In the midst of choosing an SEO vendor to advise or implement search engine optimization for you? Don’t base your decision on just a ‘gut feel’. Effectively separating the wheat from the chaff requires that objective rather than subjective criteria be used. These include:
- PageRank scores
Review PageRank scores of your candidate SEO firms’ home pages and their clients’ home pages. PageRank is Google’s scoring system for importance; it’s logarithmic like a Richter scale. Check PageRanks with the Google Toolbar. If you don’t have the Google toolbar installed on your browser, it’s probably easier just to use the free service at http://www.seochat.com/seo-tools/pagerank-lookup/ . Probably more enlightening however is to use the Google Directory to check PageRanks, because then you can see where they sit in comparison to a bunch of competitors in that same category, since the sites on each category page are listed in order of PageRank score. To do so, go to http://directory.google.com  and type in the name of the business into the search box (e.g. “Netconcepts”), then when you find its listing in the search results, click on the category name (e.g. “Computers > Internet > … > Designers > Full Service > N”). Look for that company’s listing on that category page. Hopefully it’s near the top, and hopefully the little green bar in the left column is more green than gray.
Get a list of keywords from the SEO firm that they consider important to their business. Get a list of keywords from them that are important to their clients too. Check where they rank in Google for those keywords. If you have time, check rankings in Yahoo too (Yahoo has 32% market share, Google has 45%). Then, and here’s the important bit: check how popular those keywords are with searchers, using the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool at http://inventory.overture.com  (or better yet, on WordTracker.com  if you have a paid subscription to it). If the keyword is searched on infrequently, then a high ranking for that keyword is not so impressive.
- Evidence of thought leadership
Everyone claims to be a thought leader. A true thought leader, however, demonstrates this through such things as:
- known reputation in that topic area by other thought leaders you know and trust
- number of published articles written in that topic area
- the caliber of those articles
- number of conference presentations given in that topic area
- the caliber of those presentations
- number of books written that adequately cover that topic area
- the caliber of those books
- the extent to which they are quoted in the media in that topic area
- a well-read, well-linked, and oft-quoted blog (web log)