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Selecting a Search Engine Optimization Company (Part I)

By Scott Buresh
Posted Thursday, February 12, 2004

There are many factors to consider when selecting a search engine optimization company. Unfortunately, many businesses that haven’t previously used search engine optimization to promote themselves are unsure how to evaluate potential vendors, and many are intimidated by the entire concept. The following article, divided into five major topics of consideration, is intended to help in the selection process.


There are many different approaches and levels of service available to anyone looking for a search engine optimization company. Some techniques, such as "cloaking" or "doorway pages" can put your site at risk of penalization, although they may give you short term gains. For some, the risks of penalization associated with such techniques may be acceptable, but most prefer to play by the rules. You probably also want to be certain that your vendor doesn’t work with your competition. Here are three important questions to ask your potential search engine optimization company:

1. Do you create pages, optimized for my keyphrases, which aren’t built into the navigation of my site?

If the answer is yes, you are probably dealing with a search engine optimization company that creates "doorway" or "bridge" pages (although most companies will call them by different names). Such pages may even reside on a different server and funnel traffic to your site. This technique violates the terms of service of most major engines.

2. Does your technique involve showing a different page to the search engine than to my visitors?

If the answer is yes, then you are probably dealing with a search engine optimization company that uses "cloaking". This is when the website server makes a note of the unique address assigned to each visitor, and when it notices that a visitor is a search engine, it feeds it specialized content designed to rank highly for certain keyphrases. Many engines specifically warn against this technique in their terms of service. Google is particularly harsh on sites that use cloaking, and is known to remove them entirely (when they find them).

3. Do you guarantee that you won’t work with my competitors while you are working with me?

The optimization techniques used for your site could probably be used to help your competitors. Naturally, you don’t want your search engine optimization company taking the lessons learned from your site and applying them to a competing site (diluting the effectiveness of your campaign). Some unscrupulous firms will go so far as to use the positions they achieved for your site to sell your competitors on the need for search engine optimization.


Almost every search engine optimization company has a "brag book" of positions that they have achieved. However, looks can be deceiving. When evaluating the past results of a search engine optimization company, there are really five important components to consider.

1. Which Engines?
Make certain that the positions the search engine optimization company has achieved are for the most popular search engines, not smaller engines for which they may have a knack. For a current list of the most popular search engines, visit the Nielsen Netratings page at Search Engine Watch.

2. Which Keyphrases?
Wordtracker is a valuable tool (free for limited use) in determining if the positions your potential search engine optimization company proudly displays actually have any real value, since it shows the popularity of individual search phrases based upon actual search activity on popular engines. When Wordtracker displays a very low number (or zero) for a particular term, it is most likely not very competitive (or beneficial), and high positions for it are probably nothing to brag about. In other words, if the search engine company you are considering is boasting of the high positions it achieved for the term "dog silverware" and Wordtracker tells you (not surprisingly) that nobody searches for that term, know that you shouldn’t be impressed.

3. What About An Entire Site?
While it’s easy to focus on one particularly impressive position on one popular engine, it’s more important to focus on a broad range of positions achieved for one site. It’s entirely possible for a site to have one great ranking and be sorely lacking in positions for all other keyphrases. Ask your potential search engine optimization company to show you a report for an individual client that demonstrates good positions on many popular engines for many popular keyphrases. An effective search engine optimization campaign will achieve maximum exposure across a broad range of keyphrases and engines, not one notable position on one engine.

4. How Have Results Stood Up Over Time?
When you find a search engine optimization company that can provide you with the data mentioned in the previous component, ask to see a report showing how those positions have held up over time (ideally for six months or more). Since search engine marketing is an ongoing process, you want to be certain your vendor is capable of maintaining a high level of exposure for your company.

5. Did They Really Do It?
The most obvious of the five components is to confirm that your potential search engine optimization company is really responsible for the positions they are claiming. It is not unheard of for unethical companies to take credit for the work of others in order to increase their chances of landing a sale. In some cases, vendor claims are easy to confirm (such as when a client site includes the vendor’s name or logo). If you can’t confirm that a particular search engine optimization company is truly responsible for the positions by looking at the site, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to do so.

(Continued to Part II)

About The Author
Scott Buresh is Co-founder and Principal of Medium Blue Internet Marketing ( For monthly tips on how to get the most out of your internet presence, sign up for our Internet Marketing Newsletter.


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