Maybe I should have expected given the nature of the newspaper, however it is always disappointing to see this type of stuff written (regarding SEO) in public forums with big followings. In the Penland and Sommerlad series on the Mirror blog, Nick Sommerlad discusses a ‘new businesses’ email received a company called Leadbank offering him their ‘ethical’ SEO services, and report to have “achieved over 90000 1st page positions and over 27000 number one positions for our clients across all industries and on all major search engines.”. To be honest (on a personal note) any company that throws those figures in a new business email deserves to be flamed publically (my rationale being you can have all the “desert snowman Vietnam” type terms in the world, but ultimately one ‘secured loan’ result is far more impressive).
This leads me onto the second point. The company above got flamed not for the above, but for the fact they didn’t appear in the first page (or even the next four) for the term ‘search engine optimisation’. I would add at this point – perhaps controversially that anyone that does choose a company for the reason they are top of SEO or search engine optimisation is taking a chance – use it as a research tool to find potential search partners however don’t base a business decision of it.
I will use the top five of the current Google results for ‘search engine optimization’ as an example. This isn’t an outing session, so I certainly won’t be mentioning any names, however there are two organisations tactics in their whose tactics are a likely to come awry at some point due to the questionable nature of particularly their link acquisition. I would also add there are a number of good search (and SEO) agencies that do not come in the first couple of pages of results for terms such as SEO but have delivered a number of quality projects and campaigns.
However if you are looking what should you do , I would suggest a REACH type approach is probably worth taking.
R – Research. Probably the most important thing you can do. If you don’t have a miniscule understanding of what SEO is or what is involved, you are more expose. Further to that research the market, place like SEOVendor (from Andy Beal) and SEOMoz both have areas which which you can look at potential search partners, and publications such as NMA in the UK have both the editorial and the marketplace section which will give you an idea of players in the market.
E – Evaluate. Do a bit of homework on them (don’t just look at whether their first page for SEO, Search Engine Optimisation etc). Ask them for examples of their previous work, and results achieved for their clients. I would suggest the old saying ‘cobblers shoes’ applies to a lot of agencies, hence why I would always suggest you looking at client results rather than previous results. This to me means too much time on your hands ….
A – Ask questions. Don’t ever go into a SEO contract blind. My favourite clients are the ones that ask questions right from the beginning. I personally often find an educated client is more likely to buy into new ideas or changes far easier, as they understand the rationale and timescales. The types of questions you should be asking should be along the lines of
- What sort of results can I expect and can you give me potential timescales. Here I would be looking for two answers. One – any mention of guaranteed results and I would generally run a mile. Two, Significant results in Google in a very short time period (ie We will get you top in four weeks), I would always be wary of.
- What happens if I can’t implement something you recommend. Are you going to carry on sending it through, or not doing anything. Any decent agency should work with you, and any limitations you may have – or at the very least explain the implications
- Ask for references and testimonials. Who better to ask than people they have previously worked with – oh and actually follow these up
- How do you develop links. Do they undertake any paid linkage for seo purposes only (if you are Ok with taken a chance with paid links that is your own prerogative – however it is worth understanding the role and thus the risk)
- Expect them to ask questions. SEO is a two way thing. It shouldn’t be a case of just going away and giving you a list of high trafficked keywords. At the end of the day, you (as the client) understand your product far better than we do, however we know how we can get that product found, so it needs both parties to work in harmony. Make sure you know answers to questions such as Average Order Value, Target Cost Per Lead/Acquisition etc. This will ultimately help you get a solutions that is targeted towards your requirements.
- Ask about KPI’s. A campaign without KPI’s is just flying blind – they should have an objective whether this is ROI or traffic led.
- Tracking. What tools does your agency have in place to measure the effectiveness. Have they got any ways of deduping data so you get a clearer channel breakdown. Is their any form of search path analysis in place?
C – Contracts. Make sure you understand your contract. Many agencies don’t work to defined long term contracts, others do. Thats not to say there is anything with being tied into a longer term contract, but just make sure you have some caveats (built into the contract), should contracted hours not be done, or agreed KPI’s not be hit. It is possibly worth understanding as well as to what happens when you leave, going back to the examples above, should you leave I would suggest the vast majority of your linkage is likely to disappear as well.
H – Have an understanding of whats happening. Don’t let the evaluation process end, when you sign the contract. Make sure you understand what your agency is doing for you via regular reports and reviews (monthly should do). Take an interest in the SEO campaign – theres nothing worse from an agency perspective than merely just being thrown something with little or no client support. Te best campaigns have total client buy-in = and with search becoming more and more intertwined with more traditional marketing (lets use PR which can be used for SEO purposes) buy in and involvement is more important than ever.Flip side to this, make sure your agency is pro-active, and suggesting things which are suitable for you.
Like any sector, there are good search agencies and their are bad search agencies. However if you do your homework, and take an interest in your SEO you will be very surprised at how effective it can be.