What to Look for When Outsourcing SEO
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a method of improving a website’s representation in free search results. An attractive marketing tactic for businesses, SEO is offered as a service by many vendors. But there's a high risk to any business purchasing this service, because not all SEO providers are created equal.
Google, Yahoo and Bing control their search results. If you want guaranteed visibility, the most direct path is paid search advertising, which works for virtually all businesses. That said, paid search works even better when supplemented with free listings. Searchers are more likely to choose a search result that looks authoritative because it appears more than once, such as in both paid and free results. As Google says, one plus one equals three.
Search has become a disruptive force in marketing. As people have taken their attention online, old forms of media such as print, direct mail and Yellow Pages have been put under pressure. Agencies migrating from old media business are looking for work and want to offer SEO and other internet marketing services. A danger is that these agencies and consultants may not have the experience in-house, and therefore are tempted to outsource search marketing — particularly SEO services.
Each week I receive several emails and phone calls from offshore contractors offering cheap SEO services. I've also seen numerous websites “optimized” by such firms. Sites have been changed in ways that are detrimental to visitors and the client’s brand. I've seen links to irrelevant spam sites or doorway pages full of poorly written text that serves no purpose other than to attempt to pull in search traffic.
Proper SEO work doesn't have a negative impact on usability or brand. I've seen “deep outsourcing” situations that have gone horribly wrong. For example, an agency was contracted to optimize a client’s site. The agency outsourced SEO to a subcontractor who, in turn, outsourced link building to an offshore provider. The offshore firm created a bunch of spam links to the client’s site, eventually causing it to be banned from Google. A considerable amount of time, effort and money was required to clean up the situation and get the site relisted.
One danger sign in an SEO pitch is when the vendor guarantees rankings. Nobody except the search engines themselves can provide such a guarantee. Rankings aren’t even the proper metric to evaluate the success of an SEO campaign. A better way to measure is to look at total free traffic over time, and total conversions from that free traffic. An effective SEO campaign may increase total traffic or improve the quality of traffic, resulting in more conversions even if total traffic doesn't increase.
Here are a few things to do before signing on with a search marketing contractor (these tips will help you avoid wasting money on ineffective services, damaging the effectiveness of your site or risking a search engine ban before looking for a search marketing contractor):
- Look for a vendor who specializes in search rather than a general purpose advertising agency or web development shop.
- Ask to speak with the person who provides the service rather than a salesperson. Make sure that person can explain what the firm does in terms you understand.
- Proposed actions should provide clear value, such as improving organization, fixing technical glitches or rewriting content to use commonly searched terms instead of jargon.
- Avoid anybody who cold calls or sends you email out of the blue. Those who understand search marketing can use search to generate sufficient demand for their services.
Jonathan Hochman is founder of Hochman Consultants, an internet marketing company. He's the director of Search Engine Marketing New England and an active speaker and contributor to trade journals. Reach Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org.