Are You Ready To Hire a Search Engine Optimization Firm?
by Scott Buresh


Search engine optimization is a growing industry, and increasing 
numbers of companies are becoming interested in hiring search 
engine optimization firms. Unfortunately, many of these companies 
become interested in search engine optimization for the wrong 
reasons, and many also have unrealistic expectations. This 
article should help your company to determine whether you are 
ready to hire a search engine optimization firm.

Have A Strong Business Case For SEO

Too often, companies decide to hire a search engine optimization 
firm simply because they can't find themselves on search engines. 
While this may be a sign that further investigation is warranted, 
it does not by itself make a strong enough case for SEO. This is 
also true for companies that want to hire a search engine 
optimization firm because their site does not get much traffic. 
Again, this may be an indication that SEO is something to 
investigate, but is not enough evidence to support launching an 
immediate campaign. What follows are three questions to ask 
yourself when considering hiring a search engine optimization 
firm:

Are My Customers Searching For My Products And/Or Services Online?

The answer to this question is usually yes (a study conducted by 
the Georgia Institute of Technology indicated that 85% of 
prospective web customers use search engines to find product 
solutions and vendors). However, especially in highly specialized 
fields with low average dollar sales, research will sometimes 
indicate that the scant number of people searching for terms 
related to your business would probably not be worth the 
necessary investment in SEO. Software like Wordtracker 
(http://www.wordtracker.com/), free for limited use, is a great 
place to start to see how often people are searching for your 
products or services online.

Are My Competitors Showing Up For The Terms I Want To Target?

Although this by itself does not make a compelling argument for 
hiring a search engine optimization firm, discovering that many 
of your competitors have undertaken search engine initiatives of 
their own may indicate that they have found it to be a good 
investment.

What Effect Would An Increase In Targeted Traffic To My Website 
Have On My Business?

If your site receives steady traffic but has never helped you to 
land a sale, an increase in traffic will not necessarily improve
your results (even if the traffic is more targeted). On the other 
hand, if your website currently helps you to generate sales every 
week, an increase in traffic should improve your website results 
in a more or less predictable fashion. It is important to make 
sure that your website is acting as an effective sales conversion 
tool prior to hiring a search engine optimization firm.

Educate Yourself

There are many respected sites on the web devoted to search 
engine optimization, including Search Engine Watch 
(http://www.searchenginewatch.com/), Search Engine Guide 
(http://www.searchengineguide.com/), and SEO Today 
(http://www.seotoday.com/). Taking the time to learn about 
search engine optimization before hiring a search engine 
optimization firm can be beneficial in several areas:

If You Decide To Do SEO, You Will Hire A Better Firm

Unfortunately, there is no official code of ethics for search 
engine optimization firms. Even a brief visit to one of the 
sites listed above will help you to eliminate a large percentage 
of firms that use risky tactics, antiquated software, or simply 
donít get results.

You Will Better Understand The Recommendations That Your Seo 
Firm Makes

A better understanding of the SEO process can help you to 
evaluate the recommendations that your search engine optimization 
firm makes. This can be useful when you are trying to balance the 
needs of your visitors against your need for increased traffic.

You Will Be Able To Participate In The Process

While a good search engine optimization firm will take the time 
to understand your business as best they can, they do not know 
your business or your customers as well as you do. If you take 
some time to learn about SEO and involve yourself in the process, 
the coordinated effort will almost always yield better results 
than a search engine optimization firm working on its own.

Have Realistic Expectations

While search engine optimization is one of the most effective 
marketing channels available to most organizations, it is 
important that the expectations that you set for your campaign 
are realistic. Specifically:

Donít Expect To Rank Highly For Ultra-Competitive, General Terms

Studies indicate that most people now search using multiple 
words, but many companies ask their search engine optimization
firm to target a very general term. For example, if your company 
provided security consulting for large companies, you may be 
tempted to ask your SEO firm to target the phrase "consulting" 
or the phrase "security". The problem is that these phrases are 
very general (and probably very competitive) and only a fraction 
of the people typing either of them in a search engine will be 
looking for your specific product. It is generally much more 
productive to go for less competitive phrases that bring in a 
higher percentage of visitors looking for your specific product 
or service

Don't Put All Your Eggs In The SEO Basket

Although hiring a search engine optimization firm can make a 
tremendous impact on your bottom line, you should not rely on
it too heavily. Unlike traditional advertising, where you control 
when and where your message will be heard, you do not ultimately 
have control of search engine results. Unfortunately, many 
businesses that rely heavily on organic search engine results 
have failed simply because they lose their rankings on Google 
due to a new spam filter or an algorithm shift.

Don't Expect Overnight Results

Unlike pay-per-click or other forms of advertising, organic 
search engine optimization takes time to implement and time to
yield results. Be patient - the results should be worth the 
wait.

Be Prepared to Protect Your Investment

Companies that hire a search engine optimization firm should 
also understand that it is not a one-time effort. Hiring a firm 
is only the beginning of a long process of improving conversion 
rates, monitoring results, and possibly expanding your campaign.

Improving Conversion Rates

Be prepared to track the conversion rates on your site for 
individual keyphrases. Software such as Clicktracks 
(http://www.clicktracks.com/) allows you to see which phrases 
from which engines bring you the visitors who are most likely 
to buy your products, fill out your online form, etc. Access to 
this data can help you to improve pages of your site that do not 
convert visitors.

Track Ranking and Traffic Data

You should also be prepared to track your traffic and ranking 
data on a monthly basis, whether you outsource it or do it in
house. Without access to this data, you will not be able to tell 
whether the overall value of your campaign is trending upward or 
downward.

Expand Your Keyphrase List

If the campaign works for you (and if you do your homework, it 
should), you will probably want to expand your keyphrase list 
over time to drive more targeted visitors to your site and 
further increase the value of your campaign. 

Conclusion 

While hiring a search engine optimization firm can have a 
tremendous impact on your company's bottom line, you should only
proceed after you have fully evaluated your current position, 
knowledge, and dedication. If you know exactly what you expect 
to get out of your campaign, have realistic expectations, and 
are committed to getting the most out of your investment, you 
are probably ready to look into hiring a search engine 
optimization firm. 

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Scott Buresh is managing partner of (http://www.mediumblue.com) 
Medium Blue Internet Marketing. His articles have appeared in 
numerous publications, including ZDNet, WebProNews, MarketingProfs, 
DarwinMag, SiteProNews, PromotionData, and Search Engine Guide. 
Medium Blue is an (http://www.mediumblue.com/profile.html) 
Atlanta search engine optimization company that works with 
clients all over the country. 
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