Feature Article (Pub: August 05) How do you choose between a number of rival quotes from SEO companies? by Paul Rudman

Here's the big question; you know you need SEO done on your website, you have an approximate budget in mind, so you request quotes from five reputable search engine optimisation companies, but how do you know which one to go for? Some quotes may be a page long, some quotes may be 20,000 word essay, but which is best and most suited to your needs?

Below is a useful checklist I have put together which should help you on the road towards selecting the best SEO company to handle your campaign.

First impression
These can never be under-estimated, far better to work with a company that you get good vibes from than one where you think "Didn't think too much of the salesman, but they look pretty slick". Generally if you get bad feelings like this, more than likely you won't be happy with the service you receive and won't get the results you are looking for.
SEO is not rocket science
Do not automatically plump for the SEO company that dazzles you with science and gobbledygook. SEO is based on the fundamental principles of good content creation built in such a way as to maximise your website appeal to search engine spiders. These spiders are very simple fellows, so don't get too excited by a pitch that proposes to "harness the synergistic energies of multiple universes, and mould this powerful force into a laser beam which will zap all your competitors out of the search engines, and sit you on top of it".
Understand the quotes
Following on from the point above, don't be afraid to ask the companies what various information means. The more you have to ask, the more likely they are to be trying to over-complicate the whole process of search engine optimisation. A good quote will explain plain and simple what they believe your website needs, how they intend to achieve the results you are expecting and the cost associated with that.
Be weary of BMWs...
Ok, this is a personal one of mine, I have to admit. If you are being given a quote by a company who reside in a state-of-the-art office, use NASA pens, and sit on ergonomically designed £800 leather seats you are going to be impressed right? WRONG, who do you think paid for all that? Surely it must be impossible for a company to work on competitive margins within an industry and yet still enjoy the trappings of royalty? Always consider this when checking out quotes, as the most expensive is not necessarily the most impressive. I use a local mechanic to look after my car, he knows cars inside out and has a passion for them. My nearest dealer garage charge 3 times as much, have people working for them who just can't wait to go and get hammered on "snakebite & black" in the evenings, and don't go that extra mile. In other words, don't be fooled by the appearance of professionalism, try and see through all that.
Look for case studies and testimonials
After all, if they are that good, they should be prepared to give you the contact details of previous happy customers and highlight their successes in the industry. SEO is just like any other industry, you get good eggs and bad ones. So be sure that you are provided with references and success stories that you can genuinely follow up on, not ones that just appear to show results that you cannot reference.
What are you being offered as part of the quote?
It is essential that you understand what a company is going to tangibly do as part of the quote for you, this helps you understand whether it is good value for money. For example, a company that says "for £3000 we will get you high in the search engine rankings" and that's it, is being very vague and sketchy about what work they will actually do for that money. Back to the mechanic analogy, you don't take your car to the garage and they say "We will fix it and it will cost £1000" and wiggle their fingers. They explain the price breakdown including required parts and labour. SEO is exactly the same, so make sure you get this information so you can intelligently compare 2 quotes you may have received against each other.

Bored yet? - Only kidding; keep going, we're nearly there.

Do not be impressed by client name-dropping
When an SEO company states in a quote that they have optimised massive blue-chips and Fortune 100 companies, what this really means is "We have huge financial investment from private backers and we are doing you a favour by offering you the chance to work with us for twice as much money as other companies have tendered the quote for". Think I'm joking? Some companies are in the enviable position of working with big clients and this tends to have a snowball effect and entice more big name clients. What you should always bear in mind though, is that these are the easiest websites of all to optimise for. Everybody knows big companies, their websites have teams of people constantly updating and keeping the content fresh, they have links in from powerful websites, they are pretty much ALREADY THERE in terms of optimisation, they just need 'tweaking'. The real test is to take a new website and get it plenty of high ranking placements for competitive phrases that generates business. Ignore everything else, that's what it's all about. So if you get offered a case study on someone like Sony, turn it down, ask for a case study about a website they took from scratch and had to do a great deal of genuine work for.
Do not be fooled by guarantees
Some companies may promise a certain number of top placements but no company can make this promise as no SEO company as any control over how the search engines rank sites. We use all our experience and expertise to get sites high rankings based on what works and what doesn't but we make no promises. They are there to hook you in and will not stand up in a court of law if you design to pull them up on it when your site does not get the results they promised you. Look deeper, look at the work to be done and use your instincts in terms of who appear like a trustworthy company. A friendly voice on the other end of a support call will always get better results than a nameless, faceless one.

Well I hope these pointers help you out if you are looking at getting quotes from SEO companies, so good luck!

Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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