SEMA News - July 2009

By Joe Dysart

Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

Google offers its own beginner’s guide to search-engine optimization.


While there are any number of web eMarketing firms that promise to significantly boost your company’s rankings on search engines, finding one that actually delivers on that oath demands some careful shopping, according to industry experts. The still-maturing industry known as search-engine optimization (SEO) is unfortunately riddled with legions of scammers who prey on marketers and entrepreneurs, said Tom Pick, founder of WebMarketCentral.

The trick, Pick and other insiders said, is to carefully poke through an SEO proposal and unearth the telltale signs that separate the legitimate players from the scoundrels.

Granted, this vetting process can be tedious, but the payoff can be substantial. Entrusted in the right hands, SEO—the art of programming your website with the precise combination of keywords and the precise number of links from highly recognized websites—can spell a significant revenue increase for any firm.

Probably, the top priority in any selection process is to secure references from the SEO firm you’re evaluating. Find out who you can phone and talk with about quantifiable improvements they’ve experienced in their own rankings on the major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and MSN, Pick said. Equally important, added Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, are written accounts that recount similar stories.

“Case studies, testimonials and references should be a built-in component of SEO client lifecycle management,” Odden said. “When prospects see you publishing success stories of existing clients, they’re more likely to expect the same for themselves after they hire the agency.”

Time-tested SEO firms also tend to offer businesses the option of a complete eMarketing package, Odden added. A firm inquiring about SEO, for example, may also need help with an overall online marketing strategy, web analytics, eMarketing training for staff and similar concerns.

“Any SEO firm that’s been around for more than a few years is offering complimentary services,” Odden said.

Openness is also a must. Any decent SEO firm will be more than willing to share info with your firm about all the changes it makes and plans to make to your site as well as offer insights as to why it believes those changes will work.

“I don’t know how an SEO consultant or agency could properly implement an SEO initiative for a company website without sharing all the changes made and offering recommendations and the reasoning,” Odden said.

Other signs that you’re on the right track include an SEO firm that ensures your SEO is tightly integrated with your company’s press relations and one that closely studies what your successful competitors are doing right to climb higher in search-engine rankings.

Conversely, your shyster alert should sound if you come across an SEO company that is secretive or refuses to clearly explain its strategy and/or the specific changes it plans to make to your site, according to Google’s SEO guide.

These scammers also tend to wrongfully encourage companies to participate in “free-for-all” link schemes—a kind of mad dash for links in which huge numbers of unrelated companies attempt link to one another in a vain effort get noticed by the search engines. The problem with this strategy is that the search engines are wise to the practice and often punish sites for this ruse.

Also be wary of an SEO firm that promises a number-one ranking on Google. Google categorically states in its SEO guidelines that no one can promise such a ranking and that no SEO firm has a “special relationship” with Google or can offer a “priority submit” to the search engine.

SEO n’er-do-wells also try to trick newcomers into believing that suddenly high rankings in “sponsored links” on the search engines are the result of good SEO. Not true. Sponsored links are strictly pay-for-placement affairs: If you pay enough money, your company can be listed as the top sponsored link on Google or any other search engine tomorrow and for as long as you like.

Problem is, that link will disappear the moment your company stops paying for it. True SEO involves expertly programming your site with the right keywords and links so that yours naturally earns a high place in the search returns of Google and other search engines. Such returns are known as “organic” links.

Another major red flag is an SEO firm that refuses to work cooperatively with other departments in your company, such as IT, marketing or press relations. No SEO strategy can be successful if its underlying rationale is not understood by all of the company facets it touches.

Other sleights of hand to be wary of are progress reports from your SEO company that read like Greek to you; offers of SEO services that arrive in your spam folder; and SEO companies that promise great returns on the search engines but don’t appear on Google or other major search engines.

Google also suggests a battery of questions you can use as a litmus test for a prospective SEO firm, including:
  • Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
  • What kind of results do you expect to see and in what timeframe?
  • How do you measure your success?
  • What are your most important SEO techniques?
  • How can I expect to communicate with you?
Danny Sullivan, author of Search Engine Land, is considered a world authority on search.


Of course, some firms decide to forgo the SEO selection process altogether and simply bring the service in-house. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources if you go this route:

Info Clearinghouses: SearchEngineLand run by Danny Sullivan, is considered a world authority on search. Other excellent sources include SearchEngineWatch and Pick’s WebMarketCentral.

Top SEO Books: Michael D. Jensen, an SEO marketer and coauthor of SoloSEO, has put together his list of the top SEO books available. All are free and can be found on Google using the titles as keywords. They include Beginner’s Guide to SEO from SEOmoz; Viral Copy: Trading Words for Traffic by Brian Clark; The New Rules of PR by David Meerman Scott; Keyword Research and Selection from Pole Position Marketing; and Keyword Research Guide from WordTracker.

Top SEO Blogs: Again, all of these extremely informative blogs can be found on Google using the blog titles as keywords: Bruce Clay, Inc. Blog; Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google and SEO; Search Engine Roundtable and SEOmoz Daily SEO Blog.


Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker andbusiness consultant based in Manhattan, New York.
Voice: 646/233-4089

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