April 26, 2010

Selecting an SEO Vendor


Hostway Team

By Winmark Business Solutions

Companies that offer search engine optimization (SEO) services are full of promises. With a little bit of knowledge, you can identify SEO firms that can deliver.

Many SEO companies are resellers, not innovators. They confuse high search engine rankings for smart search engine rankings. Search engine technology is useless without smart marketing know-how. An SEO firm should have huge amounts of experience in both areas.

Whenever an SEO firm guarantees top 10 results for a certain keyword or phrase, you will often find that only six people have queried that term in one year. What good is a guarantee like that? This adds zero value to your bottom line, but makes the guarantee compelling at first.

The other side of the coin is an SEO firm that actually delivers results on difficult keywords. This looks exciting but what you can't see will often hurt you. Welcome to the "dark side" of SEO, where "black-hat" search engine ranking techniques are seductive on the surface.

Avoid black-hat tactics. Don't hire a black-hat SEO firm that uses single-IP advertising networks, cloaking software or link-farms that negatively affect your ranking.

Make sure your firm adopts the SEO code of ethics. It is better to simply optimize the Web site correctly the first time based on timeless search engine parameters: good content and good Web site structure.

Recognize quality. Don't confuse keyword quantity for keyword quality. A higher volume of keywords doesn't translate into a higher return on your SEO investment. The best way to accurately predict the return on investment for a keyword is through KEI (keyword effective index).

The most popular keywords don't always get the highest quality response to your product or service. There may be higher quality leads and sales that come from less popular keywords that are well-researched.

Do they know you? Don't hire an SEO firm that can't pass a test about your products or services.

After interviewing a prospective search engine optimization firm, ask them what they think of your product or service. Quiz them. Drill into the basic facts that any customer or prospect should know after browsing your Web site. If the SEO firm doesn't have a basic grasp by the first or second interview, move on. If they don't have some basic questions about your products and services, and your industry, reconsider their level of marketing know-how.

Living and dying by search engines is not appropriate for most business models. Your SEO firm must understand your industry, your products/services and your business model. If an SEO firm doesn't understand your vision, they cannot possibly perform a proper KEI research project.

Search engine analysts tend to become absorbed in the tangled Web of search engine relationships, algorithm tricks and techno-babble. They don't really connect to your real-live business model. They don't believe in your product in order to become an evangelist for it. In fact, they may not even care what your product is.

Do they know your strategy? Your SEO firm should have excellent knowledge of your market strategy and use it to generate an online SEO plan. The information you would like to acquire is not which keyword phrases are most popular, but which keyword phrases are the most popular in your niche with zero Web sites competing for that keyword phrase.

This requires lateral thinking and the ability to think about your business model while researching your keywords. It also requires a really excellent set of tools and the knowledge of how to recognize behavioral trends.

Find an evangelist. An SEO firm should become an evangelist for your product or service. You don't want to hire an impersonal media buyer or an agency that already has a template-procedure for your niche industry. Pat answers are not appropriate for long-term natural optimization.

A template won't do. Template solutions don't allow for keywords and strategies unique to your business. This template thinking can become extremely costly and is common in agency environments. Your business is very likely unique. There are local search aspects of your business to account for and unique branding considerations as well. Your current business relationships need to be added into the equation before time is spent optimizing. Search engine marketing companies that cannot customize for your unique business model will cost you money over the long term, guaranteed.

SEO marketing firms tend to be resellers, and you may discover that you needed more from them. There is more to strategic marketing than a good website and top ranking for useless keywords.

Avoid order-takers. If an SEO firm accepts your suggested keyword list without researching their effectiveness, move on. A lot of SEO firms don't care what you're selling or who you're selling it to. They just want a list of search terms even when these keywords are useless.

About the Author

Winmark Business Solutions (WBS) is a free Web site for small businesses and entrepreneurs containing over 6,000 pages of business-critical information and downloadable tools at www.WBSonline.com. WBS is a division of Winmark Corporation, a multi-brand franchisor with nearly 900 franchise locations in North America. With over 25 years working with small businesses, WBS draws upon years of experience to bring important small business articles, information, tools, forms, checklists, calculators and downloadable forms.

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