If they want to have success, companies should do everything they can to ensure that their SEO firm doesn't provide lousy service. Here are 10 tips to keep in mind:
1. Be realistic.
Don't waste your time or the SEO firm's expertise by arguing about broad search terms. Don't say you want to be in the Top 10 for "e-commerce." The SEO firm should ask: "E-commerce and what else? E-commerce consultants? Please be specific."
2. Think long-term.
If you can't help yourself and you want broad search terms, such as "toys," think through what it may take to pull that off. Variations on your favorite term may be best in the short term. If you start looking a year or two out, then make sure there aren't site design, programming and link popularity flaws.
3. Be open with log files.
Don't shield log files from the SEO firm. Admit if your web analytics capability is poor. How can the SEO firm do a good job if your host company can't provide decent statistics, such as the number of visitors from search engines and the actual search terms they use?
4. Change text.
If an SEO firm wants to change text, give the consultant lots of room. If a graphic can be modified so the words appear as text, be open-minded about the change. Chances are, it won't hurt the overall look of the web site. SEO professionals grit their teeth when clients say they want rankings and then resist change.
5. Don't sit on recommendations.
You may end up discouraging the SEO firm you're paying if you hire them and then fail to review their suggestions.
6. Reply to e-mails, voicemails and other communications.
If an SEO firm contacts you, especially for a scheduled meeting, make a point to return the e-mail or call. Really, it's a good idea to be available for strategic conference calls.
7. Stick to the program.
Don't ask the SEO firm to optimize the web site and then expect them to provide Pay-Per-Click (PPC) guidance as well. If you can't handle PPC on your own, pay the experts.
8. Keep statistics in perspective.
With many search terms and engines, it's always going to be possible for some keywords not to rank. Don't get hung up on what search terms didn't pop in the Top 30. Focus on your traffic growth and conversions.
9. Know your limits.
SEO firms appreciate informed clients - to a limit. Read the articles. Pick up an SEO book. Keep up with the news. But don't hire an SEO expert and then tell them you're an SEO expert. For example, you may be excited to learn about all of the SEO devices that could be at your disposal. Don't blame the SEO firm for failing to use them all at once. Measured, gradual changes are best.
10. Take your company name out of title tags.
Do yourself a favor and make title tags available for search terms, not your long company name. Only keep it if it's short and useful from a title tag proximity and density standpoint.
Michael Murray is vice president of Fathom SEO, a Cleveland, Ohio-based search engine optimization (SEO) firm. He authored the "U.S. Manufacturers Resist Natural Search Engine Optimization" study and white paper, "Search Engine Marketing: Get in the Game." firstname.lastname@example.org