It's always interesting when search engine optimization and search engine marketing shows up in the mainstream press. Mostly it's a crap shoot...sometimes they paint the industry as magical fairies capable of turning dimes into dollars and sometimes they paint it as secret backroom voodoo that results in nothing more than empty promises and empty bank accounts. That's why I couldn't help but read an article called "Optimizers not optimal for getting site noticed" in The Rapid City Journal.

Written by Claire Scholz, the president of an "Internet Marketing and Design Studio," the article paints the industry with pretty broad strokes...

For the most part, search engine optimizers are — do I dare say it out loud? — crooks. They promise the sky and all the golden-top-10-Google-rankings beneath it. They make cold calls or send cold spam (yuck) to otherwise smart business owners and, within minutes, the owner is rattling off the company’s credit card number to his or her new best friend.

She goes on to offer tips about how to "verify" the skill of a search marketer. Unfortunately those tips tend to include things like running searches on Google to see who links to a company and ignoring any references they give you since those references are likely getting kickbacks anyway.

While she does offer up the useful suggestion of looking to see what's been said about the company on discussion forums, she fails to realize that 1.) some shops never get talked about whether they're good or bad and 2.) sometimes difficult clients bad mouth good search firms.

She goes on to say...

Most important of all, ask yourself, “When was the last time I gave thousands of dollars to a total stranger in a business I know nothing about just because he offered me a gaggle of geese that lay golden eggs?”

Unfortunately, she's being short-sighted in her advice.

Are there shiesters in the search marketing world? Yep. Are their shiesters in EVERY businesses? Yep. Thus, you have to do what you'd do for any big project hire you're about to make. Research. Use common sense.

If you're going to re roof your office or add a new wing, what do you do? You research companies, ask for references, check out examples of their work and negotiate a contract. Then you hope all goes well.

If you're going to have surgery to remove a tumor, you research the procedure, ask around to find a good doctor, find out how experienced they are, set a date for the surgery and hope all goes well.

Hiring a search marketing firm is no different. Just because you know nothing about the industry doesn't mean that you don't need it. It simply means that you need to find someone that speaks a language that you can understand, you need to learn enough about search marketing to carry on an intelligent conversation with your SEO firm and you need to hold them accountable for the success of the campaign.

I'll finish by pointing out one last problem with the article. Scholz writes:

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some very well respected search engine optimizers out there. They make lots and lots of money. They romp around the world giving speeches at search engine optimizer get-togethers which makes them more money and garners them more respect. The upward spiral is endless, especially when it comes to online-buzz. What they don’t do is make cold calls or send cold spam (yuck again).

The problem here is that she seems to implies that only the "names" on the conference circuit are worth hiring. She's wrong.

First, those on the conference circuit can (and do) demand exorbitant fees for their services. Most are not even taking on new clients and few are willing to work with companies that have small budgets.

If you were looking to build a piece of direct mail you wouldn't limit yourself to hiring companies that speak at Ad Tech or the DMA conferences. If you were building a new home you wouldn't limit yourself to the teams used for Extreme Home Makeover Edition. Why should search marketing be any different?

Yes it's a new realm for many companies to delve into and yes it's a growing field that still has a limited number of skilled practitioners, but don't limit yourself to the SEO rock stars. Select a search marketing firm the same way you'd select any marketing firm. Research, ask questions and use common sense.

(Hat tip to Jordan over at Marketing Pilgrim)

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

January 30, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > No Need to Fear Hiring a Search Marketer