What are you after? Business growth, profits or rankings? Search engine marketing is one of the most, if not the most, effective form of marketing, but you have to deliver the goods. As effective as SEO is, it won’t help you if the business model is wrong. We had clients with ugly sites that trigger an “I’m outta here response” with no original or decent business model, yet they hoped SEO would do magic. Search engine optimization will make a good business even better, but it won’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
Examples of bad business models:
Making a generic site and throwing onto it a bunch of affiliate links and AdSense.
Being clone number 1,000,001 in a competitive niche. There are a lot of opportunities in competitive fields; you just have to provide bigger perks, better offers and generally do everything better than your competition. Don’t be a clone.
Making a site identical to other sites, with no promotion other than SEO in hopes of making it big.
So you have to have a good or decent business model first. If you already do – GREAT. If not, then spend your time reading business literature and brainstorming ideas instead of reading SEO.
Generally speaking, smaller firms with a few dedicated professionals are better than corporate-sized companies with 100 + employees. The reason for this is very simple. Good SEOs make very good money and can afford good lifestyles. Big SEO companies simply don’t pay nearly as much as an expert SEO can make. Why bother working for $40,000 – $70,000 per year when you can double that with a little more effort? In this case, I’m speaking of the kind of money that can be made by passionate experts.
Another reason is that generally, corporations are full of people who don’t really care about anything. It’s a corporate thing. Many people spend their days in cubicles with no passion, just because they went to college and now have bills to pay. It’s wrong to say that everyone is like that, but a good number of people are, and that’s true in any large company.
On the other hand, large search engine marketing companies are the ones that get most corporate accounts. I guess the large scale demonstrates a degree of success and security, especially to corporations with 20,000+ employees who consider a company with 1,000+ employees small.
Small companies are also more passionate about what they do, especially if they’re run by passionate people. Great examples of this are Aaron Wall, Wolfhowl, SEO by the SEA and other voices. Those guys get RSS subscriptions naturally, because they enjoy writing about SEO and they enjoy doing it. You should look for equally passionate small firms. When a leader is passionate, he gives off enough free energy to motivate his small team. As a result, a group of seven people can sometimes do things better and faster than a 14-member group of poorly-motivated people.
SEO Professional Directories
Here are a couple of places where you can find professional SEO companies.
SEOpros.org – A list of high quality SEO professionals in various countries. There’s a total of 71 companies, in Australia (5), Canada (7), Israel (2), Italy (4), the United Kingdom (2) and the United States (51), so you can’t miss.
SEOConsultants.com- A list of 99 SEO consultants. In my opinion, these are the best ones there are.
An organization I’d like to mention now is SEMPO, the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization. "SEMPO is a non-profit professional association working to increase awareness and promote the value of Search Engine Marketing worldwide." Check out this article about this organization. I’m not exactly impressed with them; my understanding is that their primary objective is to get people to pay several grand to sign up and join, which gives them the right to display logos that say “you’re a part of THIS cool SEM organization.”
When considering what you should pay for SEO services, there are a few rules to follow:
DON’T BE CHEAP
Be prepared to pay at least several grand for the services of a good search engine optimization company.
Don’t even consider $500 services, or anything less than $3000 for that matter. Really good SEO experts won’t work until you meet their minimums. Those minimums vary depending on the number of clients, projects and finances each SEO has. Usual minimums are $3,000 – $10,000. If you hear anything less than that you’re simply talking to the wrong company. They either have not reached the level of expertise that allows them to command a high price, or they are desperate for clients. Remember, good professionals are always in demand.
“You get what you pay for” is as true here as anywhere else.
Types of SEO Payments
Expect to pay an initial sum with on-going monthly payments. The initial sum covers the project itself, including the details of onsite and offsite SEO, while ongoing payments keep the site in the search results and protect against algorithm changes. Once SEO gets you the rankings, there’s no guarantee you’ll have those rankings forever. Google tweaks its algorithms all the time, so sites go up and down. To maintain the site on the first page, SEO professionals must constantly tweak it. This takes time, and most companies charge a monthly maintenance fee. This fee depends on the company. Some charge a percentage of the initial contract.
On the Topic of Ethics
As you read articles on the web, you will hear a lot of talk about “ethics,” “paid links” and other search engine optimization issues. You have to realize that many SEO professionals — even some that are apparently effective – buy links, rent links, and engage in other ”black hat” practices. You will need to ask companies about their practices, and decide whether you can afford to take the risk. They can be pretty serious — even to the point of getting banned from the results of the major search engines altogether.
Look for SEOs who know the rules, and who know which practices break those rules. You need a professional who understands the field, and knows white, grey and black hat practices — because you need to know what the black hat techniques ARE in order to avoid using them accidentally. Some say that if you work with "ethics evangelists," you’ll limit your results and potentially your profits; they claim that in certain situations, white hat SEO is not enough. Even Aaron Wall has said (my rephrase) that “companies play the “ethnics” cards while working for corporations that profit from sweat shop labor in the third world.”
Think carefully before you let an SEO company use black hat practices on your site, however. Is the business you could gain worth the risk of losing all traffic from the search engines when they find out?
It’s good know as much as you can about SEO. This way you won’t be treated like a dumb blonde in a computer store. Before you do ask any questions though, be sure to state your budget. Most good SEOs won’t waste their time answering questions if they think you’re a small fish. It’s a simple time management issue.
Once you meet the minimums, you can probe SEOs about some spammy techniques to see where they stand. An honest SEO will tell you straight up if they use it and when.
Some redirects are designed to pass PR value from one unrelated page to another. This is considered sneaky and is punishable.
Link Renting and Buying
Many good firms actually will rent and buy links. This is a practice that should be used with caution, if at all, because Google has been getting much better at spotting this.
Link farms are small sites linked together for manipulation of search results. Search engines can spot link farms very quickly, and it’s recommended you stay away from them. A good company will NOT participate in the link farm business.
Cloaking is showing one version of content to search engines and another version to visitors. Cloaking takes on different forms, like cloaking links, text, sites and pages. It’s a very risky business because search engines punish severely for cloaking. There are occasionally legitimate reasons for cloaking, however, as long as you’re not actually trying to fool the search engines with it. Ask if the company does it, and if so, why and when.
This one is plain spam. A good firm will say NO.
Prepare to spend several thousand dollars for quality search engine optimization. Run away from offers of less than $1000.
If you get people calling you or sending you email with offers to optimize your web site, hang up or delete the message unread. Good SEO professionals are always in demand; they don’t need to solicit for service.
Find out how your prospective SEO feels about black hat and white hat SEO practices, and how familiar he is with each. You don’t want to risk your business with someone who might get your business banned because of what they’ve done to your site.
Be prepared for recurring monthly maintenance fees.
Go for small search engine optimization firms over big ones. They tend to have more passion, energy and creativity.
Don’t think of SEO as the magic pill. If the business model is wrong, SEO won’t help. If, on the other hand, you have creative ideas or a decent business model, SEO will drive good profits.