Search engine optimization is now an essential part of any business' marketing strategy. Across the board, companies can no longer ignore its impact and value. It used to be a science restricted to Web startups only, but now, everyone from brick and mortar stores to Fortune 500 companies dedicate some of the payroll -- if not whole departments -- to this necessary part of the business plan.
If you're not ready to hire someone in-house for the role, consider outsourcing the job to an SEO agency -- as long as you don't ignore the tasks altogether. The impact of SEO on your bottom line can be exponential; it has the power to boost your sales to new heights, but can also hurt your brand recognition and credibility with potential customers if it's not done well. And with so many SEO and marketing companies out there -- each of them pitching abstract promises and amazing results -- how do you choose an SEO-dedicated company that won’t burn you?
Here are 5 important things to do when selecting an agency to take on -- or take over -- your startup's SEO:
- Educate yourself. Every SEO salesman is going to promise you that they can get you ranked at the top of search engines. They'll be spitting out fancy jargon and complicated packages that are going to propel you to first page in no time. Do some research of your own to know exactly what you’ll be paying for. A great place to start is with The Beginner's Guide to SEO from SEOmoz.
- Find out what is right for your company. There is no cookie-cutter SEO strategy; each company has different needs and tactics that must be identified before engaging in this endeavor. Will you need to use social media? How about location-based services like Yelp or FourSquare? Should you run any pay-per-click advertising campaigns? Find out what is best for you and your industry, and use those preferences as a negotiation tool when looking at packages.
- Commit to a budget that's manageable for the long run. If done correctly and without any cheating (a.k.a. "black hat" SEO techniques), SEO should be a slow and steady drip in the beginning. It could take 3-6 months before you start to see some real progress, depending on how competitive your keywords are. Knowing your long-term budget beforehand is essential to a new relationship with your SEO company. It will ensure that when it seems like this new “hot fad” is not working, you can relax, wait it out and not hurt your operation.
- Find the right fit for you. It is important to recognize that a relationship with an SEO company is more than a relationship between customer and client; from your customers' point of view, the firm you hire will essentially be an extension of your company. Be sure you get to know you who will be speaking for you on the Web -- who will be tweeting from the company handle, who will be responding to comments on blogs, and who will be acting as the online voice of your startup. More importantly, make sure that person gets to know you and the persona you want your startup to project.
- Demand integrity and always check up. Once you've agreed to a strategy and signed on as a client, be sure to check at least once a month that what you agreed on in the package was actually completed. Ensure that the goals and milestones you set were hit, and take the necessary course of action if they weren’t. Do some blind searches on the keywords you're optimizing to see how they have performed since you started. Hire companies with proven track records: do your research to see if they have used any black-hat SEO practices in the past, which Google hit hard with their Penguin update back in May. You have built your company through hard work and sweat; don’t let anyone take that away from you by cheating. The bottom line is do not let yourself get burned!
Raul owns and operates SimpleWiFi which offers high quality, long range wireless solutions. Raul also founded and operates UseABoat which takes the hassle out of price hunting when comparing any kind of activity on the water.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.