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, 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, Search Engine Guide, and SEO Today. 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 don’t 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:

Don’t 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 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.


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.

August 20, 2003

Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, which was recently named the number one search engine optimization company in the world by PromotionWorld. Scott has contributed content to many publications including Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, DS Waters, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Visit to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.

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