Seven Things To Look For in an SEO Firm

Your rankings on major search engines can make a difference between success and failure online. It takes time, skill, and persistence to keep on top of the search results-which is why many businesses hire professionals. A good search engine optimization (SEO) firm can put you high in the rankings. But a bad one can get you expelled from Google.

The firm you choose to handle your SEO is crucial to your success. So how do you pick the right one? Here are seven things to look for in picking an SEO firm.

Experience. Don’t hire an SEO firm that’s been in business for fewer than two years. It takes time to learn how to optimize a website-and for the first couple of years, most businesses are still experimenting to find the best approach to use. Choose a firm that knows exactly how to promote your site, not one that’s still figuring things out.

Recommendations. A well-regarded SEO firm should have a long list of happy clients. Ask the firm you’re considering for links to sites they’ve worked on. Are the sites easy to navigate? Do a web search for keywords relevant to each site. Does it come up in the search results? Contact the owner. Did he or she like working with the firm, and did they do a good job?

Realistic promises. Some SEO firms will guarantee top rankings, but it’s never a good idea to choose a firm that offers these promises. That’s because SEO is like advertising. No matter how good your ad agency is, it can’t guarantee a certain response for your next TV spot. And if an SEO firm offers a guarantee for top rankings, that could put pressure on the firm to use less-than-ethical tactics to meet the guarantee. In the long run, it’s your site that will suffer from these tactics.

An analysis of your competitors. The best SEO firms will look at your competition as closely as they’ll look at your own site. Your competition can tell your SEO firm a lot about how to promote you. They should be able to apply their successes to your site, and help you take advantage of their failures.

No “partnerships” with search engines. Some firms advertise a partnership with one or more search engines. Watch out for these guys. The three search engines that matter have no partnerships with specific SEO firms. Nobody has any insider information-if they did, it would damage the search engine’s ability to deliver relevant results.

A focus on the big three. Those three search engines that matter, by the way, are Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Watch out for SEO companies that tell you they’ll submit you to hundreds or thousands of search engines. They sometimes do this to sound impressive, assuming prospects won’t know the difference.

Sustainable practices. There’s plenty of debate within the SEO community about whether using “black hat” tactics to manipulate search engines are truly unethical or not. But no matter which side you’re on, the community agrees it’s unethical to use black hat tactics on client sites. That’s because search engines change their algorithms frequently to weed out artificial results. Your site could be at the top of the search results one day, only to disappear the next. Even worse, your site could get banned for trying to “game” the search engines.

“White hat” techniques transform your site into one that search engines want to promote, not one they’re constantly trying to weed out. The results take longer to see, but they’re safer and more stable. Your SEO firm should be committed to sustainable results for its clients.

Choosing the right SEO firm is crucial to the success of your online business. Follow these tips, and you’re sure to find a valuable business partner who can help you take your e-business to the next level.

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