To maximize the potential of your business website, spending time on search engine optimization (SEO) should be a top priority.  The SEO process, however, can be time-consuming, extremely detailed, and confusingly technical. If you find you do not have the time or the technical savvy to manage at least the SEO basics on your website, it may help to choose a good SEO firm to do the work for you. However, not all SEO firms are the same, nor do they all perform quality work. When choosing an SEO firm for your website optimization, there are several elements to keep in mind. 

Know What You Want To Accomplish

Have your goals in mind before you approach an SEO firm.  You should know exactly what you want from your website. Is your site meant for attracting customers and filling orders online, or do you want them to know more about your business so they’ll visit your retail or office location? What type of customer do you want visiting your website? Do you want to keep in contact with customers with online newsletters?

Having a list of goals for your site will help your potential SEO firm decide the best strategy for updating your site. It can also help you find and evaluate a good SEO firm that may specialize in your goals.

How Much Are You Willing To Spend?

Along with your goals, have a budget in mind. SEO firms charge across the board. Some firms offer great advice for reasonable prices, and some will charge you tremendously because they know that SEO can propel your website into profitability. 

However, before spending any time considering potential SEO firms, know what they charge and what you are willing to pay.

Ask For Recommendations and References

You may find a good and reputable SEO firm through the advice of others. Ask your business partners or other business owners you know who may have used an SEO firm in the past. Also, social web sites and internet bulletin boards are another possible way to ask for SEO firm recommendations.

When you have a few SEO firms on your short list, ask for references from each company. Though an SEO firm will not likely provide you with a reference company that will give them a bad recommendation, it doesn’t hurt to talk to the business owner(s) and ask them their thoughts on the SEO firm’s process and cooperativeness. 

In addition, you should visit the websites of the SEO firm’s references, carefully looking at their PR ranking and even Alexa traffic statistics. Type relevant keywords into the search engines and see how these references sites rank in the search results.  

Meet or Talk With the SEO Firm

When you have a short list of firms, find time to either meet in person or talk on the phone. Talking in person can help you develop an intuition about the SEO firm and the people with whom you will work. Is the salesperson the owner? Does the salesperson seem smarmy or untrustworthy?  Or is the person knowledgeable? Does the representative offer good advice, and does he communicate well with you? Sometimes this personal chat with an SEO firm representative can help you make a good rapport and give you a “gut” feeling about the firm and its people.

Check the SEO Firm’s Website and Online Presence

The SEO firm must be able to “practice what they preach,” and therefore, the quality of their services should be reflected in their own website. What is the Page Rank of the SEO firm’s main website? When you type in relevant keywords, does the firm show up in the first page of search results? A SEO firm that cannot help themselves will likely not be able to assist you either. 

Does the SEO Firm Conduct Competitive Analysis? 

A good SEO firm will conduct extensive analysis on your competitors to fully understand your industry and business model. The right SEO firm will evaluate your competitors’ keywords, advertising strategies, and backlinks. Only by understanding your competitors can the SEO firm propel your website to the top of the search engine results. 

Does the SEO Firm Offer Site Design Help?

Some SEO firms simply offer consulting services, where they will analyze your site and offer you suggestions for improvement. Then it’s up to you to perform the recommendations and add the special SEO elements. Other SEO firms will actually perform site design or redesign work in-house for your website. They have web design specialists who can offer layout and usability suggestions and then actually incorporate your choices into your website.

If you want special website design help, expect to pay more for the technical expertise of the firm.  However, a well-designed website from a reputable and experienced SEO firm can pay off with benefits to your business when search engine visitors start flooding to your site.

Do They Follow Google Guidelines?

An SEO firm’s strategies are highly important to consider, as you want to clearly understand if the company uses “black hat” or “white hat” strategies. “Black hat” SEO strategies may offer quick results, using “trick fixes” that attract short-term traffic. However, these techniques are illegal and are SEO mistakes that should be avoided. If your website is caught utilizing these strategies, you could be “sandboxed,” meaning your site will never appear in the search engines. 

Google has numerous pages full of helpful technical and optimization techniques and advice for webmasters. A good SEO firm will consistently stay abreast of regular SEO changes in Google’s search engine algorithm, understanding how to best optimize their clients’ websites within the legal requirements set forth by the search engines. Make sure your chosen SEO firm is a stickler for search engine guidelines, falling into the category of a “white hat” firm. 

Beware of SEO Abuses

Most SEO firms are reputable and offer great advice and help in getting your website noticed on the web. However, there are some who use false claims and perform unethical and sneaky tricks in their SEO updates. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • “We guarantee a #1 Google ranking!” – No one can guarantee a #1 ranking, or any ranking for that matter, on any search engine. Beware of SEO firms that offer big promises that seem too good to be true. They probably are.
  • “We have a partnership with Yahoo and Google.” Any SEO firm who claims to have a “partnership” with the search engines is being deceitful, and this should throw up a red flag of caution. None of the search engines are technically affiliated with SEO firms. 
  • Vague Communication – A SEO firm that does not sufficiently and clearly explain what their goals or strategies are spells trouble. They are probably trying to be sneaky in their SEO techniques, and they may even be adding “shadow” domains or shady doorway pages that redirect your visitors to their website.
  • Link Farm Schemes – A SEO firm that uses a technique of adding your website link to every possible directory known in the 21st century is not looking out for your best interest.  These SEO firms are simply trying to impress you with thousands of backlinks, but in reality, these could harm you. Too many incoming links to your website, especially from disreputable link farms, can cause red flags on search engines. Make sure that an SEO firm is discerning about where it places your website link.

SEO firms, in general, can be a great investment. They offer some of the quickest ROI on their services because positive search engine results can be seen in a matter of weeks or months. Your money could be returned to you in spades. However, to get the best results for your website, you do need to make sure you hire the right SEO firm to do the work. Conduct the research, ask around, and carefully choose a reputable SEO firm that will beneficially thrust your business into the WWW spotlight.