I quite often get questioned about what exactly we do as an SEO firm and how one goes about finding the right SEO firm for their business. These are actually highly correlated questions. In my mind, finding the right SEO firm is equal parts finding a firm that offers the services you need and finding a firm that you can trust to perform. Of course the follow up question I usually get once I answer is usually “how do I even know what services I need?”
What SEO Services Does My Business Need?
The short answer is “what ever it takes”! Okay, that’s a little trite. In reality though you want an SEO firm that will take the time to work through that with you. Your SEO firm should provide you with either a high-level analysis of your current status in the search engine world or a search strategy document. In either case, the document you get should layout where you are, where you want to be, and an approach to getting there. Possible SEO related services that would likely be addressed include:
- On page SEO – are there glaring weaknesses that need to be addressed with the structure of your current HTML?
- Keywords – are there opportunities to enhance or expand your keyword reach?
- Internal site structure – is there an easily followed path for search engines to navigate your site? are important pages found via natural navigation?
- Linking – are there opportunities to improve internal linking? how can external links be improved?
- Content – is your content optimized for both human readers and search engine spiders?
- Paid search – is there a paid search component to your site that should be explored or optimized?
- Social networks – what are the opportunities to take advantage of social networks to generate traffic, links, buzz?
- Local – is there a local component to your business that should be explored?
- Mobile – is your site for the growing mobile search market?
- International – is there an international component to your business that needs to be addressed?
You may or may not see each of these items addressed in an analysis of your business. However, you should think about how you would assess your own business in these areas, and look to have any analysis provided for you address these concerns.
Evaluating a Potential SEO Firm
In the end, your evaluation and selection of an SEO firm will come down to gut feeling based on your interactions with the firm. However, some important factors that I urge you to consider include:
- Can you contact them?
It is likely there will be a point in time when you want to pick up the phone and call someone to discuss progress, concerns, upcoming goals, or any number of topics. At that point you don’t want to be dealing with a firm that give you an email address and promises 24 hour response. Look for a phone number on their site and give them a call. Leave a message if you get voicemail, and note how long it takes to get a response. Slow response to a “sales” call is not a good indicator that you will get better response when you have an important question once you have a contract with them.
- Do they rank?
If you found them via a search, then that is a good sign (unless you found them on page 88!). Much like your business, search on reasonable terms. Trying to find a firm ranking for “SEO” is like trying to get people to come to your site for a search term of “shoes” — people who search the term “shoes” are not likely to be highly converting users on your shoe store. So try local terms if that is your preference, maybe something like “virginia SEO firm” or “Richmond SEO consultant”. You are going to want to see that they have some ability to rank. Ranking #1 is not the end all be all in your search as you can not be sure of their targeted keywords, but you should see them demonstrating ranking power in obvious targeted keywords.
- Is their content good?
You are looking for an SEO firm that will likely be making suggestions on your content. If they can’t demonstrate the ability to write on their own site, do you really want them telling you how to write?
What Do You Expect to Pay?
Of course you expect me to give you a binding quote here, but that is not even close to realistic. That would be like me meeting you on the subway, finding out you have a shoe store, and asking you to give me a firm quote on a pair of tennis shoes. You would obviously reply “that depends on lots of factors”. So it is in every business, so it is in the SEO business. Some firms are so busy that they will basically set a floor price for any work they take on. Some firms are in the bargain basement business and will sell you “a #1 ranking for $19.99” (run, don’t walk from an offer even resembling that).
One thing I like to stress on the subject of SEO cost is that you should not expect to get 10, 20, 160 hours of service/support per month without paying a fair average hourly rate. Get an idea as to how much support your SEO firm is proposing to provide and put what you think is a fair rate on it, then make the value judgement on your own.
Remember also that sometimes you are expecting an SEO firm to make your ugly duckling in to a princess. Other times you are just looking for someone to pin the dress up a little. Make sure you spell that out up front and that may help you avoid sticker shock. You may also find it valuable to have your SEO firm explain the up-front services that they are proposing versus the ongoing support.
You Signed a Contract, Now What?
It’s simple right? You signed the contract, the firm spent a few weeks putting everything in place, and now your site is rolling. You are done. If you did not catch my sarcasm, then let me explain. SEO is not a put in the fix and reap the rewards type business. It is an ongoing, constantly tweaking, iterative process.
Going back to my shoe business analogy, if you have a shoe business and I come in and say “my shoes aren’t shiny any more, what can you do to fix it?”. You are likely going to sell me shoe polish; you may even shoe me how to use it. You surely don’t expect me to come back in next month angry that your polish shined my shoes up but they are dull again. You expect me to repolish my shoes.
Such it is in SEO. We look for the bad spots and fix them. Then we keep working to continuously keep the shine on!