May 27, 2010

Choosing An SEO Expert

I've posted a few times about do-it-yourself tips for search engine optimization.   Professional SEO companies can be expensive, so doing SEO yourself, especially if you're starting out, can save you money.  Moreover, doing your own SEO, at least for a short period, gives you a better understanding of how it works, thus enabling you to evaluate professional SEO companies.

But let's say you reach a point where despite best efforts, you're still not getting much visibility in the search engines.  Or you've gotten so busy that you no longer have the time to diligently tag your blog posts or research key words.  In these situations, you might consider hiring a professional SEO company.   And if you take that route, this article from the ABA's Law Practice Management magazine, Making Your Web Site Visible: How to Find a Good SEO Company by Sharon Nelson and John Simek is required reading.

For starters, just as with marketing consultants, choosing an SEO company is a process fraught with peril.  Hiring a shady or unethical company that uses deception or under-handed techniques can will get you visibility, alright.  It just may not be the kind you want.

Importantly, Nelson and Simek recognize these dangers.  Thus, they advise lawyers to seek out personal recommendations from colleagues and to avoid companies that guarantee top five placement on Google  in a month - because that's an impossible promise to keep without some kind of gamesmanship. 

In addition, the SEO business tends to attract fly-by-nighters and get-rich-quick types.  So Nelson and Simek suggest that you research the company's history to determine how long it's been in business and how many people it employs.  They also point out that reputable SEO companies will list their clients -- you can then search for those clients on line and see how they present in search results.  Finally, Nelson and Simek recommend that lawyers use SEO companies that have worked with attorneys in the past, because those companies tend to be more familiar with the ethics constraints that lawyers face.

Lawyers should also compare pricing (which varies widely between companies) and closely review the terms of the contract, including whether any minimum duration is required.  Also, the arrangement with the SEO company should include preparation of regular reports so you can determine whether the SEO campaign is working.

Perhaps Nelson's and Simek's best advice is essentially to manage expectations.  As they emphasize throughout, SEO companies can help, but at the end of the day, they can't do much to improve your visibility if you're not producing content or taking other action to drive traffic to your site. 

SEO is only one part of the marketing equation.   So while you might hire an SEO company to kick your marketing campaign up another notch, realize there's no point in investing time and money to improve your website's or blog's SEO if clients have nothing to see when they arrive.