The days of the internet Wild West have come and gone, particularly in regard to Google’s search results. For years SEOs were able to find holes in Google’s algorithm and created methods to exploit those holes. Every time Google came up with a fix to stop the shortcut of the day crafty SEOs would find two more things to exploit. However, it seems Google has finally gotten ahead and many people who claimed to be an SEO or a link builder have been exposed only as someone able to succeed on Google by working around the rules rather than within them. Unfortunately, many small businesses have suffered due to putting their faith in one of these SEO hucksters, and now that Google has refined their Panda and Penguin updates over the last year, a lot of companies who built their rankings on these “black hat” tactics have seen their rankings, traffic and sales plummet. I’ve spoken to many small business owners who have thrown up their hands in this situation and the line is always the same, “How was I supposed to know?” Of course, most business owners aren’t SEOs and they don’t have time to be. They want to get results, and many of these so-called SEOs did that for years. But after Google de-values all of their work, or worse, penalizes your site for going against Google’s terms of service, it becomes clear that as a small business owner you can’t afford to be clueless about what your SEO provider is doing. With that in mind, here are a couple things you’ll want to ask your current provider or potential providers to make sure you don’t have to suffer the consequences of angering the mighty Google. What does your SEO consider success? \tRankings are nice, but it’s more important to know if you’re getting more organic traffic. Your SEO should be aiming to grow your traffic and the number of keywords driving traffic to your site. \tSecondary measures of success are also valuable in seeing if your SEO’s efforts are contributing to the long term search health of your website. This can include your site’s PageRank, third party statistics like SEOmoz’s Domain Authority and Page Authority and the number of pages your site has indexed. Sharing the links! It’s not enough to just let your SEO run wild when they’re building links to your site. Low quality links won’t help you rank and could potentially hurt your rankings. If your provider won’t show you the links they’re building, you have to wonder why they won’t. You can use Google Webmaster Tools, Bing Webmaster Tools or a third party provider like Majestic SEO or Open Site Explorer to check out your backlinks. You want more real and natural looking links like this: My general rule is if it looks bad it probably is bad. If a link isn’t something that a real person is likely to click on, then it’s probably not going to be seen as valuable by Google. If it’s complete garbage, you’ll want to get the link removed or use the Google disavow tool and then go find yourself a new SEO/link builder. As a small business owner you already have too many things to do and while learning a bit about SEO may seem like a lot of work, you really need to ask yourself if you can afford not to. Adam Henige is co-owner and director of online marketing for Swimtown Pool Supplies, an online retailer of pool and spa supplies.