Selecting a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Agency

Many dot-com marketing managers and web-site design staffers face the task of optimizing their web sites’ presence in search engines. Some companies contract with an agency to assist with this effort, and many are disappointed with the results. Perhaps they achieve some decent rankings, but only on a few major search engines and only for keywords and key phrases that were not a high priority.

In general, there are three levels of SEO options:

  • Automated software. The software submits to thousands of sites but results in few good rankings.
  • SEO agencies that use doorway pages and cloaking with hosting external to your site. This is frowned upon by the search engines because they don’t want to have millions of useless pages in their indices. Generally these rankings don’t last more than a few months, so it’s short term at best and can be expensive.
  • Legitimate SEO agencies that focus on increasing the ranking of your pages by optimizing your site for search engines. These firms will suggest editing your pages to increase their popularity and topic-centric characteristics, then help determine keywords for registration in major search engines and directories. This option is more costly, but it’s probably the best long-term solution. And you normally make up the cost of optimization through increased traffic and sales.

Core competency is the first thing you want to look at when selecting a legitimate SEO agency. Most agencies will outsource SEO services, and firms that possess core SEO competencies are rare. The SEO cottage industry has no professional association. There aren’t standardized definitions of industry terms. It’s an environment that changes every day.

So how do you check for core competencies and select the right SEO firm to help you optimize your web site’s presence in search engines? Follow these simple steps.

First of all, it is a very good idea to use your current agency. The people there are most familiar with your advertising objectives, your business model, the terms and definitions of your industry, and your target audience. Although an agency should have the proper resources to investigate, research, and compare SEOs on your behalf, I suggest you request and verify several key points.

Will you have direct contact with an SEO account manager? It’s very important that you be empowered to discuss your SEO plan directly with a qualified search engine technician or account manager who understands the intricate details of SEO. Very often, this one-to-one contact is missing, information is not transferred, SEO benefits or problems slip through the cracks, and clients are left dissatisfied. Monthly contact should be maintained to gain valuable information about what’s happening, what’s being done, what changes have occurred, and so forth.

Will your SEO campaign position not only outside links but also your primary domain name? Many search engine optimization or positioning companies will attempt to contract on a pay-per-click basis. This means they are hosting and designing web pages on your behalf and linking them to your home page. These outside links, when found on page one of search results, either redirect or provide a hyperlink to your home page (domain name). If you don’t renew this type of SEO service, you lose all the links you paid for. Make sure your SEO contract includes the optimization, submission, and registration of your home page into the major engines and directories. Such a service should also include the fees associated with Yahoo and LookSmart editorial reviews.

Are your expectations being met? Either your SEO campaign will fit your expectations or it won’t. You might feel uncomfortable with how long it takes to achieve effective results. If so, you need to ask your account manager about the length of time. You might re-evaluate your expectations or determine whether the account manager knows what he or she is talking about. On the other hand, if you hear what you want to hear, perhaps the SEO account manager is promising too much. In sales, it’s not uncommon to promise everything the client asks for. Be careful. Remember, SEO is an ever-changing, ever-evolving process, and no one can guarantee what is going to happen in the future.

Decide on a budget for SEO services, and ask your agency to find the right model for you. Make sure you review all the options and know what’s best for you and why. There are so many different price points and business models for SEO services that it can become very confusing. Find the model that fits your needs best. It’s a big investment in time and money, so ask yourself the following:

  • If you pay $0.25 per click and feel you’re getting a good deal, but then you receive 250 clicks per month, will you be happy?
  • If you pay $2,000-5,000 per month; get a lot of your key phrases linked on pages 1, 2, and 3 of major search engines; and see a more than 150 percent increase in search engine traffic from your server logs, are you going to be happier?

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