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Ten Considerations When Hiring a
Search Engine Optimization Company

by Robin Nobles

If you’re in the market to hire a search engine optimization company, you probably feel bombarded with promises of #1 rankings and instant success. But how do you know which claims are important and which to believe, and which are classic snake oil pitches?

Let’s look at ten important items that you need to think about if you’re considering hiring a professional search engine optimization firm.

1. Cost

Get prepared, because search engine optimization work is very expensive. And with few exceptions, you get what you pay for in this business. If you find an SEO company that’s cheap and whose Web site resembles a used car lot, trust that you’re not going to get quality work.

How much should you be prepared to pay? That’s a difficult question, because it depends on many factors. First, if you’re going after highly competitive keyword phrases, you may have to pay more than if your keyword phrases are focused and finetuned. If your site is enormous, and if you want each page optimized, the cost will be more. If you want to set up new sites to bring in traffic, that’s a different charge. Or, if your site is using difficult technology, the cost may be higher.

Some SEO firms now offer a pay-for-placement plan, where each keyword has its own price category, depending on the number of search results and degree of competition. Still other companies offer a pay-for-click-through plan.

Another consideration is that most SEO’s require a portion of the fee to be paid in advance. It might be 50 percent, or in some cases, 100 percent of the initial fee.

In any event, unless you’re simply wanting to hire a consultant for an hour or two, be prepared to spend at least a thousand or two in getting your site optimized by an expert.

2. Understand what You’re Getting for the Price

Most SEO companies offer various packages that include certain services, and you can choose to add on additional services from there.

So, find out exactly what is included in the package price. Does this include submitting through the pay inclusion programs? Which engines and directories are included? How many information or doorway pages will be created? Does this include maintaining the site after results are achieved? How many keyword phrases do they work with? Does the cost include building link popularity?

If you have a brand new site and are wanting “instant” traffic, you may want to go with a firm that will purchase keywords for you through one of the pay engines like GoTo. You’ll also want to make sure that the SEO firm submits your pages through the various engines’ pay inclusion programs.

Yes, these are added costs to you. But, it can take literally months to see results through regular search engine optimization strategies. If you have a brand new site with no traffic, or if you’re anxious to get traffic going for a special promotion or holiday sales, purchasing keywords through the pay engines and paying to submit to the engines will boost your site’s visibility much faster.

3. Guarantees

If the SEO firm you’re considering has a guarantee, study that guarantee and all of the “fine print” carefully. If they’re guaranteeing to increase the traffic to your site, that’s fine. If they’re guaranteeing an increase in your rankings, that’s fine too.

But, if they’re guaranteeing that you’ll get a top 10 ranking, consider this guarantee carefully. There are so many factors that come into play when optimizing a Web site. For example, how established is the site, or is it brand new? How competitive is in the industry?

Does the guarantee require that you choose a three-word keyword phrase, under the assumption that it’s impossible to get a two-word phrase ranked high, or even a single keyword? For one thing, that assumption is incorrect. Depending on the keyword phrase itself, you can certainly get two-word phrases ranked high, and even certain single keywords. So, if you go with that firm, you’re going to have to choose keywords that are less popular than what you might have chosen otherwise.

Some firms require you to sign a form stating that there are no guarantees for top ten rankings, which keeps misunderstandings down from the onset of the working relationship.

Here’s what one SEO explains when customers ask him about a guarantee:

“I make an analogy about search engine placement in order to illustrate what it is like and why it cannot be guaranteed. Obtaining high rankings is comparable to predicting the weather. You can look at the clouds, you can check humidity, you can watch wind patterns, etc. These are absolutely necessary to do in order to have any idea about the weather, but you still can't say for sure that it will in fact rain. I can do page tweaking, submissions, link promotion, etc., and have fantastic results and be right on the money, or it can rain on me. Doing what I do is a necessity to have a decent chance at obtaining search positions, but I cannot promise how the rankings will perform.”

4. Competing Clients

Some SEO firms will only work for one client in a given industry. For example, they will only work for one life insurance client, one furniture wholesaler, one bank, and so forth.

Why? Because they don’t want their clients competing against each other for the same keywords.

Other SEO firms set themselves up to be experts in a particular industry, such as online casinos or legal Web sites.

Still other firms will take on more than one client in a given industry, but only if each client has a different set of targeted keywords.

If this is important to you, check with the SEO firm you’re considering and see how they handle competing clients.

5. Track Record

How can the professional SEO company prove to you that they knowledgeable and experienced in this industry?

For one thing, you can ask for a list of references from any SEO that you’re considering. Look closely at the list to see if the sites appear to be legitimate and trustworthy. Then, contact those references.

Does the firm hold certification from a reliable training company like the Academy of Web Specialists? How many years of experience does the company have? Is the company willing to show you a few reports for some of their clients?

6. Access to Your Server

How will the SEO firm work on your site? Are you going to give them access to your server, to where they’re responsible for uploading pages and making changes?

Or, will they have to go through a Webmaster, thereby slowing down the process.

Some SEO companies like to set up gateway pages on their own server and route traffic to your site. Other SEO firms like to set up separate Web sites on their own server as a means of building link popularity and routing traffic. If that’s the case, who will own those gateway pages or sites if you decide not to continue using their services?

When the SEO firm owns the pages or sites, if you take your SEO work elsewhere, that firm can simply re-route traffic to another client’s site. There’s nothing illegal or shady about this—it’s just a fact of life. However, you can always choose to negotiate ownership of a gateway page or site in the initial contract.

7. Site Quality

Professional search engine optimizers understand that getting top rankings in the search engines is only the beginning. In order to be successful, those top rankings have to convert to additional traffic to the site, and ultimately to traffic that converts to sales.

But what if the SEO achieves top results for you, yet your site isn’t designed in such a way to promote the actual sale. For example, let’s say that the site is confusing, and visitors simply give up and never make it to the order page. Or maybe there’s no “call to action.”

Some SEO’s are beginning to make stipulations in the contract that state that they are not responsible for actually increasing sales unless they take on the responsibility of redesigning some areas of the site to make them more “sales friendly.”

8. Finding a Trustworthy SEO Firm

How can you find a professional SEO company that you can trust? Wouldn’t all of the best firms be listed in the top rankings at the search engines?

Not necessarily, and here’s why. Many of the successful SEO firms are so busy working on clients’ sites that they don’t have time to optimize their own sites. So, they rely on word of mouth and recommendations for their new clients, which keeps them more than adequately busy.

Plus, the firm may be in the top rankings for the keywords that they consider important to them, but you may be looking in different areas that they aren’t targeting.

So, just because a company isn’t in the top 10 doesn’t mean that they aren’t a top notch firm with the experience needed to help your site achieve success.

Back to our original question of how to find a trustworthy company, ask other Webmasters whom they use to optimize their site. Search for related online forums or visit newsgroups and see which firms are recommended. Write to some SEO companies and see what type of response you get. Do your homework before choosing the firm, and you stand a much greater chance of choosing an SEO company who can really help you.

9. Type of Proposal

Many SEO companies will create a detailed report and offer numerous suggestions before you ever sign the contract. Some of these companies charge for the proposal, and others don’t. Still others will charge only if you decide not to use their services.

Taking it from the side of the optimizer, it’s very time consuming coming up with a strategy for a particular company. Not only do you have to visit the site and spend some time, but you also have to run various reports and do considerable research. Plus, many SEO’s are hesitant to give away too much information in the initial proposal, so they won’t do detailed reports or offer focused suggestions until an official agreement has been reached.

In any event, make sure that you understand the process that’s involved. For example:

  • Do you have to pay for a formal proposal?
  • If you hire the company, how often will you be sent verifiable results?
  • What types of reports can you expect to receive?
  • How long will the process take?
  • When can you expect to see results?

10. Contract

As with all contractual obligations, read the contract carefully, including all fine print. At the Academy of Web Specialists, we compiled a group of contracts from various SEO firms, and we’ve posted them online. We also came up with a standard contract that incorporates many of the ideas shown in the individual contracts. It might help you to view those contracts and compare what the SEO company you’re considering is offering.

Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe ( as well as online SEO training courses ( They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through, and they have expanded their workshops to Europe with Search Engine Workshops UK. They have also opened the first networking community for SEOs, the Workshop Resource Center (WRC).

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