Let's forget for a moment that the overwhelming majority of SEO companies the average small business owner will encounter provide a service of no value whatsoever. Let's pretend that the majority of SEO providers are not outright scam artists.
I'm only going to address the small percentage of us that provide a real service capable of producing ROI in some form for our clients (I'd wager less than 1% of the industry). For those SEO agencies in the 1%, what tangible evidence can one find that might separate the good from the great? Or maybe, more importantly, is there a single key indicator that could be used to dismiss most of the pack right off the bat when shopping for an SEO firm? Most of what one might write here as proof of a good search engine optimization strategy would be obsolete in a couple of weeks to a month. I could tell you to watch out for companies that still put 50 links in the footer of every page on the websites they manage. I could tell you to stay away from companies that build landing pages with multiple or duplicate title tags or stuff meta keywords. I could say, "BEWARE OF SPUN CONTENT!" until I'm blue in the face, and while all of that is true, there is no greatness to be found in that good advice.
I could take the other route and tell you what is good. I could tell you why original content is so valuable. I could preach to you the merits of having your blog posts shared in social media or pinning your great artwork or infographics. I could explain, in-depth, why using one title tag per page along with a perfectly written meta description, designed not just for SEO but for conversion, isn't just a good idea, but a formula for success every time. I could explain the balance between the value of traditional backlinks from web pages and the ratio those backlinks in relation to the all powerful domain lifting social backlinks...and none of that would signify greatness in my SEO knowledge.
I know what you're thinking... The proof is in the results! I could show you reports of creating monstrous year over year and month over month traffic for our clients. I could show you keyword lists that grew to hundreds of terms in a short time. I could show you high volume, extremely competitive position 1 rankings for keywords even we weren't sure we could achieve for our clients. Hell, I could tell you how we even went so far as to create a proprietary analytics tool that gives us insights that nary another SEO service provider could possibly compete against...but alas, still greatness is not found here.
So what makes an SEO business great?
The greatness is in the changes. Did you know that Google changed its algorithm on average about 1.4 times a day last year? Now, to be fair, many of these changes were merely tweaks to better focus overarching themes based on sound logic, but let's face it, the SEO game is in constant flux. When is the last time your SEO company changed their SEO process? How often do they typically change their SEO process? What specifically did they change about their SEO process when they made their last change? What was the last major change? Does your rep know when Google made its last update of any significance? What corresponding change was made to the SEO strategy?
Now, I could get a little crazy with the questions one could or should ask. It's not particularly important that you as a business owner know what the answers should be for all of those questions. The point is, I know a lot of "good" SEO providers out there who would stutter and stammer and have no answer of any kind for those questions. I know even more that would hide behind some kind of "proprietary" technology that they can't share. That is complete nonsense.
In case you are wondering, Wikimotive has made a significant change to our SEO strategy every month so far in 2013. On average, we make 2-3 tweaks to those significant monthly changes during each month. That's an average of one change every 1.67 weeks. Change for the sake of change, of course, is not beneficial; it just so happens that Google has been on a tear for the last 14 months.
What then makes a great SEO company? T
he willingness and fearlessness to change, as often as necessary.