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SEO Certification - Has your SEO Team been properly trained?

John Alexander

Here is a scary question that may cause some upset, but it is still an important question that you should ask before hiring anyone who offers big promises about getting your Web site ranked for high visibility. Have you ever thought about asking to see the qualifications of your SEO team? Is there any evidence that they have ever been structurally trained in the skills they claim to have? SEO certification is two-fold. 

1. Proper training in the full scope of search engine marketing skills and influences 
    followed by...
2. An examination to determine that the student is found to be competent in those skills and worthy of certification. 

The question you might want to ask in performing due diligence is this:
"Tell me about where you were trained in search engine marketing skills and do you hold a certification of skills to show that you are up to date and competent for the current year?" 

Okay, so what's so hard about asking this question? Don't be surprised if you catch a few people unawares.

It sounds like an easy enough question, but you might be surprised to find out how many people out there are talking the SEO talk, but have actually never been structurally educated or had any professionally training at all.  

One common response is, "Oh, I am "self taught" and have known all about how to submit to search engines for years." A reply like this needs further questioning because anyone who thinks that top Web visibility comes from "submissions" is already considerably shy of understanding on how search engine marketing works. The fallacy of "submitting to thousands of search engines" to increase your traffic is one of the oldest cons that is still being practiced.

Or how about reply.."Sure, our people know all about how to work with Meta tags." Okay, but do they know that Meta tags are probably the least important influence in over 100 other elements that go into building true relevancy.  

Also be aware that someone who answers by saying "We can guarantee to get you listed with every search engine out there including Google, MSN and Yahoo!" The catch here is of course anyone can get you "listed" but a reply like this does not say where you will be listed. 

I spoke to someone using this ploy to take as much as $60,000 from a company but never had any intention or concern with getting the company any visibility. In the end of our conversation, I even got him to admit it to me. As it turns out, this individual did not even believe it was possible to get a top 10 ranking himself, yet he was taking the customer's money.

What's the scoop these days on SEO certification and how can you make an educated decision on hiring SEO help?

SEO certification - here are a few other tips to consider when looking for qualified SEO talent:
  • Be extremely cautious of anyone who places great emphasis on "submissions." They've never been trained and do not understand search engine marketing if they place a lot of emphasis on submission services. Submitting to a "Directory" is still important, but there are good reasons why, you should NOT submit to search engines.

  • Ask outright to see the individuals "SEO certification of skills." If they have one, take a good look at the company that delivered their certification training. Do a search to see if that training company's Web site can be found in top results for competitive SEO training phrases. For example if the training company only shows up in PPC advertising, how could they possibly be training others in gaining visibility in the organic results, if they cannot achieve it for themselves. The same with any company that uses unsolicited e-mail marketing to push their services. Think about it....if they were up to date in their skills, they would not be resorting to Spamming you.

  • Beware of anyone who "guarantees" a number one ranking in Google or other search engines. These offers are designed to "look safe" and "sound safe" so that you * think* you cannot possibly lose out. A great deal of confidence is bolstered using superlative laden language that convinces you that there is no possible way you can lose. We have seen many people come to study in class to build genuine SEO and SEM skills (unfortunately after they trusted their Web site to the wrong people.) In some case their sites had been banned and then we've had to help them clean up the mess to get back into the search engine's good graces.

  • Watch for hints in dialogue when someone speaks of knowing all the "tricks" to "outsmart the search engines."
    SEO Professionals do not "outsmart" or "trick" the search engines at all. But they've been trained in how to create truly relevant, high quality content that ranks based on developing useful pages that deliver high value to the visitor and satisfy the reason why the visitor searched in the first place. Many bits of dialogue are quite telling, so listen carefully when someone is describing there services to you.

  • As strange as it sounds, this industry is not JUST about top rankings. Ultimately, the goal is to gain top rankings but also you must understand how to compel visitors to respond. It's only when these two elements together are working that you'll produce your ultimate make sales, or earn money and profit from your Web site.
    Even if your objective is not to make sales, you'll still need to be easily found and you'll need to compel your visitor to take some kind of action to fulfill whatever objective you have.

  • Ask the company you are considering for hire, to provide you with a few business referrals where you can obtain a phone number and actually speak to a few of their clients. This can be someone who is in a different type of business and it can also be someone who can answer your questions in general. 

    Questions you might ask of their client: 1) In terms of percentage, how much has your company profited by using this service?  2) Are there any pages on your site that you wish might perform better? 3) Would you say that these SEO services have exceeded your original expectations? These types of questions will encourage the referral to reflect on their relationship while not sounding too threatening or prying.

  • Don't feel that you literally have to become an SEO expert in order to get your Web site performing well. If you have no interest in building the skills, you can still get a solid education in all of the principles and techniques that will help you easily identify truth from error. This education can literally save you thousands of wasted dollars and get your project launched correctly the FIRST time. 

  • Watch out for so called "training companies" that may have a secondary agenda (other than teaching you the genuine SEO skills manually.) There are companies that say they will teach you the skills, but in the end, they are hoping to make learning "seem more difficult" in hopes of having you end up hiring THEM to do the work. Some schools give you some general knowledge but in the end, they want you to buy their special SEO tools like an up-sell.

What else can you watch for in "SEO Certification" values offered by various training companies?

  • Find out if the SEO training company recognized by any established educational institutions?
    For example, some training companies may be able to offer University CEUs (Continuing Education Units.)
    This means that at least a University or governing authority has examined the curriculum and exams in detail and the company has had to comply to meet a certain standard in order for the University to stand behind them.

  • Have a look at the SEO training company to see if they have ever delivered any training on behalf of one of the major search engines? Not too many training organizations have been approached or selected to deliver educational seminars on behalf of a major search engine, but there are some. 

  • Find out how long the SEO training company has been in business?
    One of the very first and oldest SEO certification companies on the Internet is Online Web Training who, with their instructor led classes allows for a "certification of skills" document to be issued attesting to the truth that the individual has been instructed in either Basic SEO or Advanced SEO skills under the guidance of an instructor and then is examined and found to be competent in understanding the information and demonstrating the skills by passing an exam.

  • Does the training organization offer an annual re-certification program to ensure that the SEO keeps their skills right up to date? SEO skills are only effective as long as they are right up to date. If the service you are considering for hire only has a certification dated for 2006 or earlier, just be mindful that a lot of changes happen regularly in this industry.

  • Does the SEO training organization have a history of successful students that can demonstrate how their skills have impacted their Web site business or client's business? 

  • Does the SEO training company offer extended "mentoring programs for ongoing support."

  • Does the SEO training company have convenient training locations on a localized level. The value of certification training that is delivered face to face and in person by a certified instructor, with hands-on instruction makes for the very best dynamics in SEO skill building, knowledge retention and includes mentoring right in a local community with no need to travel.

In summary:

The public has a right to know that it is possible to find and hire SEO professionals who not only have been structurally trained and certified in their SEO skills but, they'll want qualified talent that cares enough to keep their skills updated at least on a yearly basis. 

Before you make your buying decision or enter into any agreement, it is up to you use wisdom and perform some due diligence to ensure that the SEO/SEM team you hire has got what it takes. Not just to improve your rankings, but to improve your conversions and improve your bottom line too. 

I expect to hear some complaints about this article, from those who have never had any training before (there's a lot of them out there that like to use SEO as a buzz word.) But it is also a "heads up" and an opportunity to those who understand what is happening and want to prepare for it now. 

SEO certification as a topic is here to stay and more and more we will see the public not jumping into the old time mistakes as they become more aware, more educated and execute much better judgment. The future belongs to the SEOs who build a solid, long term business and keep themselves up to date. The prize will be having clients that will stay with you for your whole life, because of the difference you make to their business. That's no different than any other real world business and the way it should be.

A smart, modern SEO service that has the goal of building "long term business relationships" and "clients for life" takes time to ensure they first have skilled people in place that can to genuinely help their future clients before taking any client's money. Business is about making money, but life is about helping people. If you focus on equipping yourself to "help people first" you'll never need to worry about making money.

Would you like a Free SEO Tip of the day sent to you each and every day by e-mail? It's free! 

About John Alexander
John's articles can be read in publications like REALTOR Magazine, Search Engine Guide,WEBpro News, SitePro News and many others. John Alexander is Co-director of Training at Search Engine Workshops offering live, SEO Workshops with pioneering SEO educator Robin Nobles, author of the very first comprehensive online search engine marketing courses. John is author of an e-book called Wordtracker Magic and has taught SEO skills to people from 87 different countries world wide.  

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