Practical Ecommerce

8 Tips for Choosing an SEO Professional

Editor’s Note: Greg Laptevsky is a longtime Practical eCommerce contributor and a professional search-engine-marketing consultant. We asked him for tips to help ecommerce companies hire SEO firms. What follows, below, is his response.

The checklist below will help you choose the right specialist for your search engine marketing campaigns.

1. Stay away from agencies/companies that guarantee top rankings.

    If you’ve been in the business long enough, you know that there are few guarantees with search engine marketing. No company can guarantee top natural rankings on Google, Yahoo!, MSN or any other search engine.
    Agencies/consultants can, in fact, guarantee that you’ll be able to generate traffic via paid alternatives such as pay-per-click or paid inclusion but never via search engine optimization.

2. Inquire about realistic expectations on performance.

    Don’t expect to hear specific performance by a certain date, but inquire about results with previous accounts in a similar vertical and/or sites with similar competition levels.

3. Ask the consultant how it plans to execute your SEO campaigns.

    If you’re not getting a reasonably comprehensive response and/or hearing statements such as “we know SEO secrets,” choose another firm.
    An SEO firm could have a slightly different methodology for getting you best results. However, if the company is unable to explain the method to the madness, then it doesn’t know what it is doing or it will likely do something “unconventional” (which you might get penalized for later on).

4. Look around for company reviews and ask permission to contact their existing clients.

    It’s likely that you’ll get referred to a success story; nevertheless, you will probably learn a lot about day-to-day interaction going on behind the scenes.

5. Check SEMCompare.com to see what other people are saying about the firm.

6. Make sure you will own all accounts, domains, content, graphics and/or any other media used to promote your site.

    If your search-marketing guru builds out micro-sites and blogs, distributes video clips, or creates content, you’ll want to ensure all of this content is legally owned by you. It might get really messy, for example, if you realize that you don’t own half of the domains utilized in your SEO strategy. Spell this out in the contract.

7. Ask to see sample reports.

    Determine the minimum level of reporting to be delivered by your future SEO provider and the frequency of the report delivery. A one-page report every six months is not acceptable, in my view.
    You need to know how much you’re spending, your profitability levels, traffic patterns, and in depth custom analysis (put together by a human being) of your SEO (and paid search) campaigns.

8. You get what you pay for.

    Both SEO and search engine marketing are very time-consuming tasks. Your consultant will need to spend time and resources to monitor new developments, industry news, industry research and the like. If you’re negotiating a contract, it’s a good idea to inquire about company-wide hourly rates to understand how much time will be spent on your account. If a firm does not use hourly rate calculation, then determine how much your SEO/SEM campaigns will cost each month. Don’t expect great service for $100 per month.

Greg Laptevsky

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  1. SEOTheOtherPointOfView April 21, 2009 Reply

    A very nice article, I might add (and I’m not a foreigner) that the rates that we come across are super subjective to area, cost of living, expenses and the like…

    What a 5 employee company would charge for the exact same service provided by a single seo expert that has no bills or overhead may be the difference between getting a super service at a super price vs having to pay out the nose for the same quality service.

    Any service that is "Internet" based is difficult at best to be assured but the reference points made are excellent but again… The higher the cost does not necessarily equal a more quality product or service… Even though many are led to believe so..

  2. Ron Robinson April 22, 2009 Reply

    Excellent tips from a very prolific writer, Greg!

    A couple of other very helpful and important considerations: First of all, be sure that your SEO strategy will promote your products as well as your company. For instance, if you have an auto parts store, be sure that the campaign will promote you not just on ‘auto parts’ searches, but on searches for terms like ‘spark plugs’ and ‘hub caps’ and other products you carry – after all, a shopper looking for a certain auto part is much more likely to search for the specific part he wants rather than just on ‘auto parts’.

    Second, make sure that the SEO strategy ‘engine’-izes your site such that optimization continues to occur AFTER the contract is ended. If you add a new product or a new product line 6 months after the contract has ended, you shou,ld soon find that new product or product line at the top of search engines without having to hire SEO services again to promote the new product.

    Lastly, before contracting for any SEO services at all, be sure you are taking maximum advantage of SEO services you already possess such as those built-in to your web hosting account, or those built-in to your shopping cart. IF SEO services are built-in to services you are paying for anyway, you should be using them. Some are highly effective and will continue to build page authority and page rank for you day-by-day, every day.

    Ron Robinson
    800Cart.com

  3. Speedy Cash April 22, 2009 Reply

    Well said Greg. Speedy Cash has used many different companies and consultants for SEO. Payday loans are a very competative term and we have found that quality, not quantity has served us best. The consultants who put in the time to really get results are the ones we stick with. Your article is right in line with our practices. Thought you would be interested to hear a perspective from one who hires SEO services. Best.

  4. George Zlatin April 23, 2009 Reply

    Yeah, I agree with most of the points made on your list. I’ve never heard of SEMCompare.com though. There are a few other similar services out there where you can compare SEO firms like TopSEOs.com but they tend to promote large size firms that have dollars to advertise on their sites. Like you said in the article, it’s going to come down to you doing your own due diligence.

  5. LotusJump April 23, 2009 Reply

    Great points to consider for anyone hiring an SEO. What a lot of people don’t understand is that most of the "tricks" that can get quick "guaranteed" results will likely be short lived and can be very detrimental to the long term goals of your site. We’ve helped a number of companies battle back from various Google penalties as a result of bad behavior from shady SEOs. It’s great to see articles like this to help companies do their homework.