"Silicon Valley, we have a problem here"
As I talk with another customer who expresses they've had a bad experience with SEO I hear all too many of the same things. "We don't know what they did for $2000/mo." or maybe "this SEO stuff doesn't work, my (some family or friend relation) tried to do it for me and nothing happened."
First of all, I get your bad experiences. SEO guys are not actually "SEO" guys or growth hackers or whatever moniker they are. Most SEO companies are glorified script kiddies because advances in reporting make it easier to understand base level analytics. No offense.
When OK SEO guy looks at your business, he's going to talk about listings. He might even bring up "backlinks". Those are great things to have from reputable sources only, if a spam site begins listing your site it can be harmful. Good SEO Guy verifies where they want to place your links, and ensure they properly standardize & leverage your social media address and website info areas. HINT: YouTube is considered a reputable source, take advantage of your comments box!
OK SEO Guy will try and set you up with a site with their company, maybe even with a monthly fee for the website itself. This is to establish recurring revenue for their company but doesn't benefit yours. They may even own your URL, so if you leave they keep your SEO. Good SEO Guy will find optimization strategies for a few landing pages if you don't need a totally new website. If you do need a new website, they will consider it a second-tier issue unless your 1) framework is grossly outdated 2)you don't have a website 3) you have no pages designed to convert someone from ads or SEO (landing page).
OK SEO Guy will install analytics of some kind. You may or may not go over these analytics with them. You most likely are not made admin, so if you leave once again you have to ask for control. Good SEO Guy makes you admin at the start and most likely installs Google Analytics, a free analytics platform in which you can connect to a variety of other Goggle options helping to bolster your credibility.
Now there's the traditional "SEO" which let's be honest, requires a linguistic background to fully understand. We find the best SEO companies have scholars or people in the fields of Linguistics & Psychology, while social media is dominated by Sociology & Communication. Traditional marketing backgrounds have an inverse effect in some cases as they require a different set of skills.
Well, wait so what does this mean? It means out of technical necessity, the industry is becoming easier but bad SEO companies aren't communicating properly with their customers. "SEO" should change to "Digital Marketing Strategy" or something of the like. When you get down to it nowadays...there's less traditional SEO type actions than ever before, and the disconnect is making the SEO acronym synonymous with mechanics. There are great mechanics, and there are great "SEO" guys. Most likely, the SEO guys you talk to will have certifications, and if they have none I'd ask "why?"