Skip navigation
newsletter signup

5 Factors When Choosing an SEO Company

July 22, 2009
A lot of companies get so confused when attempting to hire an SEO firm that they simply give up altogether and don't hire anyone. Part of the problem is that they simply don't know whom to trust for this service.

Trust is always a tricky issue, and one that is emotionally charged based on our individual experiences with others as we navigate through the maze we call life. In SEO, trust issues are further magnified by the fact that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, nor one method that all SEOs use to bring targeted traffic to their client's websites.

Where does this leave the person or company who wants to hire an SEO firm, but doesn't know whom to trust? SEO A tells them one thing, SEO B another, and SEOs C, D, E, and F completely different things altogether! Who is right? Who is wrong? Whom should they hire? Whom should they beware of?

Here are 5 factors that all businesses should weigh when choosing their SEO firm:
  1. Does the SEO firm set realistic expectations about what they can and can't do, or do they simply promise the moon? Smart SEOs under-promise and over-deliver, so watch out for those that do the opposite (and there are many).
  2. Does the SEO company have a proven record of success and not just for long-tail keywords? Be sure to check references to learn whether the SEO firm actually improved their clients' bottom line in some way.
  3. Does the SEO agency provide recommendations for making your site better than it currently is, or are they trying to do things to it that will actually make it worse for your users? This one sounds crazy, but a good portion of SEOs think that it's all about the search engines and not the users, and make bad decisions accordingly. Never, ever, ever let an SEO company do something that you feel worsens your site's overall usability or readability.
  4. Does the SEO consultant tell you what they're doing and why they're doing it, or do they just want you to blindly trust them? This one should set off a major red flag if you ever encounter it. Sure, you don't need to know every last detail or to micromanage your SEO campaign, but your SEO should be able to explain their reasoning for why they want to do the things they recommend. If they can't, or if their answers don't make sense, then run (don't walk) to the nearest door!
  5. Does the SEO company use only automated methods to achieve their goals? This isn't necessarily bad; however, you need to be aware if this is what they're doing. SEO is very much an art as well as a science, and because of this, creativity should always play a big part. It's very difficult to be creative when everything you do is based on a numbers game. Just keep that in mind!

Like trusting a friend, a dentist, or anyone else, determining whom to trust as your SEO partner should not be taken lightly or rushed into. Educate yourself on SEO as much as you can before you decide.


Get to know the SEO vendors you're thinking of hiring, ask them lots and lots of questions, and most of all use your gut and your own common sense to determine if you'll be a good fit. If you are unsure, then keep on looking. There are plenty of SEO fish in the sea, and there should be a few who use the methods you believe in, who are within your budget, and who will work hard to help you accomplish your website goals!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Services company.

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
Post Comment

 Carolyn Price said:
Those 5 points are absolutely spot on Jill! I think I'll tell my clients to read your article. In fact, it should be compulsory reading for anyone who's about the employ an SEO firm.

I'm so tired of hearing about businesses being ripped off by some SEO company that has promised them the world - or refuses to share their keyword research with them, or any of the other insane things that some SEOs do.

I feel sorry for companies looking for SEO - it's such a minefield out there and I can understand why they get overwhelmed and angry. I will tweet you article and try and spread this message as far as I can because I think it's very important.

Every company that is spared a horrible SEO experience after reading this is a victory for ethical SEO folk everywhere! After all, every time someone has a bad experience - it rubs off on the reputation of SEO in general and we all bare the brunt of it.
 Vicki said:
Thanks for the article! Years ago, your columned helped me with this type of issue! My employer had hired a company for brand consulting. Somehow they also decided to advise on our website. I was and still am the web designer for our website. They gave me a bunch of webpages and told me to put them in the root directory. I asked what they were for and they were very vague. I remembered something about doorway pages, and after reading up on them, I realized putting those pages on our site could get us banned from search engines! I questioned the company about this, but they insisted that would not happen. I just ignored them and never put the webpages on our site. My employer supported my decision.
 Derek Andrews said:
There seems to be a lot of SEO firms that will try anything. I run a small tourism directory for my local area, and the submission page clearly states:
"Please note that this website is aimed at prospective visitors to the Sunrise Trail in Nova Scotia. It is only for tourism related businesses and organizations located on the Sunrise Trail, Nova Scotia. Submissions are listed manually and those not relevant to tourism in this area of Nova Scotia will be ignored."
Even so, I get all sorts of spam entries, including SEO companies. One, from Michigan, gave a phone number with an invalid area code, claims to be from a small village in this area, and their submitted blurb says "affordable rates with white Hat techniques." White hat my ass.
 Jill said:
@Derek, yes, they even spam the contact forms of SEO companies!

@Vicki and @Carolyn : Glad you like the articles. Please do point people to it as you like!
 Judd Exley said:
Great list Jill. As Perth is still a fairly small town, the SEOs have picked up their game, but there are still heaps of advertising gurus and web design firms out there that are selling SEO services that are breaking one, if not all, of these rules.

The lesson is, I suppose, that there are shysters everywhere, but with information like this heavily spread around the industry, hopefully we can force integrity on a few of 'em, eh?

 Seamus said:
Jill, this is the perfect checklist for any business owner.
I think the line "SEO is very much an art as well as a science" sums it up for me. Make sure you are comfortable with your "artist's" style before you commit to spending any money with them!
 SEO Aware said:
Great list for businesses. I would say it is common sense, but when I receive emails from these random "SEO" companies and look at what they offer I am shocked. When I look a what they recommend I am shocked...I am shocked a lot.

Improve the bottom line is also extremely important. I don't feel like I am doing my job is sales don't increase for my clients.
I think #3 needs an asterisk added to it. Make sure the client is qualified to determine what worsens your site's overall usability or readability. I've heard from far too many site owners that love their full flash site and that any "regular text" would take away from their sites user experience. Given your list, this client should choose any SEO firm that wants to add plain HTML text. I agree with the list, but think that should be added.
 Ron said:
Great post! These are all very valid points when companies are trying to find a reputable SEO company. Thanks for the great info!
 Tejas said:
While this is a good post, there is never anything written about the buyers, is it!?

What about the buyers who want their brand new site "up there" in ranks 1-5 within 2 months? Sure if babies can be delivered that fast.

Someone tells them that all they need for their business is search engine optimized website and then they can sit on a Hawaii beach, sip their margaritas and money will keep growing on trees back home.

That is not how that works.

So, your point #1 should apply to both the buyer and the provider.
 Rich said:
Good post because we have been looking for an SEO person/company for some time but have yet to decide. There are far too many shady characters in the SEO business.

Can you Jill or anyone here recommend a good SEO company? I'm not only looking for a trusted firm for myself, but I have a number of clients that have asked me to find them a solid SEO. I have a good understanding of the business and can do a decent job myself in search engine optimization, but lack the time.

Feel free to send recommendations to me at: 'richmilton at'

 Jill Whalen said:
Yes, Rich. Try High Rankings. :)
 Rich said:

Do you have a commission or referral program?

 Jill said:
Rich, please fill out our contact form to discuss this sort of thing, thanks!
 Anonymous said:
Will do, Thanks Jill.