What To Look For -- And What To Look Out For
Choosing the right SEO company is crucial -- not only can "rogue" or unethical search strategies drag down your search ranking, they can even get you blacklisted from popular search engines and cause legal consequences in some situations. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing an SEO company:
No "Guarantees." This is the number-one cited "red flag" by search professionals. The only people who really know how the Google algorithm works have signed airtight confidentiality agreements. Companies that "guarantee" a certain rank are dishonest on two fronts: it's factually impossible to achieve a specific ranking, and it's not truthful to claim that you'll be able to. Stay away.
Look at their ranking and search presence. See how high the company's site ranks -- and don't believe them if they tell you that they're ranked low because they want to maintain a low profile. Ethical companies aren't afraid of publicity. SEO companies that have had domains removed from Google's index should also set off a big alarm -- they'll likely use the same "strategies" on client sites.
Beware of spammers and cold callers. Most of the companies that engage in fraudulent SEO techniques thrive on volume business, so they need to keep new customers coming in. Shady SEO companies will cold call or send e-mail blasts claiming that they've "analyzed" your site and can help you get better search results. Don't fall for it -- ask for references, verify their business record, and investigate other options before signing with any company that spams or cold calls you.
Trust… but verify. A common fly-by-night SEO scam is to pay a high-traffic site to become a "client" for reference purposes. This can be as simple as adding code or a logo to an existing high-ranking site. Don't just take the SEO company's word for it -- make sure you call several references and discuss how long they've been working with the company and when they began to see search results improve.
Run a background check. The Federal Trade Commission Web site, the BBB site for your state, and even a simple Google search can return valuable information about a prospective SEO company. The simple fact that complaints have been filed can be misleading, though. Sometimes dissatisfied customers will file a complaint that the business tries to address. There's no substitute for good research when something as important as your company Web site is at stake.
How Much Should I Expect To Pay?
The short answer is that every company operates differently. You can find sample SEO contracts online to get an idea of what is specified, but ultimately you and the company you choose to work with will craft an agreement yourselves. Most SEO contracts combine some form of hourly billing and per-project costs (article writing, seasonal work, changes to design elements of the Web site itself). Costs are typically broken out into phases: initial consultation and changes, ongoing maintenance, reporting and tracking, etc. Freelance SEO consultants may charge as little as $25/hour or a few hundred dollars for a simple Web site audit. Experienced SEO firms typically charge anywhere from $50 to $200 or more per hour. Expect to pay more for complex or ongoing projects.
No matter what billing structure you agree to, most SEO companies expect some type of up-front payment before beginning work. This can be as little as a few hundred dollars or as much as tens of thousands, depending on the services you've agreed to purchase. Think of an SEO expert like an accountant or an attorney, you pay money for the service itself and for the time it takes to complete certain tasks.
Though search engine optimization consulting is a relatively new field, experienced firms, consultants, and freelancers abound. If you do choose to outsource, make sure you go about it the smart way by doing your research, choosing a reputable company, and communicating with your provider regularly about your expectations. Outsourcing SEO can be more expensive than managing efforts on your own, but it can also be more effective. Do you want to trust something as important as your Web traffic to an expert or some guy in accounting who says he knows how to to do it? Remember, in SEO, you often get what you pay for.
Resource Nation provides how-to purchasing guides, tips for selecting business service providers, and a free quote-comparison service that allows business owners to compare price and service offerings in over 100 categories from e-mail marketing to online advertising.
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