For those of you who don't know, I run an agency that specializes in search engine optimization. And, as a small agency, I currently handle all sales.
I've been selling SEO (define) services since March 2003. In that time, there's been one thing that's been consistent in this, otherwise, ever-changing environment.
There are two types of prospects who are reaching out to agencies to outsource their SEO. You're either the one that's hell-bent on hiring someone that week, or you're the one who is going to be diligent in your approach.
We receive quite a few inquires for our services each week, and so I have a bit of experience with this.
First, let me speak to those who are quick on the draw.
What are you thinking? Do you know that hiring an SEO agency could be one of the more important decisions that you'll make in a given year? It's not just about the money that you'll be spending (on a monthly basis, most likely) but it's also about the time that you'll - possibly - have gone without moving things in a positive direction! Time is money, after all.
Have you even scoped out the project? Just like you might expect to scope out a website redesign and development project, so, too, should you get a handle on what you're willing and able to do, when it comes to SEO. Do you have development resources that will make the necessary modifications to your website, or do you expect the SEO firm to do the heavy lifting? Do you have copywriters at the ready to write new/improved copy, or is this something that you expect the SEO firm to handle? Do you have a PR department involved and/or do you plan on adding PR to your marketing efforts? Do you operate any social media channels and, if so, do you expect the SEO firm to step in and provide guidance?
There are many things to consider when planning your SEO efforts. I've tried to provide some guidance on my blog with this free SEO RFP template. Not the least of the things to consider is whether or not you have the internal resources to do your part, or if you're willing to pay a little extra to have others handle this stuff, turnkey. I doubt you've even considered how you might define "success" (what's the ROI (define) that you need and what's your time table to realize a positive ROI?).
I seriously doubt that this is the kind of thing that you can decide within a week's time.
And, I'm just getting started...
Once you know what you want to do and who on your team (if anyone) would be able to contribute, then comes the agonizing task of finding a reputable agency.
While our industry has improved since its early days, there are still many people who lay claim to "doing search engine optimization" that it makes it very difficult for most common folks to know who to trust. And, for the common person, you might just give up, get people to list out what they're willing to do (deliverables), and go with the firm who - at least in writing - says that they're going to do "the most amount of stuff for the least amount of money."
As I've written about before, it's not so much about the "what," it's the "how" and the "who."
Anyone can get their hands on a proposal from "XYZ SEO Agency," slap their name on it, change the price, and then compete for the business. Does that really mean that this agency is a better choice, because they say they're going to do the same things, yet at half the price. Not so much. Just like you would interview any employee that might join your organization, you need to interview the SEO firm.
Trust me, interviewing SEOs is not an easy task.
I've been interviewing folks to join my team. We put candidates through a pretty grueling questionnaire that asks some rudimentary questions, and it also asks questions that might show us their thought processes. We also ask them to do a quick SEO audit for a flawed website.
I've reviewed 30 questionnaires, recently. Three passed my smell test. Of those, one candidate wasn't willing to work in our project management software (they wanted to have the ability to float from task to task, and work whatever hours they wanted), and the two others I'm still considering (though their salary requirements are above what I had budgeted; I'm not cheap, by the way). Basic supply and demand. There's a pretty strong demand for SEO, in case you hadn't heard, and a limited supply of folks who really do "get it."
I share all of this with you with one common thread: do not enter into search engine optimization without a lot of thought and preparation. Use the SEO RFP that I linked to, above. Interview the SEO and/or agency that you're considering. If you can, grant them access to your analytics, Google Webmaster Tools, and/or provide as much history and information as you can. Lay the foundation for a completely transparent line of communication and build trust.
It's in my best interest to see that more and more people have positive experiences from search engine optimization. The industry has come a long way, but - through education - we can collectively help to weed out some of the folks that make life more difficult than it needs to be for the rest of us.
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Mark Jackson is the president and CEO of Vizion Interactive, Inc., a leading SEO company headquartered in Dallas, TX, with offices in Overland Park, KS and Clearwater Beach, FL. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000 in business development with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front, Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.
Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, social media marketing, SEO friendly Web design/development, analytics installations/analysis, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.
Mark is a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM), the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the Search Engine Strategies and Pubcon conferences.
Mark received a B.A. in journalism/advertising from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."
His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.