Search engine optimization is a growing industry, and increasing numbers of companies are becoming interested in hiring an outside firm offering search engine marketing services. Unfortunately, many of these companies become interested in search engine optimization for the wrong reasons, and many also have unrealistic expectations of what search engine optimization companies can offer. This article should help companies determine whether they are ready to hire a search engine optimization firm.

Have a strong business case for your search engine marketing services.

Too often, businesses decide to investigate search engine optimization companies simply because they can’t find themselves on search engines. While this may be a sign that further investigation is warranted, it does not by itself make a strong enough case for SEO.

This is also true for companies that want to use search engine marketing services because their site does not get much traffic. Again, this may be an indication that search engine marketing services are worth investigating, but is not enough evidence to support launching an immediate campaign. What follows are three questions to ask yourself when considering search engine optimization companies:

Are my customers searching for my products and/or services online?

The answer to this question is usually yes (a study conducted by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicated that 85% of prospective web customers use search engines to find product solutions and vendors). However, especially in highly specialized fields with low average dollar sales, research will sometimes indicate that the scant number of people searching for terms related to your business would probably not be worth the investment necessary to hire a search engine marketing agency. Software like Wordtracker, free for limited use, is a great place to start to see how often people are searching for your products or services online before you spend your money on search engine marketing services.

Are my competitors showing up for the terms I want to target?

Although this by itself does not make a compelling argument for using search engine marketing services, discovering that many of your competitors have undertaken search engine initiatives of their own may indicate that they have found search engine optimization companies to be a good investment.

What effect would an increase in targeted traffic to my website have on my business?

If your site receives steady traffic but has never helped you to land a sale, an increase in traffic alone will not necessarily improve your results (even if the traffic is more targeted). On the other hand, if your website currently helps you to generate sales every week, an increase in traffic should improve your website results in a more or less predictable fashion. It is important to make sure that your website is acting as an effective sales conversion tool prior to investigating search engine marketing services. Full-service search engine optimization companies can help you to address both traffic and conversion.

Educate Yourself before Choosing Search Engine Optimization Companies.

There are many respected sites on the web devoted to search engine marketing services, including Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Guide, and SEO Today. Taking the time to learn about search engine marketing services before hiring a search engine marketing agency can be beneficial in several areas:

If you decide to utilize search engine marketing services, you will hire a better firm.

Unfortunately, there is no official code of ethics for search engine optimization companies. Even a brief visit to one of the sites listed above will help you to eliminate a large percentage of search engine optimization companies that use risky tactics, antiquated software, or simply don’t get results. All of the search engine optimization companies you review should guarantee ethical best practices.

You will better understand the recommendations made by search engine optimization companies.

A better understanding of the SEO process can help you to evaluate the recommendations that search engine optimization companies will make. This can be useful when you are trying to balance the needs of your visitors against your need for increased traffic.

Have Realistic Expectations.

While the use of search engine marketing services is one of the most effective marketing channels available to most organizations, it is important that the expectations that you set for the search engine optimization companies you may hire are realistic. Specifically:

Don’t expect to rank highly for ultra-competitive, general terms.

Studies indicate that most people now search using multiple words, but many companies ask their search engine optimization companies to target a very general term. For example, if your company provided security consulting for large companies, you may be tempted to ask your search engine marketing agency to target the phrase “consulting” or the phrase “security”. The problem is that these phrases are very general (and probably very competitive) and only a fraction of the people typing either of them in a search engine will be looking for your specific product. It is generally much more productive to go for less competitive phrases that bring in a higher percentage of visitors looking for your specific product or service, and a firm using ethical search engine marketing services should guide you in this direction.

Don’t put all your eggs in the SEO basket.

Although using search engine marketing services can make a tremendous impact on your bottom line, you should not rely on them too heavily. Unlike traditional advertising, where you control when and where your message will be heard, you do not ultimately have control of search engine results. Unfortunately, many businesses that rely heavily on organic search engine results have failed simply because they lose their rankings on Google due to a new spam filter or an algorithm shift. Good search engine optimization companies will keep your website abreast of these changes, but nothing is certain with search engines.

Don’t expect overnight results.

Unlike pay-per-click or other forms of advertising, organic search engine marketing services take time to implement and time to yield results. Be patient – the results that good search engine optimization companies can get you should be worth the wait.

Be Prepared to Protect Your Investment

Businesses that hire search engine optimization companies should also understand that it is not a one-time effort. Use of search engine marketing services is only the beginning of a long process of improving conversion rates, monitoring results, and possibly expanding your campaign.

Improving Conversion Rates

If you don’t want to work with one of the many full-service search engine optimization companies, be prepared to track the conversion rates on your site for individual keyphrases. Software such as Clicktracks allows you to see which phrases from which engines bring you the visitors who are most likely to buy your products, fill out your online form, etc. Access to this data can help you to improve pages of your site that do not convert visitors.

Track Ranking and Traffic Data

You should also be prepared to track your traffic and ranking data on a monthly basis, whether you are working with outside search engine optimization companies or do it in house. Without access to this data, you will not be able to tell whether the overall value of your search engine marketing services is trending upward or downward. Your search engine marketing agency may provide regular analyses of this data, but it is always helpful to have your own data available.

Expand Your Keyphrase List

If your search engine marketing services are working for you (and if you do your homework, it should), you will probably want to expand your keyphrase list over time to drive more targeted visitors to your site and further increase the value of your campaign.

Conclusion

While using with search engine marketing services can have a tremendous impact on your company’s bottom line, you should only proceed with the decision to partner with one of the search engine optimization companies out there after you have fully evaluated your current position, knowledge, and dedication. If you know exactly what you expect to get out of your campaign, have realistic expectations, and are committed to getting the most out of your investment, you are probably ready to look into hiring a search engine optimization firm.

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