Most online businesses arrive at this point sooner or later - the point where they decide it's time to bring in a search engine optimization company.

Maybe you've tried the "do-it-yourself" approach and found it just too time consuming and/or ineffective. Or, worse still, you paid a search engine optimization service and they let you down. Many of's clients come to us only AFTER shelling out big bucks to an SEO pretender who has no business being in the business.

So here are the questions you should ask to save you from hiring the wrong search engine optimization firm.

Question 1: How do you propose to optimize my site?

This is a crucial starting point for any screening process. It will help you weed out the "wannabes". Your prospective search engine optimization company needs to do the following and do it right:

  • Keyword marketing research: Finding the optimum keyword phrases for your product/services and target market.
  • Web design consultation: Making sure your site has no spider booby traps.
  • SEO copywriting: Using your keywords in well-written, persuasive copy.
  • Web page optimization: Making the visible content and HTML code spider friendly.
  • Search engine submission and registration.
  • Link Popularity Service: Finding and negotiating with appropriate link partners.
  • Monthly maintenance to ensure continued high rankings.
  • Guaranteed search engine optimization results.

Question 2: What search engine optimization techniques WON'T you use?

Almost as important as Question 1, this inquiry can expose the search engine spammers and rookies. You should politely hang up the phone if they say they use any of these tactics:

  • Hidden text or links.
  • Misleading or repeated words (known as keyword stuffing).
  • Cloaked pages.
  • Deceptive redirects (keyword-stuffed landing pages that quickly redirect to the real page).
  • Doorway pages.
  • Duplicate sites or pages.
  • Monthly submissions to search engines (a waste of time and money).
  • Mainly Optimizing Meta keyword tags (ditto).

Question 3: Tell me about your guaranteed search engine optimization.

Guarantees in the SEO field can be deceiving. Many search engine optimization firms appear to offer an air tight guarantee that's actually full of holes. Here's a typical example:

"Once we have optimized your site, we guarantee a listing in the top ten within three months of submission. Otherwise, you will receive a full refund."

Sounds good, right? But let's take a closer look. "...we guarantee a listing in the top ten..." means the search engine optimization service only has to get ONE keyword phrase in ONE search engine's top 10 to fulfill their promise and avoid refunding your money!

Let's examine the rest of our sample guarantee.

"Our guarantee of placement applies to: Iwon, All The Web, MSN, Google, Alta Vista, HotBot, Yahoo!, AOL Search, Netscape, Ask Jeeves, Open Directory, Overture, Teoma, LookSmart, and Lycos."

Notice how HotBot, Iwon and Lycos are included? It's not hard to get top rankings in these engines since very little traffic comes from them.

A more effective guarantee, like the one offers its clients, would say something like this:

"We guarantee your rankings will improve in Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL Search, and Alta Vista. These are the five most important search engines and directories. As well, your rankings will go up in the other engines and directories."

"Although we can not guarantee a specific ranking in any particular search engine or directory, we will always strive to get and keep your site ranked in the highest possible position. Our clients have obtained top 10 rankings in Google, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, Alta Vista and more. For proof, please see our testimonial page."

Now THAT guarantee is effective, realistic, and honest.

Question 4: Can I speak to your clients?

Don't be shy about asking for references. Speaking to someone who has actually paid out their hard-earned money to the search engine optimization company you are considering is just being a good consumer.

However, before you do so, make sure you know the cost of the SEO services in question and be ready to sign up if their references check out. There is no sense wasting your time, the SEO's time, or their reference's time unless you are ready and can afford to take the plunge.

Question 5: Check the rankings. (This isn't really a question, it's homework for you.)

Check out the Google rankings of references provided by the search engine optimization firm. Just type in their main keyword phrase and check the top right header area of the Google search results page to find out what their competition is like. You'll see something like this:

"Results 1 - 10 of about 345,678"

If the number is less than 100,000 web pages, ask the SEO company to give you another reference or show you more results. It's just too easy to get rankings when there's so little competition. (Yes, it's really not that hard for respectable SEO companies to get good results when up against 100,000 web pages or less.)

Besides, you want an SEO that can help you get ranked with your more competitive keyword phrases, not just the unpopular ones!

Putting It All Together

Now that you've asked the questions and done your homework, it's time to assess the results. This will take a bit of time on your part because prices and packages do vary from SEO to SEO.

If you need a tie-breaker, listen to your gut feeling. Often just speaking with the SEO representatives will help you determine if they know what they're talking about and if you'll work well together.

September 24, 2003

Michael Pedone is founder of eTrafficJams, a professional search engine optimization company that specializes in identifying and optimizing for the right keyword phrases to increase targeted web site traffic and conversions. His company has been optimizing web sites for clients worldwide for three years.

Search Engine Guide > Michael Pedone > Seeking a Search Engine Optimization Company? You Better Shop Around!