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Finding The Right Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Company

Over 90 percent of all web surfers use search engines to find what they are looking for. If visitors are not finding your site, you may need search engine optimization (SEO) – whether you hire a company or do it yourself.

Keeping a website at the top of the search engines has become a science. The best search engines frequently modify the way their databases list websites, and constantly change the search criteria used to find and present web pages.

You may have already been approached by SEO companies promising #1 rankings and instant success. How do you know which company to believe and which are not being upfront? Below are some things to consider when looking for the right SEO for your business.

1. Cost

Search engine optimization work is very expensive, and with most things, you get what you pay for. If you find an SEO company that’s inexpensive and their website resembles a used car lot, you may not get quality work.

How much should you be pay? It depends on what you would like them to do. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Number of keyword phrases
  • Number of pages you would like optimized
  • A technology-complicated site may cost higher
  • Fees - setup fees (may have to be paid upfront), monthly fees and annual maintenance fees. Some companies may may not charge a setup fee and have a higher maintenance fee
  • Performance based companies -will charge based on the number of top rankings & quality link exchanges they achieve, or the number of visitors they bring to your site.

2. Understand what you’re paying for

Most SEO companies offer various packages that include certain services, and you can choose to add on additional services. Make sure you get all the services you actually need and are not paying for those extra's you don't need. Some things that might be included in your package:

    • Reciprocal Link Popularity – is related outgoing and incoming quality links to and from sites that contain content related to your own website’s content. This is very important in attaining a top search engine ranking. Unless your site already has high link popularity then there is no need to pay for this service.
    • One Way Linking - Most search engines place a great amount of value and weight in a site’s link popularity. The more links coming into your site than going out, the better the ranking. The rationale is that more links coming in means that your site is viewed as a valuable resource or tool. Obtaining quality links from good websites takes time. A good website would only link to you if convinced there are some benefits for his site or his site visitors.
    • Submission Fees - Some major search engines and directories will charge submission fees (e.g. Yahoo’s annual fee is $300) - just to get listed or for a quicker inclusion into their programs. These will obviously help your site get listed faster than waiting out the average 3 to 6 weeks for basic inclusion.
    • Directory and search engine listings - If you're already listed in the major directories and search engines then there is no need to pay for resubmission because changing your listing in an existing directory is very difficult to achieve. Generally, submitting your site to "hundreds of search engines" isn't all that helpful. Ask which specific listings are included in your package.
    • Bid Management - Bid Management refers to managing your bids on pay-per-click search engines. You'll have to provide the company with your specific parameters, such as desired ranking for your key phrases and the maximum amount you're willing to spend per visitor.
    • Information/Doorway Pages – SEO's may offer information or doorway pages. Using specific programs, they create the doorway pages by entering in specific information (including keywords) related to the page that you want to optimize. The program then creates the optimized page. Search engines are now frowning on these types of pages, and even banning them due to abuse over the years, so there is a risk involved in creating them.
    • Keywords – SEO’s may limit the number of keyword phrases that they will work with. If you’re going after highly competitive keyword phrases, you may have to pay more than if your keyword phrases are focused and fine tuned.
    • Number of optimized pages –Find out how many pages will the company actually optimize. Many companies will just optimize your home page and some will go beyond that.
    • Maintenance – There may be fees for maintaining the site after results are achieved?

Make sure you are clear on your goals and communicate them to the SEO. You may want to increase traffic to your site, create “instant” traffic for a brand new site, expand your mailing list subscriber base or increase online sales over a determined period of time. Your goals will influence the services you require.

3. Guarantees

If the SEO you’re considering has a guarantee, understand it completely. If they’re guaranteeing to increase the traffic to your site or increase your rankings, great! If they’re guaranteeing that you’ll get a top 10 ranking, consider this guarantee carefully. There are so many factors that come into play when optimizing a website. For example, how established is the site, or is it brand new? How competitive is in the industry? Ask how they are going to achieve the promised results. Some firms require you to sign a form stating that there are no guarantees for top ten rankings which will reduce misunderstandings later on.

4. Competing Clients

Some SEO companies will only work for one client in a given industry. For example, they will only work for one vitamin company, one masseuse, reiki practitioner, and so forth. They don’t want their clients competing against each other for the same keywords. Other SEO's set themselves up to be experts in a particular industry, such skin care or health clinics. Still other firms will take on more than one client in a given industry, but only if each client has a different set of targeted keywords.

5. Track Record

Check out the company and learn how knowledgeable and experienced they are in this industry. Ask for a list of references/clients from them and contact them. Take a good look at their websites. Check for quality of content and keywords. View the source and see how well the meta tags are structured and how well they apply to the content given. Go to the major search engines and find where these clients land on the search terms they are targeting. If their clients rank well then the SEO has created a successful marketing campaign for them.

Ask how long the SEO has been in business. If they are focusing on your industry, how long have they had that focus? Ask the company if they would show you a few reports the company completed for their clients.

6. Access to Your Server

How will the SEO work on your site? Are you going to give them access to your server where they would upload pages and making changes? If they go through your webmaster, then the process will be slower.

Some SEO companies like to set up gateway pages on their own server and route traffic to your site. Other SEO's like to set up separate websites on their own server as a means of building link popularity and routing traffic. If the SEO does this then make sure you negotiate ownership of the gateway page or site in the beginning. If the SEO company owns the pages or sites and you take your SEO work elsewhere, that firm can simply re-route traffic to another client’s site.

7. Website Quality

In order for your website to be successful, the additional traffic to your site has to be converted into sales. If your site is not designed in such a way to promote the actual sale (i.e. visitors don’t know where to order your products/sales, no call to action, poor navigation) then it doesn't how much extra traffic you have to your site.

Some SEO’s will say that they are not responsible for actually increasing sales unless they take on the responsibility of redesigning some areas of the site to make them more “sales friendly.”

8. Finding a Trustworthy SEO

To help you determine how trustworthy they may be, consider the following questions:

  • Does the SEO answer your questions honestly and completely or did they avoid certain topics and give fuzzy answers to others? The SEO should have nothing to hide when it comes to describing how they optimize sites, their track record, etc.
  • Have someone experienced with creating websites look at a couple of sites the company has optimized, looking for any unusual coding that may be hidden from public view.
  • Do they have a list of references you can contact? Hearing the first-hand experiences of past clients is a great way to learn about the company.
  • Does the a SEO pressure you with sales tactics designed to force a decision before you're ready to make one? Building a relationship isn't about closing the deal; it's about doing what's best for you, the client.
  • You should be able to speak with the individuals who will be doing the actual work on your site, not just with a salesperson.

9. Type of Proposal

Many SEO’s will create a proposal for your company before you actually hire them. Creating proposals can be very time consuming: spending time on your site, researching your industry and competition and generating reports from that research. Some companies may charge for the proposal, others may not. Still others will charge only if you decide not to use their services. Many SEO’s are hesitant to give away too much information in the initial proposal, so they won’t do detailed reports or offer focused suggestions until an official agreement has been reached.

10. Follow up

Ask the SEO what you should expect in terms of follow up:

  • Reports on the status of your listings
  • Reports on the increasing quantity of your links
  • The number of unique visitors to your site
  • How often you will be sent reports
  • When can you expect to see results
  • How long will the process take

These reports should not only show where your site is ranked on each of the major search engines for each of the major terms you target, but also show you how you have improved from the previous month and where your competitors stand. They may even provide suggestions on changes to your website and content. The SEO firm should be able to help with key phrase research, copy writing, return on investment analysis (pay-per-click) and traffic analysis to help you understand visitor's behaviours on your site.

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