Finding a reputable SEO company to represent your marketing needs is one of the first steps that most online businesses take. Unfortunately, when new business owners begin trying to choose SEO firms they tend to make a few mistakes. Many businesses have made these same mistakes and it has cost them quite a lot.

Here are four mistakes that new business owners make when choosing an SEO company and how you can avoid them.

1. Making speed a priority

As a business owner, you probably like the idea of getting fast results. SEO firms understand this desire and may attempt to market their services as delivering “fast results” in an attempt to bring in as many clients as possible. Unfortunately, when you make speed a priority you’re making a huge mistake. One that has already cost a lot of businesses a lot of money.

Search engine optimization does not deliver overnight results. It takes time to build credibility, links, and brand awareness online. SEO is a slow, long-term investment that continues to deliver results long after the first surge of traffic. That’s what makes it so much more effective than PPC and other “instant marketing” strategies.

A leading SEO company will never advertise their services as being “the fastest around”. Those are misleading words used to squeeze money out of as many clients as possible. When discussing your plans with an SEO firm they should be able to offer realistic milestones and goals for the future. You shouldn’t expect to results any faster than 3 months, though it could be twice as long.

2. Investing in secret techniques

Another dishonest tactic that a marketing firm might use is stating that they have a “secret technique” or an “inside relationship” that will guarantee your site is ranked highly on Google. It sounds like a tempting offer and believing it is a mistake that many businesses have made over the years.

An example of this tactic is the “priority submit” scam. This is when a marketing firm claims that they have a special relationship with a particular search engine because of the size of their company or the volume of traffic that they influence. They state that this relationship allows them to submit certain websites as a priority, thus greatly increasing their ranking on that search engine.

Now more than ever, search engines are placing integrity and credibility above all else. There is no special relationship that is going to help a website enjoy higher rankings. It wouldn’t matter if the SEO company owner was best friends with the Google CEO. There’s simply nowhere to put that information in the complex algorithm that Google uses to rank websites.

3. Believing in guarantees

Not only is search engine optimization extremely complex, but it’s also extremely competitive. Your website will not be the only one that is competing for a particular keyword ranking with the help of a leading SEO expert. Furthermore, websites that have been at it for far longer or that have significantly more money to invest will usually have an advantage.

These factors all boil down to one point: that a number one ranking can never be guaranteed. If you’re interested in using a particular SEO firm, then ask them if they can guarantee you the top rank on Google. If they say yes, then you should avoid that company. It’s simply not possible. Marketing firms only offer top rankings when they are attempting to attract new clients. They will always change their story at a later date.

The top SEO company won’t use such tactics to earn your business. Instead, they will show you examples of their actual work. You will be able to see websites they have helped in the past and the rankings that they achieved. They will also explain clearly how they plan to help your website’s ranking.

4. Not getting references

Whether you’re hiring a plumber to fix your sink or top SEO experts to help your business, you should always ask for references. Many businesses make the mistake of forgetting this simple question and wind up regretting it later. You cannot judge an SEO company simply by how its website looks or the promises that it makes. You need to get real opinions from some of the company’s most recent clients.

A leading SEO company will have no problem supplying multiple references when asked. They likely do so all of the time when speaking with potential clients. If an SEO company says that they are unable to share any references, then you need to stop and take your business elsewhere.

Keep in mind that receiving a list of references is not enough. You need to take the initiative and actually contact those businesses. Prepare ahead of time with a brief list of questions about the SEO firm you are considering using. Find out what they think about the business, whether they would be willing to work with them in the future, and whether they thought their services were adequate considering their rates.

There’s a limit to how much you can learn from a reference, but it is a powerful tool nonetheless. Don’t make the mistake of overlooking their importance when attempting to choose an SEO company for your website.

Hiring an SEO company takes time, research, and attention to detail. Don’t rush the decision and never make it based on price alone. Keep these common mistakes in mind so that you can avoid making them yourself.