with Google.  Also there is no way the bots are smart enough to figure this out on ever single website out there.

A lot of SEO software is not necessarily considered “whitehat” by Google.  For instance I use a program called ScrapeBox, which everyone uses.  You can't use ScrapeBox with one IP address or Google would ban it.  ScrapeBox sends to many automated queries at one time, so if you are going to use it you need to buy proxies.  ScrapeBox is not a bad tool in my opinion, but Google doesn't like how it pulls data.

Bottom line, a Search Engine Optimizers should be honest about SEO strategies and link building tactics they will use for your website before you give them any money.  Like I said I'd keep in mind Google expects everyone to play fair, but nobody does.

3. What Keywords can you Rank me for within my Budget?

Before you talk with a Search Engine Optimizer you should figure out how much you can spend monthly or for a one-time upfront cost.  You need to understand that harder the keywords you want to rank for, the more time and therefore money it will require.

If you are told by a company they can rank you for some crazy competitive keywords such as “make money online” they might be able to… but it will cost you a lot of money.  That's why nobody posts pricing on directly on their websites.  It doesn't make sense since they are billions of searches for different categories and regions.  Cost and difficulty range with regards to what keywords and terms you want to rank in Google for.

There should be a discussion of what is doable within your SEO budget.  I'm not saying you should not expect something for your money, but understand some companies spend $500-$2,000 a month with SEO firms while other are spending upwards of $10,000+ for a whole range of SEO, social media, and website development services.

4. Can you Guarantee 1# Ranking?

This a bit of a trick question since the answer, should be “No!”  If you work with a huge SEO company that's been in the game for awhile and you are paying them tons of money each month, then it might be possible if they have the staff and resources.  Still there is no way any Search Engine Optimizers or company can “100% Guarantee” #1 sport ranking in Google for extraordinarily competitive keywords.

Even these large SEO companies can't always figure out how to get a 1# SERP (search engine results pages) ranking.  People who claim otherwise are blowing smoke.

Google rankings are NOT determined by the search optimizers you hire.  They are determined by Google and their massive computing power and stupid algorithms which sometimes nobody can figure out.  There are over 200 different ranking factors Google uses and they don't tell the public what all of these are.

5. Do you hate Matt Cutts?

The answer to this question, should be “Yes!”  (In case you don't know who Matt Cutts heads the Webspam team at Google and works on Google's search algorithm.  He wrote the family filter engine for Google as well.)

I personally don't trust a lot of things Matt Cutts tells people in the Google Webmaster Help videos on Youtube.  He tells you what Google doesn't like, not what doesn't work.  These are 2 very different things and SEO pros know the difference and will exploit them.

Watching the Google Webmaster Help videos is good for many reasons though.  For instance I wouldn't have been aware Google changed their stance on .IO domains for global use.  Also he gives straight-up advice like Don't Buy a Spam Domain and that you should always Link to Your Sources.

Often times it is quite difficult to figure out what he means in these Youtube videos though.  The issue is he is trying to appeal to beginners watching these videos that don't know much about SEO and people in the SEO industry, which doesn't work.  This was clear when Penguin 2.0 hit and his answers about regarding “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” should have been more clearcut.  (That's why there was a website created call The Short Cutts.)  Additionally Matt Cutts SEO talk at WordCamp 2009 doesn't tell the whole story about Google and SEO.  There are a lot more factors that go into ranking than diverse keywords in articles.

6. Do you hate Google?

The answer should always be “Yes!”  🙂

Other Questions to Ask a Search Engine Optimizer

Obviously I can't account for what your specific situation or website needs are.  There are too many factors or specialty areas.  So you need to feel out how the SEO company or Search Engine Optimizer you are going to hire seems.  Do they seem like an “SEO Diva?” or are they pretty chill.  Try to think of other questions and definitely get on Skype or Google+ to talk with them “face to face” if you can.  If they don't want to take a little time to answer your questions I'd find someone else.

Personally if I get hired by a small business to do SEO work I am always open about what I am doing and I keep them updated.  They are paying me to do work for them and it's my job to make it clear what I am doing and how I am doing it, so they feel they are getting value for their money.  I even try to provide clients with tools and resources other people wouldn't.  Transparency is not something you find often in the SEO world, but you should expect it from whoever you hire in my opinion.  (If you want to Hire Me, I'd be happy to talk with you by the way.)

Ranking in search engines is something you should want to do in the long term, not short term.  Be careful who you hire and just make sure you feel comfortable working with them and what they are going to do with your website.

Think I missed something?  Have anything to add regarding SEO or search optimizers?  Let me know below!

Catch me on Twitter @AdamYamada … if you can!

Google Keyword Tool now the Google Keyword Planner

google keyword tool

If you like to use Google's well known Google Keyword Tool, then it is probably no surprise  to you that Google has planned to shutdown the Google Adword Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator for awhile now to replace it with the new Google Keyword Planner.  I noticed that just in the last week the Keyword Tool URL now redirects to the new and, what Google claims, improved Google Keyword Planner.

In a post on Inside Adwords, the official Google Adwords blog, on May 20th 2013 this is why Google says it has switched from the Google Keyword Tool to the Google Keyword Planner.

We’re constantly working to simplify the process of building campaigns, and today we’re happy to announce the launch of a new tool, Keyword Planner, which combines the functionality of the Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator into a smooth, integrated workflow. You can use Keyword Planner to find new keyword and ad group ideasget performance estimates for them to find the bid and budget that are right for you, and then add them to your campaigns. You’ll also see some new features in the tool – some of which we’ll highlight below.

To put this into terms people can understand this basically means Google built the Keyword Planner to try to make it easier and simpler for advertisers to figure out which search phrases they want to bid on.  Google obviously wants to give as much data and tools as possible since the more advertising on Google Adwords, the more money they will make.  The Keyword Planner includes several new features compared to the Google Keyword Tool.  This includes;

  • Multiply keywords in 2 different lists to generate new keywords you mightnot have thought of.
  • You can geotarget not juts countries, but specific cities and regions.
  • A graph showing the search volumes for selected keywords or phrases by month by month.  This allows you to see when certain terms have a higher volume of searches.

The Google Keyword Tool and Google Traffic Estimator are not exactly retired as they were merged into the Google Keyword Planner.  You can do everything you used to do but supposedly even better with the Keyword Planner.

Since I try to make the most of my articles (of course you can't always do that) SEO friendly and keyword optimized I used to use the Google Keyword Tool all the time.  Even external SEO programs, like Long Tail Pro, pulled most of their data from the Google Keyword Tool too. While I appreciate it when companies update their tools and services when they are free, I am having a bit of trouble getting used to the Keyword Planner.  Since the Keyword Tool has been around for so long I know my way around it easily.  The Google Keyword Planner is taking some getting used too.  I like  the new features but find some of the new layout and tools confusing.

If you are a SEO (search engine optimizer), SEM (search engine marketer), advertiser, or do a lot of keyword research what do you think of Google changing over from the Keyword Tool to the Keyword Planner?  Do you like the new tool or wish Google kept the Keyword Tool and just added the new features?

Matt Cutts encourages you to Link to Your Sources

link to your sources

In a recent Google Webmaster Help video Matt Cutts encouraged people to “Link to Your Sources.”  The video also had an interesting question about where linking should be in a post or article.

I have a blog and I post original articles but I also like to link to the original website. So I link the website in a word in the first paragraph. Is this the right way or I should give a link separately at bottom.
nayanseth, India

It was a good and interesting question as it is something I have wondered about.  Whether I should link to a source in the text of the article or at the bottom.  Since Matt Cutts said either way Google will give credit to the original source and flow pagerank.   So as long as you have the link somewhere in the post or article, you are doing the right thing in Google's eyes.

I will sometimes link to article, news, graphic, etc. sources at the bottom of a post if I took them from many different places.  Including too many hyperlinks in an article can make it look cluttered and disorganized in my opinion and make it harder for someone to read the article.

Matt Cutts does point out in the video it is more convenient for a user when the source link is in the text.  His personal preference is to find the article source easily but that is not something that Google cares about.  Again, he also encourages publications and bloggers to “Link to Your Sources!” as he constantly notices when they don't.  I don't think you want to make Matt Cutts unhappy with your website.  Who knows what secret Google power he yields.

How do you link to article sources?  In a post text or at the bottom?

Does site Downtime hurt Search Engine Rankings?

search engine rankings

Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings? ”

This is a question that is hotly debated by webmasters, search engine optimization specialists, bloggers, hosting companies, etc.  A lot of people say that a little bit of downtime, say 20 minutes, in a day, can hurt SERPS (search engine results page) for your website.  Others say that you can have a little bit of downtime here and there and it will not matter much.

Well this question was touched on in one of a Google Webmaster Help videos with Matt Cutts recently. Check it out and the question that was asked.

I got a “Googlebot can't access your site” message in Webmaster Tools from my host being down for a day. Does it affect my rankings when this happens?
Sally

Matt Cutts initial response to this question was,

“Well if it is just for a 1 day you should be in pretty good shape. If your host is down for 2 weeks then there is a better indicator that the website is down and we don't want to send users to a website that is actually down but we do try to compensate for websites that are transiently or sporadically down.  We make a few allowances and we try to comeback 24 hours later… So it is just a short period of downtime I wouldn't really worry about that.”

While I mostly agree with what he said in the video, and after explaining that the Googlebot was having trouble crawling sites a few weeks ago, Matt Cutts commented, “If it is just 24 hours I really wouldn't stress about that very much.”

Well… a friend of mine recently had his websites on a JustHost dedicated server and it went down for 1 day.  He told me hasn't been able to get back his SERP rankings since the downtime.  Despite what was said you should realize downtime can hurt your search engine rankings in Google.  I've heard this from a number of experienced webmasters.

However, I want people to think about how the Googlebot spider works when indexing pages.  I will not go into everything as it would take too long to explain but just do a quick overview.

When you do a Google search you are not actually searching the web instantly, like a lot of people assume, but you are actually searching Google's stored version of the web.  For instance when this article was first posted it DID NOT immediately get indexed by Google and was searchable. Why?  While this blog gets ok traffic my current pagerank is 3, which is decent but not too high.  Sites that post content more frequently and that have a higher pagerank are going to get crawled before mine.  Websites like FoxNews and NY Times will get crawled first since they have a higher pagerank, more content, and are in Google News.

So if my website was down for say 1 hour it is actually pretty possible that Google will not even see my website is down since the Googlebot may not crawl it.  While Google is really good about crawling new webpages very fast these days they can't get to every new piece of content posted simultaneously.  If you were running FoxNews and had downtime 24 hours that would be a much bigger deal since they get millions of visitors a day and the Googlebot expects there to be content frequently.

So my answers to the question “Does site downtime hurt Search Engine rankings?” would generally be the same as Cutts.  I caution anyone asking this question to consider the type of website you are running, how much traffic you get, and your user's expectations which will influence Google's.  Choosing a reliable web hosting company is very important if you want good uptime and don't want to have to worry about websites going down.  I prefer Site5 and you can read my Site5 review to get a better idea about their web hosting services.

So that is my professional opinion on this topic of site downtime and search engine rankings.  By the way if you want to monitor website downtime and uptime I highly recommend a service called Uptime Robot.  It will ping your website every 5 minutes to see if it is up and if it isn't you can get a text message, email, or RSS feed notification.  Best part about Uptime Robot is that it is completely free website monitoring service.

Has website downtime ever hurt or affected your search engine rankings?  Have you ever had your website hosted with a hosting company that had frequent downtime?  Share your experiences below as I am sure a lot of people have something to say about this.