The first part of this series was about questions to ask a potential search engine optimization company regarding the tactics that it will use to optimize your site. These questions are crucial because there are search engine optimization companies out there that will use techniques that can put your site at risk of penalization by the major engines. The second part of the series covered questions that could determine the competence of a particular search engine optimization company and help you decide if you will be able to trust them with your business.
Now we come to the final part of this series, in which we will look at business assurances made by search engine optimization companies. If your prospective search engine optimization company has satisfactorily answered all of your questions as outlined in the first two articles, it may indeed be a perfect fit for your business. However, there are still some important areas that need to be covered - primarily related to business assurances and expectations.
What type of guarantee will you give me?
Many search engine optimization companies will tell you that they can't offer you a guarantee at all because they don't control the engines. Other firms will try to give you a guarantee that is rankings-centric and that is, as demonstrated in my article Leprechaun Repellant and Guaranteed SEO Companies – The Disturbing Link, rather useless unless the search engine optimization company can prove that all of the keyphrases that will be targeted are both relevant and popular.
On the other hand, a search engine optimization company may offer you a truly meaningful guarantee in the form of one that is traffic-centric and drawn from targeted keyphrases. In such a case, you will approve the keyphrases and the search engine optimization company will guarantee a percentage increase in targeted search traffic. This guarantee is meaningful because the firm cannot pick unpopular phrases and you will approve the phrases to be certain that they are relevant. Not all search engine optimization companies offer this type of guarantee, but it's worth looking for one that does.
Will you work with my competitors?
Few search engine optimization companies will give you a blanket "no." If they do, ask them to delineate. It's rare that a search engine optimization company will block out an entire business segment, and its idea of what comprises a competitor may be much narrower than yours. Some firms will not give you any promises regarding your competition. This response is not satisfactory, as the last thing you want a search engine optimization company doing is learning about your industry from optimizing your site and then soliciting your competition, using the knowledge they have gained to benefit from economies of scale.
Other search engine optimization companies will charge you extra for exclusivity – which can seem a bit like extortion. Remember, the vendor does not have control. YOU are the one paying the bills, and any search engine optimization company that uses this policy is not worthy of your cash. Quality search engine optimization companies will ask you to submit a list of your primary competitors and will not work with any of them for as long as you maintain a relationship with the firm. Period.
How much work is expected of me?
As discussed in the first part of this series, quality search engine optimization almost always requires the creation of new content. But who is responsible for writing this content? If your company is like most, everyone is pretty busy. If you embark on an SEO campaign, will you have to pay extra for an outside copywriting resource? Will you have to give the job to an overburdened internal person?
Search engine optimization companies that are interested in taking as much off of your plate as possible will ask only that you make a resource available for a phone call and will then handle the copy for you (giving you, of course, the opportunity to approve it all). You should also be prepared to provide the firm with any marketing materials, brochures, or whitepapers that explain your product and your messaging. Since writing for search engines is a learned art, it is not practical to expect a new person to come in and get it right the first time. This means that if a copywriting resource is not available from your search engine optimization company, your campaign can take much longer.
Additionally, once your search engine optimization company has made all of its change recommendations, will it drop a huge document in your lap and require you to make those changes? Or will the firm instead make a resource available to do the implementation at no extra cost? Certainly, there are some sites, especially those that draw on dynamic content, where you may not want an external company coming in to make the changes (although you should still limit your search to search engine optimization companies that are capable of handling this). Simpler sites, such as those created using strict HTML, are easy to change.
Your search engine optimization company should be able to implement these changes on a test bed site for your approval before the site goes live. Much like copywriting, implementation of SEO changes is a specialty that regular designers do not often face. It is usually faster to have your firm do this, since it has handled such a task so many times before.
Well, you've asked the questions, narrowed your choices, and now have to select between any of the vendors that answered satisfactorily. Of course, some search engine optimization companies will tell you whatever it is you want to hear to get your business. Your best bet is to take your time and read the fine print—and make sure that anything of particular importance to you is added to the contract. I'm not saying that all salespeople are liars--just the really good ones. But if you're savvy and ask the right questions, that shouldn't be a problem.
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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 MediumBlue.com to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.
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