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• Monday, August 03rd, 2009

You need professional help

Selecting professional help of any type for your business can be a complicated and often difficult task.  But when you add back-biting and in-fighting among the possible candidates the task becomes nearly impossible.

Don't flush money down the toilet - do your SEO homeworkSome disagreement about the best way any job should be done can always be expected within any professional community, but lately the members of the SEO community seem determined to undermine and discredit one another.  Some even going so far as to say the entire industry is a boondoggle, except of course for what they say is the right way to do it (of course).

With all the disagreement within the community, how can someone who knows nothing about Search Engine Optimization possibly be expected to make an intelligent choice about who is the best SEO consultant for them?  They can’t.  No more than you could buy a boat, a car, or even hire someone to paint a room in your house unless you know at least something about what you are paying for.  You must research the basics of SEO and analytics.  Without this knowledge, you will not be able to effectively communicate your wants and needs to any prospective firm or agency bidding on your project.  Even worse, without a basic understanding of SEO and what you hope to accomplish, you are a sitting duck, practically begging for a less-than-reputable company to slither in and sell you a boatload of useless services at outrageous prices.

Do your homework

Before contacting any prospective SEO, you should do these things yourself first;

  1. Have a few keywords in mind
    Part of your SEO contract will probably include the research of keywords your Web site should be optimized for.  However, you should have a few rather obvious ones in mind already – product names or your primary services for example.
  2. Know how your site currently ranks for these keywords.  Simple queries at the major search engines are all that is needed for this step.
  3. You should be familiar with web analytics and hopefully have them running on your Web site already.  Most hosting companies provide them free of charge, you just have to know where there are and how to read them.  You should have an idea how much traffic your site is already getting, what parts of it are getting the traffic and how are visitors getting to you.
  4. If you have a physical location where you conduct business, you will need to know who your local competitors are and be familiar with their Web sites.
  5. If you plan to target national and international visitors, find out who your competitors are and be familiar with their Web sites.  While your ultimate goal may be the number one listing, you should probably focus on the those on page two first.
  6. Have a goal in mind.  For some it might be to increase page views, or improve search rankings.  Increased sales is a popular goal, or even something as simple as getting more white papers downloaded.  Whatever your goal is, it must be measurable and you must have or be able to get an accurate baseline.

Define your SEO goals

When you are ready send out your requests for proposals, you should have in mind what you want to have done by the various agencies.  Unless you give them specific requirements it will be impossible to evaluate them equally.  If you hope to have measurable outcomes, you must be able to express your expectations.

Each project will have different needs, but some common tasks often completed by SEO consultants include;

  1. keyword research
  2. back-link analysis
  3. back-link building
  4. on-site page review & optimization (which may include)
    1. page titles
    2. meta-tag review
    3. site structure
    4. content review and/or generation
    5. internal cross-linking
  5. Review competitors’ sites
  6. Identify areas of the site that would benefit the most from optimization.

Locate possible SEO firms

Now that you have some idea what search engine optimization is, and what you’ll want your SEO consultant to do for you, it’s time to locate one.  First, decide if you want to work with a local agency or if you are comfortable working with someone remotely.

If you want to stay local, you can simply start by googleing for SEO in your city & state.  For example, a query of “austin texas seo” returns several good candidates.  Hopefully you are able to do the same for your locality.  Look at the Web sites of the companies listed on the first couple pages, try and locate a short list of companies that look like they might be a good fit for you.  Reach out to your peers within the community, ask them who they have used – who have they heard good or bad things about?

If you don’t feel the need to work with a local, then you will have a much larger pool of candidates to pick from – just be careful you don’t drown in it.  Simply going to google and entering “seo” and surfing through the 200 billion results probably won’t work for you.  You’ll need to reach out via your social network.  Use Twitter, facebook, linkedin – ask for references for a reliable SEO firm.  Lurk on sites where SEOs congregate and share ideas – places like sphinn.com, searchengingeland.com, searchenginejournal.com, searchenginewatch.com and searchengineguide.com.  Look for lists of SEOs, compiled by other SEOs.

Once you’ve compiled your list of possible SEO firms, put together your formal request, based on the goals you established earlier, and send it out to the agencies you selected.

Review the proposals

Deep breath – now the really hard work begins.

Hopefully you request contained enough information that your prospects were able to submit similar proposals.  Remember, the less info you send them, the more difficult it will be for you to accurately compare them.

You will likely get a few proposals back that look like the agencies should be able to accomplish the goals you set for them.  Resist the urge to make the final choice based on price – would you hire a brain surgeon based on being the lowest bidder?  I hope not.  The proposals should have included references.  If not, ask for them.  Contact these people, ask them each specific questions about the SEO services they received.  What were the before and after metrics?  How long did it take for measurable results to appear?  Were they easy to work with?  Did they explain everything they planned to do – and why they thought it should be done?

You should again turn to your social networks, post questions asking about the firms you are considering.  Unless you are their first client ever, somebody out there will know something about them.  You might get a very different picture painted by former customers that are not on the list of references.

Trim the fat

Now that you have the short, short list, you to need to have discussions with these firms.  Get a feel for how well you or your team will be able to work with them.  And, you should plan to and be able to work with your SEO firm.  If they want to do everything alone, without your help -  hang up the phone and remove them from your list.

When you have eventually narrowed down your choices and selected a firm, be sure to take the time and make sure everyone involved knows the goals, expectations and how success will be determined.  If you do not, you will certainly end up with considerable confusion and heartache in the end.

No shortcuts to success

If all of this seems like a lot of work, it is.  You must take the time to set proper goals and expectations.  You must work with your chosen SEO consultant.  After all, if you hire the right SEO firm to help you with your pages, then you should expect greater visibility and hopefully more income.  On the flip side, if you hire a bad firm, not only will you have wasted your time, their time and possibly a pile of money – your site may end up being banned from the search engines and then where will you be?  Having coffee with Kay Hutchinson perhaps.

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2 Responses

  1. 1
    Monica Wright  //

    Posting a question to social networks is a great idea. Most SEOs are pretty active via social networks and will vouch for a deserving colleague – but only if they live up to an SEO standard, which may even be higher than that of a potential client. A very good bar to measure against.

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