Thursday, November 15, 2007

How to Select an SEO Firm

Search engine optimization (SEO) is about as close to a no-brainer as any marketing investment gets: you've made a significant investment in designing and building an attractive, easy-to-navigate, content-rich website, so why not invest just a bit more to make sure it's easy to find? Or to put it in Biblical terms, quoting Matthew 5:15, "No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket."

SEO is relatively cheap, it brings prospects to your site when they are interested in your product or service, and it enhances your brand image by associating your company with the problem-solving terms your buyers use.

So, case made, how do you select an SEO partner? Jonathan Ashton offers Ten Tips For Choosing The Right SEO Partner in the Search Insider blog, including:
  • Don't respond to unsolicited emails from SEOs.

  • Prepare an RFP (good advice in any agency selection process).

  • Get references (of SEO firms from your network of associates, and of clients from prospective SEO providers).

  • Be patient (SEO work is fast, but search engines are slow).

I don't agree with everything on Jonathan's list (I think he had to stretch to get to 10 items), but overall his advice is sound. To his enumeration, I would add a few more points:
  • Avoid anyone who "guarantees" you top placement on search engines. Quite frankly, any SEO firm that makes such a promise is spewing bullsh*t. The only person in the universe who could possibly guarantee anyone a #1 spot on Google is Matt Cutts, and he's not for sale.

  • Ask potential SEO partners how they build external links—there's the right and reputable way, and the wrong way.

  • On a related note, ask how the firm performs SEO in general. A reputable firm will outline their process and indicate what automated tools they use to check the quality of their work. Respectable SEO practices are pretty well-known; if a potential SEO vendor starts talking about their secret sauce or doesn't want to share the "how" of what they do, don't walk—run away.

  • Have realistic expectations. While you should expect your SEO firm to follow established best practices, as noted above, no one can guarantee you top placement, particularly for highly competitive two-word search terms. If you want to make sure your company appears on the top half of page one on Google for a specific term, buy the term in your AdWords program. Your SEO partner can make every effort to get you to the top of the organic results, but can't possibly guarantee this. Any valid SEO effort should show improvement in your search engine position, but not necessarily top half of page one on every desired term.

  • Remember the 80/20 rule. A relatively modest SEO effort can produce decent results. The more you are willing to spend, the better the results you can expect to achieve, but the return on investment declines rapidly near the top end. Put another way, it may very well cost more to move your site from position six or seven up to the first or second spot than it does to from the fifth page to the first page.

Finally, keep in mind that quality content is king. While investing in SEO may be a no-brainer, putting useful, relevant content on your site is the first step—make this modest internal effort before you start looking for an SEO partner, and you'll be halfway to success from the start.


Contact Mike Bannan:


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