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Top 10 Factors – How to Choose a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Company

If you are reading this post then you are well aware that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a critical factor in the success or failure of your website.   While there’s no perfect way to select an SEO company, in this article I’m going to cover the top 10 things one should consider when choosing an SEO Firm to work with.

1. Reputation. Let’s start with the most important consideration first.  If an SEO company comes recommended to you from a friend or a colleague, then it’s a good bet that they will be a good choice.  Naturally it goes without saying that you will favor products and services providers that come recommended,  but you should still do some checking-up on an SEO Company — even one referred by a friend (see more below).

2. Niche. Many SEO firms focus on a specific niche and know their field.  Much of SEO is conceptual, but it helps that your SEO company either has a background in your topic, or has at least worked with other clients in your field.  Your colleague may have referred a great SEO Company to you, but if they have absolutely no experience in your field, then you may be better off with an SEO firm that’s more familiar with your topic (and has proven success with optimizing websites in your field).

3. Client List and Competition. On the subject of experience and having worked in your niche, it’s critically important to see how many other companies/clients in your field that this company represents.  For example, if you sell red widgets out of a retail store in New York City, how many other red-widget-selling  stores does your SEO company work with?  If they have 4 other clients in the city — all who sell red widgets — and all to whom they promise top rankings on Google — how can they possibly rank all four of you highly in Google when you are all competing for the same search terms?   Well…the answer is that they can’t.   So make sure that you are not “one of many” clients in the same industry in the same location, so that you are not competing against other clients within your SEO firm.

4. A Caveat to Client List and Competition. It’s one thing if you are an attorney and an SEO firm represents other attorneys in your office building — that’s not likely a  recipe for success.  If however, you are in Seattle and your SEO Company has legal clients in Chicago and Dallas, I wouldn’t be too concerned.  The fact that they have clients in other locations across the country will generally not affect your rankings (unless you are a national company doing a national SEO campaign), and having these other clients likely has given them some experience in the niche (see item #2 above).

5.  Proof of Results. SEO is a part science and part art, and let’s face it, some niches are harder to rank than others.  If you are the only physician in a 5 mile radius, and the other two doctors within 10 miles don’t have websites, then it’s going to be relatively easy to do well in search engine rankings.  If, however, you are a lawyer and there are 10 other lawyers in your office building, and another 50 within a 2-mile radius, it’s going to be very difficult to do well (and in these tightly competitive areas, really good keyword research is necessary).  So before you sign on with an SEO company, ask them for proof of results, and ask to talk to existing clients. If existing clients feel as though they are getting a fair shake, then that’s clearly a good sign.  Again — lack of SEO success doesn’t always mean that an SEO company is bad — it just may be that the niche is tough.

6. Get an Idea of their Workflow.  Everyone from high-school students to professional companies are doing SEO, but one of the most important thing for any SEO fim to do is to have a methodical plan in place.  How will the company select keywords?   How do they know if a keyword is good or bad?  What monthly reports do they do?

7. Are you Involved in the Keyword Selection Process? — Because you Should be.  On the subject of keywords, make sure the SEO company actually has a conversation with you about your goals and needs.  If they don’t know what you want, how can they help you?  Think about the last time you walked into an electronics store to buy a TV and the salesperson immediately “knew” what TV you needed just by looking at you.  Well the same goes for SEO.  Let’s say you are a dentist and you are interested in  seo for your dental website.  Yes, most dentists do a lot of the same procedures (exams, cleanings, etc).  But there are positively things that make each dentist and dental office stand out (hopefully good things).  So what the SEO firm needs to say to the dentist is, “How is your practice different from other dental practices out there?.  What particular dental service do you provide that other dentists don’t? What keywords can we use that will separate your dental website out from the competition?”

8. Deliverables. Know ahead of time what reports you will be getting whether they are monthly or quarterly, and make sure this list is in writing.  Also, make sure some kind of baseline report is done, as a key part of SEO will be comparing where you have progressed to from where you started from.  Certain key metrics should be in these reports such as the top performing pages on your website, the geographical base of your visitors, the number of returning visitors vs unique visitors, and the time spent on each page on the site.  It’s also critical to know the source of this traffic, as well, so this information should be included, too.  Now this list above is a short list and it doesn’t apply to every site, but you should be getting at least a handful of different metrics to help you make decisions about your website.  Along those lines, be wary of any company that doesn’t have you create a Google Analytics account.

9. Be Independent. I can’t stress this one enough.  In doing SEO with an SEO company there are certain (mostly Google) services you will need.  These services will start with Google Analytics and possibly later on add  Google AdWords and Google Places, as well as Google Webmaster Tools and Google Website Optimizer.  Note that the last 3 are not always needed for every site.  But NO MATTER WHAT  MAKE SURE that the Google Account is in YOUR company name so that the data is YOURS.  All too frequently a company will sign up a client for a Google Analytics account within  the firm’s own Google Account.  The problem with this approach is that if the client decides to leave the firm, there’s no way  for the client to sever the data.  Note that Google is aware of this potential problem so there ARE ways for you as the business owner to own the data yourself under your own Google Account, yet share the data with an SEO company.  In this way you can work with SEO Company #1, and then if you want to change to SEO Company #2, you simply have to change some sharing settings in order to make the switch.  So if a company insists that your data be tied into their Google Account, simply run away.

10. Pricing. SEO Pricing is a doozy. Rates vary all over the place, from students to professionals to large corporations.  The key with pricing is to really see what you are getting for the money.  If an SEO Company wants to charge you $500/mo for SEO — fine.  Just find out what the hourly rate is, and what the breakdown is for that $500.  This is one of the reasons I want you to try to get a ballpark idea of what reports you will be getting monthly.  More data of course doesn’t mean “better” SEO, but you need to make sure that the company is actually doing something with the money you pay them.

So that ends my list of the  Top 10 Factors in Chosing an SEO Firm. I hope the list is informative and helpful, and guides you in asking the right questions of any potential SEO provider. If  you have any questions about the list or you want to add another item, please feel free to comment below.

About the author: Dr. David Wank is a practicing general dentist and a Web Development and SEO Guru.  His company, Short Hills Design, LLC,  specializes in web development and SEO, with a particular focus on  SEO for dentists, physicians and healthcare professionals.  He can be reached via the contact form on his company website.

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