There are many considerations to be taken into account, when selecting an SEO (search engine optimization) provider for your website. Much depends upon the particular areas in which attention is needed, which should mesh well with the areas of expertise of the SEO firm you eventually select.
Every day, there is more to learn about SEO, as both the search engines and site technology become more sophisticated. What used to be simple on-page optimization, coupled with a linkbuilding strategy, has now come to include such aspects as local, social media, RDF technology and much more.
Certainly, many would argue that strictly speaking, such additional areas don’t all fall within the purview of the SEO. However, they should form a part of your overall marketing strategy, and as such, should be considered, regardless of who will provide each service. In addition, there’s an increasing tendency amongst many SEOs to offer an all-inclusive package, even if they don’t perform all the functions themselves.
An analysis of your competition is a key starting point of the optimization effort. It’s hard to get where you want to be, if you don’t know where that is, right? It’s always best to know what you’re up against.
In terms of strategy and techniques, however, there are basically two fields of action. Traditional SEO includes the following:
The first place that most SEOs will start is to clean up any on-page problems, by ensuring that:
- Site architecture is equally friendly to users and search engines
- The site has clear, intuitive navigation, making information easy to locate and access
- Your content is useful, informative and relevant to the terms for which you wish to rank
- Clean, concise coding exists, that provides functionality without overwhelming the user
- Each bit of content on the site is unique!
- Your site has no canonicalization issues
- Your URL structure is user-friendly
- Your internal linking structure is appropriate
- Accessibility issues have been adequately addressed
Once the on-page issues have been addressed and corrected, the SEO will move on to…
Off-page efforts are for the most part, centered around the acquisition of backlinks to the page from other sites. Linkbuilding is an area that can be addressed in many different fashions, some of which are acceptable to the search engines, and others which fall well outside their established guidelines. A separate lengthy article could be written, just listing the various techniques of acquiring backlinks.
A reputable SEO will always warn the client of the possible ramifications of any intended techniques. There are many linkbuilding techniques that can have a negative impact on a site’s rankings. Still others can be totally disastrous, if detected.
As you can see, there are several divergent facets of SEO. Add to that the fact that the search engines’ algorithms can change their focus often, and it becomes very difficult to not only be conversant in all aspects of search engine optimization, but to remain up to date on the most current methodology.
So, where do you start, in your search for the right SEO firm? If you have little familiarity with SEO, then it may be wise to educate yourself a bit, so that you can at least understand the terminology. There are a number of sources for such information on the Internet. Just remember… anyone can say essentially anything on the Internet. Just because you read it there, does not make it true or accurate. In my experience, the opposite is more often true.
Next, do a search in an online directory for SEO providers in your area, and sort through their service descriptions. A firm that specializes in social media marketing may be of limited benefit to you if what you most need is on-page optimization or Adsense management. If you know what you need, focus on firms that show experience in that field. If you’re not sure what your site needs are, then your best bet may be to stick with providers that offer a full spread of services. Typically, the larger agencies will be best suited to do that. However, it is also possible that a smaller firm may be intending to subcontract some portions of the work to another firm with expertise in that field. It isn’t uncommon for SEOs to collaborate with others that possess a different skill-set.
As you identify your needs, you can solicit cost proposals for those services. This is where your selection process will begin.
Most firms will ask you to fill out some sort of discovery form, wherein you’ll answer questions that are very basic to their understanding of your present situation and your goals. This is a necessary part of the process of compiling their cost proposal, and should be responded to completely and honestly. However, while for reputable SEOs, it may not be necessary, it’s a good idea for all concerned, to execute an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) prior to this step.
After analyzing the project, the SEO will want to sit down with you for an hour or two to present their findings and make their recommendations for an appropriate strategy. This may well be the most important time you’ll ever spend with them, in terms of determining which SEO to hire, what to expect as a result and how it will affect your operation. This is NOT the time to play the “I’m a busy man” card. Make time… it’ll pay off!
RED FLAG WARNINGS:
No reputable SEO will guarantee “top ranking”, “#1 placement” or “First Place ranking”. If you get a bid that even hints at this, use it to line your parakeet’s cage!
No reputable SEO will guarantee a particular pagerank. Even if they could do so, it would mean very little. Don’t fall into the trap of focusing your sights on pagerank as a goal.
Any professional SEO firm should offer (and fulfill) total transparency of their actions in terms of techniques and results, and any risks associated with the techniques utilized. If they’re not willing to do so or are vague on this, scratch them off your list.
Assuming that you have an idea of where your problems really are, and get a good idea of what each SEO’s area of expertise is, you should be ready to begin evaluating each of them, with an eye toward selection of the best for your needs.
Trust your instincts! If you feel like you don’t trust the individual making the presentation, there may or may not be a real reason, but the fact remains that if you already distrust him, that feeling will probably never go away. And this is someone that you need to trust. If you find yourself pushing your wallet down deeper in your pocket and counting the pens on your desk, color him gone!
Ask for references. Many clients don’t want it known that they use an SEO, and will not permit their name to be given as a reference. But many do! Try to make it a point to check with at least three references, asking them about the services they received, the results realized and any disappointments that may exist. Take a look at their sites, understanding that some portion of what you see there should reflect the influence of the SEO. Ideally, someone with at least a working knowledge of SEO could take a look and spot any red flags.
Look at the SEO’s own site. While it’s true that some SEOs are so busy that they don’t dedicate as much time as they should to their own site, it’s still a reasonable measure of what you might expect from them. If you encounter a number of spelling, grammatical or typographical errors, you might not want them providing your web copy. Again, though… don’t put too much weight on pagerank. All you’ll be able to see is the Toolbar Pagerank, and that’s essentially meaningless. There’s a reason that SEOs call it Foolbar Pagerank.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure you understand exactly what the SEO is proposing to do for your site. Ask what risks, if any, exist for you, and be sure to identify any and all costs, responsibilities and remedies, up front. Ask them what results they realistically expect to achieve, and over what period of time. And determine what progress reports you will receive, and how often. When you’re comfortable that you’ve gotten satisfactory answers to all your questions, you should be ready to make your selection.