Finding the Right SEO Company

I often talk to people who have lost faith in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firms because of bad experiences. Either they saw no results, felt that they were tricked into subscribing to a service that could not work, or that they wasted money on a firm that did them no good. Although I agree that there are bad SEO firms out there, I know that there are also many good ones. It's your job to make sure you find an SEO firm that will work for you.

Search engines are the basis of Internet existence and survival. Recent studies have concluded that over 90 percent of all web surfers use search engines to find what they are looking for. Thus, in order to be successful on the Internet, your website must be search engine friendly. If people who search the Internet for your products or services are not finding your Web site, you need search engine optimization (SEO).

Now some of you may take on the task of optimizing your own sites. For those people, there are plenty of "how to" articles on the Internet that can help you. If you need more help, drop me an email and I'll give you some ideas. However, many webmasters decide instead to let an SEO company handle their marketing. Search Engine Optimization is a full time job, and many companies need to hire someone to do it for them. If this is your intent, you should know what to look for, and what to watch for, when selecting the right SEO company.

1. Make Sure They, and Their Clients, are Successful and Well Optimized

If your SEO company does not rank high on most major search engines under their specific services, then they probably won't have the ability to get you high ranking on yours. For example, if you're located in Boston, your SEO company should at least rank on the first page in Google, Yahoo, and MSN under such search terms as "Boston SEO," "Boston Internet Marketing," "Boston Web Marketing," or even "Boston Web Design." If you found them through pay-per-click or sponsored listings, this only means that they do not have the ability to optimize their own websites and are forced to pay for their clientele.

In addition, it is a good idea to check the success of their clients. All SEO companies have a client listing, if for no other reason than to offer front page links to their big spenders. Take a good look at these clients' sites. Check for quality of content and keywords. View the source and see how well the meta tags are structured and how well they apply to the content given. And most importantly, go to the major search engines and find where these clients land on the search terms they are targeting. If the SEO company has created a successful marketing campaign for each of its clients, chances are you're looking at a good SEO firm. However, if neither the SEO company or its listed clients have high rankings, I would recommend you find a firm that does.

2. Make Sure Someone Answers the Phone or Responds to Email

Although this may sound funny, I can't stress how important it is to find a SEO company that will be there when you need them. Before choosing an SEO company, call them. If they pick up, you're in good shape. If they don't pick up, but call back within 2 hours, you're still looking pretty good. If it takes you a handful of phone calls and emails, or a number of days to get a response, you might be in bad shape.

Say you've just received a new product that you would like to market. Say that product is seasonal, only for the holiday season, and your ability to sell it relies on the timeliness with which you can get it seen on the search engines. You need a company that you can contact to put immediate marketing efforts to your new pages and products. If it takes 3 to 4 weeks for your SEO firm to make changes and improvements, you might want to look for a company that can keep up with your fast-paced business and demanding customers.

3. Make Sure They Understand How Search Engines Work

Keeping a website at the top of the search engines has become a science. The best search engines frequently modify the way their databases list Web sites, and constantly change the search criteria used to find and present web pages.

To understand the quality of a company's search engine optimization services, you must first understand how search engines work. Search engines list websites in two distinct manners: pay per click listings and organically optimized listings.

Pay per click listings are the listings that appear on the top or right side of most search engines under the heading "Sponsored Links", or some related term. This type of listing is paid for. Web sites that wish to get top search engine placement without optimization can pay a certain cost that is charged to their search engine accounts every time their sponsored link is clicked on by a prospective client. Cost per click rates range anywhere between $0.10 and $10.00 per search. Some bigger-budget eCommerce businesses can spend up to $50,000 a month on pay per click marketing.

Organically optimized listings are the listings that appear at the top of search engine pages without having to pay for these listings. This type of listing is free. However, your website must be properly optimized to appear at the top of all search engines using organic optimization. Search engines use unique programs which send agents referred to as "spiders" and "robots" to your Web site to collect data. Your website must be structured properly to aid these robots in their search for information.

A quality SEO firm will know how to properly structure your website for top organic optimization and, ultimately, top search engine placement. Watch out for SEO firms that take your money and invest in pay-per-click marketing. Although this will get you immediate results, it does nothing to optimize your site in the long run, will not be as profitable as an organic marketing campaign, and will keep you dependent on SEO companies for your success. And pay-per-click marketing is something you can easily do yourself; if that's the route you wish to take.

4. Make Sure They Follow-Up with Internet Research

In addition to knowing how to optimize correctly, an SEO firm should be constantly investigating the Internet's most popular search engines in order to stay aware of the latest techniques for promoting a Web site on the Internet. If they are not giving you monthly reports on the status of your listings, the increasing quantity of your links, and the number of unique visitors to your site, you might not be working with the right SEO company. These reports should not only show where your site is ranked on each of the major search engines for each of the major terms you target, but also show you how you have improved from the previous month and where your competitors stand.

5. Make Sure You Constantly Know What They're Doing

The major problem most people have with internet marketing guys is that they don't see them everyday. It's not like these guys come into the office everyday, or even sit down with the boss for a daily conference call. Most of them work out of their homes, spending 12 hours a day on the computer. Now I'm not saying that they will take your money and do nothing for you, but it's good to keep your eyes on them like you would any employee. On the days that they work for you, have them send you day-end reports detailing the pages they optimized, the content they added, the keywords they marketed, and the links they added. This will allow you a better understanding of what they do on your clock, and allow you to keep your eye on their progress and effectiveness.

Overall, you can find a good SEO company. There are hundreds out there. But it is your responsibility to make sure you find the right one. Don't just pick the first firm you find, then complain when you see no results. Find your results before you hire any SEO company, and you will put your business on the right track for Internet success.

Nathaniel Long is an Internet marketing specialist for Allied Internet Productions, a Denver-based web design and marketing company specializing in graphic and flash design, internet marketing and search engine optimization. Visit their site at http://www.alliedinternetproductions.com, or call them toll free at 800-935-1820.

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