5 Steps for Selecting an SEO Partner

5 Steps for Selecting an SEO Partner

MarketingSherpa’s 2007 search marketing benchmark report shows marketers who outsource get an average 110 percent lift in overall site traffic, whereas those who use in-house resources get an average 75 percent traffic lift. This makes outsourcing a viable option.

Hiring an outside firm

Hiring a search engine marketing firm or interactive agency to perform search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is no easy task. There are many considerations, and it’s an important decision because search marketing is mission critical.

When you choose to outsource, the success of your selection process will directly affect your ability to compete and thrive as a business today and well into the future. If you outsource to a firm that doesn’t help meet your business goals, a failed partnership can result in resentment from both colleagues and stakeholders when you see the lift your competitors get with the right combination of SEO and PPC.

On the other hand, hiring the right SEM firm can have a positive affect on many different levels. You’ll look good to your colleagues and gain the respect of your stakeholders, while getting plenty of smiles and high-fives in the boardroom.

Finding the right SEO/SEM firm to meet your business goals is a five-step process. Start by educating yourself so you know enough about search marketing to make the right decision.

You’ll also want to check out some of the contenders through independent resources. While researching the capabilities of various firms, you’ll also be defining your own specific needs. These needs are then documented in your RFP. Lastly, personal interviews will ensure you make the right selection.

1. Education and training is key

Today’s business leaders depend on education and training to keep their staff nimble, up to date and competitive. Learning the fundamentals of search marketing can help you make an intelligent decision about outsourcing. Below are a few search marketing educational resources.

* SEMPO.org Learning Center, a non-profit organization, offers search marketing resources, including articles, case studies, webinars and research data. Fundamental and Advanced SEM Training Courses are available through the SEMPO Institute.
* Bruce Clay offers SEOToolSet, a training course based on years of search engine research and successful website optimization and training.
* Search Engine Academy provides SEO and SEM certification in two-, three- or five-day workshops depending on your needs.
* Interactive media and search marketing publishers such as iMedia Connection, ClickZ, SearchEngineWatch and Search Engine Land are excellent sources for expert advice on search engine marketing.
* Search marketing blogs often provide the latest information. Pandia lists the best search blogs here.
* Learn by attending one or more of the major industry trade shows: Search Engine Strategies Conference & Expo, SMX Search Marketing Expo, Webmaster World Pubcon and ad:tech.

2. Rely on independent sources to choose contenders

When evaluating search marketing firms, you’ll find they all say they’re the best, so it’s important to rely on independent resources to help make your decision. Third-party resources for finding qualified search marketing firms include industry trade organizations, research firms and search industry resource sites for finding qualified vendors. Another excellent source is trusted colleagues.

Crain Communications’ Advertising Age recently compiled its first comprehensive Search Marketing Fact Pack, an excellent resource for your business.

Piper Jaffray’s report, The User Revolution lists the “Top 20 SEM and SEO Companies” (page 267) in a chapter on advertising services and technologies.

Other resource sites include TopSEOs, which registers search marketing firms for the benefit of those seeking SEO/SEM services. The site evaluates the registrants, lists vendor information and provides a form for soliciting bids.
For trusted referrals, ask around at trade associations or industry meetings and seminars. Find out what firms people recommend and why.

3. Cast a wide net to define your specific needs

Many considerations come up when managing your internet presence. Some tasks require skill sets such as creative, art direction, site analytics, technical website development and programming. Your site may need email marketing, rich interactive media (video), ecommerce capability, content management system (CMS) and/or traditional advertising (print, direct mail, et cetera).

Because needs vary widely, the search for a qualified search marketing firm may require casting a wide net. For instance, measurement is a key factor to search marketing success. You may need a firm proficient with A/B and multivariate testing for tweaking landing pages. In that case, you must consider these capabilities in conjunction with your SEO/SEM outsourcing.

4. Create the RFP

Once you identify all the resources needed to fulfill your business goals, it is important to list and prioritize them clearly. Weed out anything that doesn’t align with your objectives. It’s important to select a search marketing firm that matches your needs rather than a firm that wants you to match theirs.

After pre-qualifying a list of at least three potential SEO/SEM partner/vendors, create a Request For Proposal (RFP) document outlining your list of needs and expectations, sending it to the finalists.

5. Make the final selection

Once you receive replies to your RFP, I recommend a face-to-face opportunity for interviewing and selecting the SEO/SEM firm that best fits your company’s structure and goals. While the internet has expanded our personal and business capabilities, some things still require eye contact and a handshake, and SEO/SEM is one of them. Always meet your search marketing team face to face before signing on the dotted line.

Body language tells it all. Meet with the team that will be responsible for helping you accomplish your online business goals. Be up-front about clarifying any questions on either side so tasks and goals are clear.

To summarize, outsourcing your search marketing project is a selection process that requires education, research and careful evaluation to find the right partner to help you meet your business goals. Don’t be sparing of your time and resources. It’s an important decision that will directly affect your bottom line now and for the years to come.
Thanks to imedia: www.imediaconnection.com

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