Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two critical components required for your online success. There is lot of demand for capable SEO experts and good SEO experts are worth gold in their weight. Everyone is claiming to be a top notch expert. But do we really have that many SEO experts out there? It seems that new search engine optimization companies are popping up every day, but do they really know what they are doing? Choosing a good SEO company is an important step in improving Search Engine ranking of your website. This article provide you with a brief list of things to consider if you plan to hire an online marketing agency.

Verify Their Claims

Go to any search engine(Google, Yahoo) and search for ‘SEO’ or ‘Search Engine Optimization’. On the left hand side you’ll find plenty of information about SEO and if you look to the right, you’ll see paid search listings with outrageous claims. Some of these companies promise to get you to the top for as little as $49. Sounds too good to be true? Yes, because it is. If getting a page one listing was that simple, everyone would have made it to the top of search results. What these companies are doing is to use absurd keywords to get you to the page one listing. Here is an example: Let’s say, you sell dog toys and you would like to be rank higher if someone searching for dog related items. However, if you look at your keywords – “dog toys” and “dog accessories”, there are thousands of competitors and some of them are very well established on the web. There is absolutely no quick way for you to jump them in ranking if both website are competing for the same keyword. Age of a website and inbound links are very important and as a new business it will take substantial time and efforts on your part to get there. However, if you add a keyword like ‘electric dog toothbrush’, you may end up on the top in most search engines. But here is the catch. You got the first page listing for a keyword that no one is searching for. End results: you have been cheated and lost your money.

This is why we strongly suggest that you talk to a SEO expert to gauge their level of expertise and how they approach a project. Anyone with outrageous claims should be removed from any serious considerations. Also, as a customer, you need to have realistic expectations from your SEO agency. Don’t expect page one ranking right away. In fact, most customers become victim of a fraud due to greed and quick fix solutions.

Read Guarantees

First of all there is no such thing as 100% money back guarantee in SEO business. Find out what kind of a guarantee your SEO company can provide. No one can guarantee that 100% of your keywords will get a top 10 ranking in one search engine, let alone all major search engines. However, most companies will give a minimum guarantee and a refund if the guarantee is not met. Some companies provide a pay-per-performance type placement, where you may pay an initial fee and a small monthly fees you start to move up in search ranking. Note that most companies will only guarantee results after minimum of 2-3 months, because search engines do not index sites immediately.

Discuss Tools and Techniques

Find out what type of process they use to perform their work. Ask them what tools and techniques they use for optimization. Some of them use blackhat techniques such as doorway pages for placement. Some may use cloaking software and some may use other redirection techniques, where the visitor does not actually see the optimized page. Cloaking software may be a little bit risky because the search engines may detect them, and it also requires a high level of maintenance to keep up with the IP number changes. If the optimization company does not update their IP addresses on a regular basis, then you may lose all your rankings. Remember, search engine spiders and robots are much more sophisticated and they can detect certain illegal techniques that may have worked in the past. Whole idea of discussing the tools and techniques is to figure out if the company has any true knowledge of how search engines work. Don’t sign up with a company that runs a standard third party software that even you can buy and run it yourself.

Keywords, Keywords, Keywords

Keywords are the heart and soul of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Remember, keywords is what your customer is searching for and if your SEO agency has no clue about the popular and relevant keywords for your website, you’re in big trouble. Most optimization companies will help you decide keywords for your website or can recommend better or similar keywords to use. A good optimization company will have keyword tools and will help you pick keywords for your website.

Domain and Hosting Arrangements

Remember, you’re trying to get your website optimized. At the end of the day, these pages should reside on your own server. If new domain names are registered for optimization, please make sure they are transferred to you after completion. You should never allow an SEO company to host your optimize pages on their server and then provide you traffic reports. These reports could be misleading since you neither have access nor control of their server and you can’t really tell what went on behind the scene. Note that it may not be necessary to get a brand new domain name. Some companies will optimize your existing domain name. If so, make sure to ask what changes will be made to your website in advance.

Reporting and Feedback

Any SEO process is likely to last over several months or even years. Make sure that the company offers you a monthly ranking reports. Unless you have your own software, consuming data from ranking reports could be a very time consuming process. Most SEO companies will offer this in the packaged deal. Link popularity is a very important ranking factor these days. Make sure that the company you choose offers a plan for improving your link popularity. Also, they should explain all the data in these reports as part of the job.

Rates and Fees

At the end of the day, you’re paying the bill, so make sure you have a very clear understanding of their fees and rates. You should also make a note of the services and products that cost extra. Some companies may charge a one-time flat fee and some may have monthly maintenance fees.. All plans have pros and cons. On a flat fee or monthly fee based plan you have a fixed budget and most of the time you are guaranteed a certain number of top 10 or top 20 results. However, most companies will not give you a traffic guarantee. There are only a handful of good optimization companies out there that do not charge an arm and a leg to do the work and offer everything stated above. Feel free to do your own research.