Selecting a Search Engine Optimization Provider

by Robin Nobles, Guest Writer A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference, August 16-17, San Francisco CA.

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What should you look for when selecting an SEO provider? That was the topic of discussion in the Selecting an SEO Provider session at the Search Engine Strategies 2001 Conference on August 16th. It was interesting to note that though the session was certainly attended by those looking for an SEO provider, SEO providers themselves also attended in order to see what types of packages and services are being offered by others in the industry.

Panelists included:

  • Scott Kluth, Project Manager of

  • George Semeczko, Chief Technical Officer of Inceptor, Inc.
  • Robin Nobles, Director of Training with the Academy of Web Specialists
  • Mike Adams, President and CEO of WebSeed
  • Brad Byrd, Director of Business Development with NewGate

When choosing an SEO provider, Dr. Semeczko recommended asking questions like:

  • What am I being promised - rankings, traffic, or conversions?

  • Is there any impact on my existing Web site?
  • Who "owns" the traffic (who owns the domains used and any pages created)?
  • Am I offered free as well as paid inclusion?

Dr. Semeczko believes that SEO's should be more concerned with ROI, the return on investment, rather than strictly with rankings. Inceptor likes to take a long look at the objectives and set up of a particular site, and then take action. He said, "Rankings don't matter at the end of the day - the conversion is what's important."

Then, Mike Adams with WebSeed recommended making sure that the SEO you choose has the technical knowledge to help you. Remember that each client is separate, and his or her SEO needs should be approached separately. He also recommended researching any SEO firm that you're considering using.

Brad Byrd with NewGate suggested finding an SEO who will work intimately with you to approach the pay-per-click services. "Finding terms that you can work with is critical," he said.

Scott Kluth's focus on the panel was to outline points to consider when looking for an SEO provider from the perspective of someone who has had to use them. Kluth, who works for (, discussed some of the advantages of hiring an outsourced firm versus doing SEO work in house.

Finally, Robin Nobles of the Academy of Web Specialists gave an overview of SEO services from several different focuses: fee structures, guarantees, ownership of pages, and more. Highlights of a portion of her presentation follow.

Fee Structures

Basically, there are no typical fee structures. Most SEO companies offer a variety of packages, but the packages themselves can contain any number of services, such as:

  • Keyword research;

  • Optimization of a certain number of existing pages and/or the creation of new information or doorway pages;
  • Submission to the major engines;
  • Submission to the major directories;
  • Link popularity building;
  • Tweaking the pages a certain number of times to achieve desired results;
  • Tracking of the site's traffic;
  • Monthly reports.

Some SEO firms are now beginning to charge more for time consuming services, such as working with competitive keyword phrases and sites using difficult technology.


Most SEO firms won't guarantee top 10 results. However, they may guarantee to increase traffic to your site or to increase your rankings.

If they do guarantee top 10 rankings, read the fine print of your contract carefully and find out what stipulations are in place.

Also, most SEO firms won't guarantee an increase in sales unless they're given access to the site to make it "sales friendly."

Competing Clients

Some SEO firms will only work for one client in a given industry. Other SEO companies set themselves up to be experts in a particular industry, such as online casinos or legal Web sites. Still other firms will take on more than one client in a given industry but only if the clients choose a different set of targeted keywords.


When considering which SEO firm to hire, do your homework carefully. Make sure you're dealing with a reputable company, and be sure that you understand exactly what that company can and will do for your business.

Robin Nobles is Director of Training for the Academy of Web Specialists Her latest books, Web Site Analysis and Reporting and Streetwise Maximize Web Site Traffic, can be ordered through Amazon.

A longer, more detailed version of this article is
available to Search Engine Watch members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member

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About the author

Chris Sherman is a frequent contributor to several information industry journals. He's written several books, including The McGraw-Hill CD ROM Handbook and The Invisible Web: Uncovering Information Sources Search Engines Can't See, co-authored with Gary Price. Chris has written about search and search engines since 1994, when he developed online searching tutorials for several clients. From 1998 to 2001, he was's Web Search Guide.