Real SEO Expert or Confidently Ignorant?

A while ago, I came across a blog post, and I was struck by how much the blogger’s post related to selecting an SEO consultant.

Essentially, he points out when we set out to learn a new skill, most of us start out as “unconsciously incompetent.” That is, we don’t even know how much we don’t know. Then we learn a thing or two, and we advance to being “consciously incompetent.” We’ve found out enough to understand just how much we don’t know.

Finally, we learn enough to actually be competent. At first, it takes concentration to produce our best work. But by the time we become a true expert, we turn in superior work as a matter of course, almost without having to think about it. It’s just what we do.

So, how does this relate to SEO?

Well, the problem is the “unconsciously incompetent” often looks a lot like the expert to an untrained observer. They’re both self-confident — the difference is one is confident because he knows what he’s doing… while the other is confident because he’s simply unaware of how unskilled he really is.

And the problem for a company trying to hire an SEO, either in-house or as a consultant: it’s really hard to tell the difference. Hiring someone incompetent can have serious consequences for your website and your business. Sadly, many people interpret confidence as a sign of competence. But all too often, the individual is self-confident only because they are ignorant of just how incompetent they are.

With all the recent Google updates, many small businesses are thinking of hiring an SEO advisor. Sometimes you may want someone to handle SEO for you; other times you might be just looking for some advice and guidance. Either way, it’s important for your SEO advisor to understand how to optimize your site for long term success while avoiding outdated or dodgy tactics that can get you in hot water. You can’t afford to hire a self-proclaimed expert who fails to deliver.

How can you avoid the confidently incompetent?

  1. Educate yourself. I don’t mean to say you need to become an expert SEO — because then what’s the point of hiring an SEO? — but you do need to know enough to be able to recognize outdated crap when you hear it.
  2. Beware of promises that sound too good to be true. “Guaranteed first-page rankings,&rdqou; for instance. A smart and ethical businessperson won’t guarantee something they can’t control. Unless the SEO owns Google, “promises” of first-page rankings are meaningless.
  3. Listen carefully, and keep your skepticism intact. Is the SEO trying to give you the impression they’re somehow affiliated with Google, or do they come right out and claim they have a “special relationship” with the search giant? Google does not enter into “special arrangements” with SEO firms, and they don’t sell SEO services. Most especially, they don’t cold-call prospects to offer SEO services. Seriously, they don’t. No matter what the SEO salesperson says. No matter how persuasive and “honest” they seem.
  4. Understand you will have to make changes to your site. Any SEO who promises they can “optimize” your site without making any actual changes to the site is probably talking about &ldqul; link building” (sometimes they call it off-page optimization or something similar). The problem is: Google discounts any links you can easily obtain for yourself, and many so-called link-building activities are not actively frowned upon by the search engines. Any SEO who tells you they can do their job without any changes necessary to your site is liable to get you in serious trouble with Google through unnatural link schemes.
  5. Keep your eyes on what’s important. Low-quality SEOs focus on rankings and keywords as if they’re some kind of end-all, be-all. But you can’t pay the bills with rankings, and — given Google’s personalization of search results — the very concept of a page having “a ranking” is outdated.Mid-grade SEOs know it’s easy to get rankings for keywords that no-one ever searches for. So instead these SEOs focus on improving your traffic. Thing is, you can’t pay the bills with traffic, either. It’s not about getting a lot of people to visit your site — it’s about getting a lot of people who are interested in your offer to visit your site… and to take you up on your offer. Plus, it’s easy enough to “drive traffic” through various means, as long as you aren’t concerned about the quality of that traffic.So high-level SEOs focus on conversions — sales, leads, newsletter sign-ups, whatever it is you most want visitors to your site to do.

Don’t panic! With a bit of due diligence, you should be able to find a competent advisor, whether you’re looking for a high-level strategy or detailed page-by-page recommendations.

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