While we have our own in-house SEO team (and I immodestly consider myself something of an expert in SEO), I do periodically hire an SEO company for various special consulting projects to augment our internal expertise. We hire for stuff like auditing of our optimization work, advice on special problems, strategic planning, and etc. While I’m expert in this area, it’s incestuous and full of hubris not to get some external input.
So, how do we select SEO firms from out of the pack? The internet is crawling with firms and individuals who perform all sorts of SEO work. On the business side, there’ve been times when various firms have seemed to be virtually beating down the door with proposals to “help” us. And at SES conferences, there’s times when it seems like all our Marketing and Sales people attending are perceived as chum thrown into the roiling waters of sharks. Fortunately they look for those of us in the technology department to vet such proposals.
I thought it might be of interest to note down a handful of general guidelines for many of you other SEO professionals out there who are interested in doing work for Fortune 100 firms such as ours.
Here’s what I look for when selecting a firm for special projects:
- Has the firm been around a while? No offense, but if you haven’t been working in the arena a while, chances are you don’t have enough experience to really help us.
- What kind of projects or what specialities does the firm offer? I look for a track record of performing work for sites that are similar to ours in some way.
- Do you promote your firm with unrealistic promises and representations? If you say stuff like “we guarantee top ranking on your major search terms”, or anything similar to that, I’m not even going to listen to the rest of your spiel. No respectable firm makes representations like that, and if you really can guarantee, I’d expect you’re using methods we wouldn’t allow.
- Speaking of disallowed methods — we’re not going to entertain using any black-hat methods. Unethical, disreputable, and dishonest methods are areas that we avoid because we must represent our stockholders’ interests, and we know that such methods will bring more problems in the longterm than benefits. If I find that you’ve used blackhat methods with any of your projects, I’ll let you nowhere near my company.
- Don’t try to assess our site in five minutes and then tell us of one or two things you found wrong, and don’t assume our site needs simplistic help just because you are unaware of the full scope of our work. Our sites are freakin’ huge! If you try to make a rapid assessment you’re not going to understand our unique problems and you’ll come across as naive.
- Don’t insult our technical work. We already know our own failings, and don’t particularly need you to bash us while proposing to work for us. You might just end up insulting the work of the very technicians who are the gateguards for working with our company! Generally, insulting others’ work is a poor way to sell your services anyway, and people who feel the need to tear down others’ work to make themselves look better are just showing their own insecurity — such behaviour raises a redflag with me, and I start suspecting there must be other flaws with your service.
- Be as clear and forthright about what you will do for us as possible. Avoid hinting about to us about all the secret, special knowledge you have that no one else has. Do you know how many firms tell us about their secret methods/knowledge? We’re not going to buy the emporer’s new clothes, just based on your word alone. If you have a significant proprietary method and you’re afraid of telling us what you can do, let’s sign some NDAs, first, and then tell us about it anyway.
- Charge reasonable rates. Folx tend to perceive big corporations as cash cows. If you overcharge us once, you’re locking yourself out of longterm, repeat business. Also, don’t you realize how many firms are falling all over themselves to do business with us? With so much competition, if you overbid, we’ll look elsewhere.
- Provide information on your website about the companies/sites you’ve done work for — this is useful to me, because I’m going to then assess those sites to see how well they’re ranked, and how they were constructed.
- I’m also going to assess your own site(s), too. Make sure the technical work on your site is well done — if you can’t do your own site right, why would I let you near my site? Try to work on improving your own PageRank and placement on particular keywords, too.
- Hire good people, and put their profiles on your company site. Most SEO firms are small, so people and personality are important — you should display your assets. If they worked for a string of fly-by-night operations, though, it’s going to make their current company appear suspect. Figure we’ll find out, too — the internet industry is still smallish, and everyone knows everyone.
- Project a professional demeanor. This includes your behavior at the conferences, and how you communicate in blogs and online forums. And, it seems odd to say this, but do you dress professionally when we meet? I can mention one memorable time when I met with a firm to discuss a potential million-dollar project, and the male business development rep was wearing feet-baring sandals while I heard their technicians playing pingpong and video games in a back room. Did NOT make a good impression! While these things don’t necessarily indicate the quality of work one might provide, they do tend to communicate how serious one is about doing business, and professionalism further indicates how good your overall business skills are.
- Don’t push us too hard! If you’re hard-selling to us and pestering, you’re going to risk annoying the people who you need to partner with inside the company.
- If you should be so lucky as to get selected by us for a project, try to find ways to be flexible in negotiating the contract with us. All top companies I’ve worked with have legal teams that are used to dictating extensive terms. Generally speaking, keep in mind that we’re a top ranked company and we pay our bills. So, try to avoid getting stuck on petty line items or things that are unlikely to ever happen.
I hope these suggestions are helpful to you!