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“Pssst, hey mister, wanna buy some SEO?”

Finding a reliable SEO company isn’t a search for new gizmos. There’s people involved, too.

Check your email these days, and it feels like there’s someone on every street corner peddling “Page 1 rankings, guaranteed!” The search engine optimization vendor market is saturated, and when that happens, it can be hard to tell who’s legitimate, and who’s here today and likely gone tomorrow.

Then, Google comes out with the Hummingbird Algorithm Update, an important reminder that content is still king. Throw in the fact that honest-to-goodness search engine optimization requires a rare, delicate and ongoing balance of science + art, and it’s no wonder why clients shrug their shoulders when their In Boxes fill up with unsolicited gibberish from companies they’ve never heard of. 

So, how do you find the search engine optimization firm that’s right for you?

Actually, you do a lot of the things you do any time you’re looking for an outside partner. With the assumption that you’ve already talked to peers and friendlies and come up with a short list of companies to research and/or contact, let’s avoid the techno-jargon for a moment and touch briefly on a few other important areas to be aware of:

1. “What am I truly after?”
Again, “Showing up on page 1” may sound like the Holy Grail, but as a marketing objective it’s far too generic, and by no means automatically guarantees more traffic. Not sure how to frame this up? Ask the vendors you’re interviewing. Strong companies won’t even talk about web site SEO until they have at least a basic working knowledge of your business model at a minimum.

2. “Are they really listening to me?”
A solid SEO firm first asks the critical “Discovery” questions that you may not be used to hearing, so they can determine how to align their skills with your specific situation. A good SEO shop is a marketing shop first, before technology comes into play.

3. “Will I like working with them?”
Business relationships aren’t between businesses, they’re between people. It’s not enough to find a SEO service provider with a fancy site, buzzwords and case studies (the latter of which does have value). At the end of the day, you have to see your search engine optimization partner (or any partner, for that matter) as an extension of your marketing efforts. In other words, can you envision them shoulder-to-shoulder in the trenches with you?

So, before someone sells you the next alleged widget de jour, trust your gut. Talk to people you know and respect. Then remember the three areas above, and soon you’ll have a marketing partner that thinks of your company holistically, and develops optimization that combines the strengths you don’t have with the insights you do have.

Good luck, and may the searches be with you!
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We use the term “Google” like “Kleenex” or “Coke.” And for the world’s best known search engine, that’s obviously a good thing. But for marketers, there’s a bigger issue at hand. Consumers don’t define “search” the way marketing people do.