In this special feature of 'Ask Entrepreneur,' Facebook fan Deah Curry, from Seattle, asks: What do hired companies really do that solopreneurs can't do for themselves, and how to ensure you aren't hiring a scam artist?
Plenty of people can do search engine optimization for themselves, and it's good for anyone to integrate some of the best practices into their ordinary workflow. Understanding the key terms people may use to find your site is the starting point of SEO but, arguably, it's also a starting point for having a successful business.
Still, there are times when you want to call in a professional, as you might with any type of need. For example, I can usually unclog a drain, so I don't need a plumber for that. But to fix a burst pipe or relocate a water heater? That's when hiring a plumber makes sense.
It's no different with SEO. If you have an SEO emergency, such as perhaps your traffic from Google suddenly plunges out-of-the-blue, you might lack the time and experience to quickly solve a problem, in the way a professional can.
It's not even just about emergencies. People take their cars in for regular maintenance to ensure they keep running well. The SEO space is constantly changing with new things: Google+, rich snippets, new ways to feed content and more. A pro keeps up with all this and can help ensure you're staying well-tuned, if you've not had an SEO "check-up" recently.
It's also about time. As a business owner, you can't do everything yourself. Outsourcing make sense, if it helps you stay focused on what you do best, which is running and growing your business in the ways that only you can provide.
Unfortunately, as with many industries, everything from scam artists to incompetent workers exist in the SEO space. Anyone who cold-calls you, or cold-emails you, should probably be avoided. All those emails about how you can rank better, how you're not ranking well enough? Delete away.
Instead, you can find pros in the same way you find pros in many industries. Ask around if others have recommendations. People in related fields like web design or programming may know people.
There are also industry associations and guides to companies out there. There's Wakefield, Mass.-based SEMPO, a long-standing search marketing group. Seattle's SEOmoz, an SEO and social monitoring service, maintains a recommended list of search marketers.
But be forewarned. Belonging to an industry group or having a "badge" of any type is usually meaningless. The only qualification for such things generally is that someone wrote a check to become a member.
When you have found candidates, as in the real world, ask for references -- and check on those references.