Outsourcing Search Engine Optimization

Choosing a firm to do search engine optimization needn't be confusing or frustrating if you start by creating a request for proposal that focuses on your own specific needs.

The US Department of Commerce recently announced that online sales rose 7.8% in the third quarter of 2002 to $11.1 billion, whereas retail sales rose only 0.3%. No more cogent argument can be made for companies to get the most out of their web sites, which accounts for the growing interest in search engine optimization (SEO).

However, as many marketing managers have already discovered, getting proposals from SEO firms for these services can be time-consuming and, sometimes, frustrating.

First, you have to determine which firms are worthy of your consideration. The best place to start is to ask marketing colleagues for recommendations. You can also get some ideas about using SEO vendor directories from the SearchDay article "Finding Search Engine Optimization Professionals" (link below).

Once you've drawn up a list of qualified SEO firms, the next step is to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP). The goal is to collect proposals that represent clear and appropriate solutions for your business needs. Achieving this goal can be a challenge.

Successful search engine optimization requires a comprehensive, customized approach based on your site's unique characteristics. The SEO project will need to strike a true balance between web site's design and functionality, the searching behaviors of your target audiences, and the algorithms used by search engines to find results.

A templated, "one size fits all" SEO proposal may not inform you adequately enough to make your best choice. You will want a proposal that touches on all aspects of your web site that can be tuned to be search engine friendly.

You'll also want proposals that provide information with terminology that is easily quantifiable. However, different SEO vendors offer different packages, talk about their services and strategies using different language than their competitors -- often when meaning the same thing -- and they present pricing in different formats while quoting highly variable rates.

One common difference between proposals is that some will incorporate paid-inclusion programs where others will not. Some proposals include link popularity support; others do not. As you can see, variables like this can make analyzing SEO proposals difficult; they preclude quick and easy "apples to apples" comparisons.

Finally, not all SEO vendors adhere to the same principles when providing services. Some firms offer the controversial strategy of "cloaking" while others do not; some SEO professionals provide services to adult content sites while others decline those campaigns.

Some companies create content for your site, but retain ownership of the content; others do not. If your company has a viewpoint on these issues, it is important to ask potential SEO providers about such topics up front.

Fortunately, there is a way to solicit proposals that will give you all the information you need to make a good decision. Create your own Request for Proposal (RFP) for SEO. This checklist shows you how.

Checklist: Creating an Search Engine Optimization RFP

1. Begin the RFP with an introduction that offers solid, preliminary information about your company, your web site, and the goals of the optimization project.

2. Identify your online competitors.

3. State the format for proposals and your deadline requirements.

4. Ask for all the pertinent information you need to know about the SEO firm, including the history of the firm and key personnel, and the strategies proposed and services provided. Stress that you want this information provided in detail, so that you can understand, for example, if one firm's "doorway pages" are the same as another firm's "informational pages."

5. Request a detailed cost and payment schedule.

6. Require references, references, references.

7. Include any terms and agreements, including which company owns any new content created in support of the optimization campaign.

Once you've collected all the resulting proposals and done the point-to-point analysis, set up conference calls with the most impressive two or three vendors. Don't let price be the only deciding factor in selecting finalists.

Let the phone conferences carry plenty of weight. You are in the process of finding a partner with whom you hope to develop a long-term relationship; whomever you choose will be an important part of your online success and your ability to work well together is critical. You'll want to determine which firm will give you the best customer service, along with the best expertise.

Following these steps for creating your own SEO RFP won't guarantee you top results in search engine listings. But it will go a long way toward making it easier to choose a credible, effective firm to help you with SEO -- a critical element of search engine marketing success.

Finding Search Engine Optimization Professionals
SearchDay, June 4, 2002
Looking for help crafting search engine friendly pages and link building programs? These directories of search engine optimization and marketing professionals can help you locate the person or firm that's right for your needs.

Sample RFP for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Submission Services
This sample RFP for SEO includes all of the elements described above. The author invites you to use this form and modify it to best suit your business needs.

Susan J. O'Neil is the CEO of @Web Site Publicity, Inc.

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