Selecting a Search Engine Optimization Company (Part I)
by Scott Buresh


There are many factors to consider when selecting a search 
engine optimization company. Unfortunately, many businesses 
that havenít previously used search engine optimization to 
promote themselves are unsure how to evaluate potential vendors, 
and many are intimidated by the entire concept. The following 
article, divided into five major topics of consideration, is 
intended to help in the selection process. 

TOPIC 1: APPROACH

There are many different approaches and levels of service 
available to anyone looking for a search engine optimization 
company. Some techniques, such as "cloaking" or "doorway pages" 
can put your site at risk of penalization, although they may 
give you short term gains. For some, the risks of penalization 
associated with such techniques may be acceptable, but most 
prefer to play by the rules. You probably also want to be 
certain that your vendor doesnít work with your competition. 
Here are three important questions to ask your potential search 
engine optimization company: 

1. Do you create pages, optimized for my keyphrases, which 
   arenít built into the navigation of my site? 

If the answer is yes, you are probably dealing with a search 
engine optimization company that creates "doorway" or "bridge" 
pages (although most companies will call them by different 
names). Such pages may even reside on a different server and 
funnel traffic to your site. This technique violates the terms 
of service of most major engines. 

2. Does your technique involve showing a different page to the 
   search engine than to my visitors? 

If the answer is yes, then you are probably dealing with a 
search engine optimization company that uses "cloaking". This 
is when the website server makes a note of the unique address 
assigned to each visitor, and when it notices that a visitor is 
a search engine, it feeds it specialized content designed to 
rank highly for certain keyphrases. Many engines specifically 
warn against this technique in their terms of service. Google
is particularly harsh on sites that use cloaking, and is known 
to remove them entirely (when they find them). 

3. Do you guarantee that you wonít work with my competitors 
   while you are working with me? 

The optimization techniques used for your site could probably 
be used to help your competitors. Naturally, you donít want your 
search engine optimization company taking the lessons learned 
from your site and applying them to a competing site (diluting 
the effectiveness of your campaign). Some unscrupulous firms 
will go so far as to use the positions they achieved for your 
site to sell your competitors on the need for search engine
optimization. 
  
TOPIC 2: RESULTS

Almost every search engine optimization company has a "brag 
book" of positions that they have achieved. However, looks can 
be deceiving. When evaluating the past results of a search 
engine optimization company, there are really five important 
components to consider. 

1. Which Engines? 
Make certain that the positions the search engine optimization 
company has achieved are for the most popular search engines, 
not smaller engines for which they may have a knack. For a 
current list of the most popular search engines, visit the
Nielsen Netratings page at Search Engine Watch
(http://www.searchenginewatch.com/reports/article.php/2156451).

2. Which Keyphrases? 
Wordtracker (www.wordtracker.com) is a valuable tool (free for 
limited use) in determining if the positions your potential 
search engine optimization company proudly displays actually 
have any real value, since it shows the popularity of individual 
search phrases based upon actual search activity on popular 
engines. When Wordtracker displays a very low number (or zero) 
for a particular term, it is most likely not very competitive 
(or beneficial), and high positions for it are probably nothing 
to brag about. In other words, if the search engine company you 
are considering is boasting of the high positions it achieved 
for the term "dog silverware" and Wordtracker tells you (not 
surprisingly) that nobody searches for that term, know that you 
shouldnít be impressed. 

3. What About An Entire Site? 
While itís easy to focus on one particularly impressive position 
on one popular engine, itís more important to focus on a broad 
range of positions achieved for one site. Itís entirely possible 
for a site to have one great ranking and be sorely lacking in 
positions for all other keyphrases. Ask your potential search 
engine optimization company to show you a report for an 
individual client that demonstrates good positions on many 
popular engines for many popular keyphrases. An effective search 
engine optimization campaign will achieve maximum exposure across 
a broad range of keyphrases and engines, not one notable position 
on one engine. 

4. How Have Results Stood Up Over Time? 
When you find a search engine optimization company that can 
provide you with the data mentioned in the previous component, 
ask to see a report showing how those positions have held up 
over time (ideally for six months or more). Since search engine 
marketing is an ongoing process, you want to be certain your 
vendor is capable of maintaining a high level of exposure for 
your company. 

5. Did They Really Do It? 
The most obvious of the five components is to confirm that 
your potential search engine optimization company is really 
responsible for the positions they are claiming. It is not 
unheard of for unethical companies to take credit for the work 
of others in order to increase their chances of landing a sale. 
In some cases, vendor claims are easy to confirm (such as when 
a client site includes the vendorís name or logo). If you canít 
confirm that a particular search engine optimization company is
truly responsible for the positions by looking at the site, donít 
be afraid to pick up the phone to do so. 

(Continued in SPN Issue #335, Monday, May 26th)


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Scott Buresh is Co-founder and Principal of Medium Blue Internet
Marketing (http://www.mediumblue.com). For monthly tips on how 
to get the most out of your internet presence, sign up for our 
Internet Marketing Newsletter (http://www.mediumblue.com/newsletters)
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