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Choosing a Search Engine Optimization Firm

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Marketing Sherpa has released the 4th edition of its Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms, a comprehensive look at the players in the industry.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members explains how to get listed in the next edition of the Marketing Sherpa Guide to SEO, and describes several other directories that list SEO firms and their services. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

The guide was developed for individuals and organizations who hire SEO firms. Originally published in 2001 and covering just 24 firms, the current guide has expanded to include profiles of 127 search engine optimization firms. All of these firms focus on organic search optimization; Marketing Sherpa has also published a guide to search marketing firms doing PPC work which I'll review soon.

The guide also offers an excellent overview of the process of selecting a search engine optimization firm. Starting with an overview of the basics of SEO that can help you understand the lingo of the industry, the guide then covers the various tactics used by SEO firms to influence rankings.

For the most part, these are basic blocking-and-tackling tactics, not the cutting edge or black hat tactics used by many SEO firms. Nonetheless, the guide does offer enough information to help you steer clear of firms that self-admittedly say they use aggressive or questionable approaches to SEO.

Another useful section covers cost. Pricing for SEO has settled down in recent years, clustering around a range of prices based on the type of work performed and the reputation of the firm offering services.

The guide was prepared by journalists, rather than industry insiders, so it's quite readable. However, unlike previous versions of the guide that ranked SEO firms (a controversial approach that provoked a lawsuit against Marketing Sherpa, later withdrawn), there is no "quality" ranking for each firm.

Instead, SEO firms had to meet just a few basic hurdles to be included in the report, including being nominated by a client or themselves and passing a few guidelines established by Marketing Sherpa. To meet these guidelines, a company must:


  • Have paying clients since March 2004 or earlier

  • Be an search optimization specialist, not a PPC only firm

  • Have one in-house staffer who focuses at least 75% on SEO services and has been a professional since 2002 or earlier

  • Derive a significant portion of revenue from SEO services

  • Make $75,000 or more from SEO work

  • Be based in the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Australia or New Zealand

While these hurdles were not too great, Marketing Sherpa followed up with each company by telephone and email, and required SEO firms to complete a detailed questionnaire. Any firm who did not reveal information was excluded, with the exception of a few publicly traded companies that were "cut a break" to avoid compliance and disclosure issues.

To be fair, the guide encourages readers to be skeptical when it comes to the self-submitted information from SEO firms. I recognized many of the firms in the guide and know that they do quality work. However, there are still some charlatans out there and it's always crucial to be very careful when it comes to evaluating SEO firms.

The Marketing Sherpa's Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms is a useful, but by no means comprehensive overview of the search engine optimization industry. It's a worthwhile read for both clients looking to engage the services of a SEO or find a new SEO. It's also something practitioners of SEO will want to take a look at, to get a better sense of your competition and the types of services, pricing structures and other business practices they're using.

Marketing Sherpa's Buyer's Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms - $199
http://sherpastore.com/store/page.cfm/2203

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the New SEO Firm and SEM Agency Buyer's Guide discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

A longer version of this story for Search Engine Watch members explains how to get listed in the next edition of the Marketing Sherpa Guide to SEO, and describes several other directories that list SEO firms and their services. Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

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