With the economy tumbling like it has been lately, many people are looking for ways to cut corners, and one of those ways is to hire the lowest bidder. In fact, one company I read via CNN.com today is a new job site (Jobaphiles, primarily Boston jobs) that caters to employers wanting to hire based on who will do the job for the least amount of money possible.
Now, perhaps hiring employees based on how little they will work for can work in an environment where those lowball employees can be constantly monitored and prodded. And any company that uses the service has to be able to admit that there are certain risks that go along with the lowest bid. Some might work out, others might not.
But what about when it comes to your company’s businesses? Should you hire a search engine optimization or search engine marketing firm based on who will charge you the least amount of money? Well, my spam box is filled with offers of optimization for as little as $19.95 a month… but should you expect quality for $19.95? And not to mention quality, what about the risks involved? Do you want to risk your website going down in flames because the low bidder for your optimization contract is simply going to spam it out to get quick results in the short term, but painful results in the long term?
The key to hiring an SEO or SEM firm is buyer beware and do your research.
Did you get their name in an email?
If the company spammed you, run far, far away. If they are willing to send spam email for their own company’s services, how do you know they won’t send email spam to promote your company too?
Do they speak at SEO/SEM conferences?
Does the firm have speakers that attend and speak at conferences? If they are a speaker at Search Marketing Expo or Search Engine Strategies, especially if they have spoken at multiple events, chances are pretty good they are reputable (although tread with caution if they only speak on “sponsored sessions”)
Are the recognized in the industry?
Has anyone in the company been quoted in major newspapers? Appeared on television?
Meet in person
Meeting in person, or at the very least, talk on the phone with someone from the company. Much can be hidden in emails, not to mention how responses to you can be carefully constructed. It is not that easy to hide inexperience or lack of ethical optimization or marketing skills when talking in person or on the phone.
Ask others who they have used and if they recommend them. And the key is asking how long they have used the company’s services… if it is less than three months, any spam optimization might not show up. Try and ask for recommendations from those who have used the services of the same company for six months or more… and not just if they are happy with the results but how those results have improved.
Large company or independent?
There are equally skilled people who work at large companies and that work independently. And some of those “companies” are actually one man/woman shops that just appear larger than they really are. Bottom line, it doesn’t particularly matter, it is the skills and how they use them that really matters.
Do they practice ethical SEO/SEM? Well, ethical can definitely be open to interpretation and the bad apple SEOs will definitely lie and say they do Instead, look and see which sites they have optimized and do your research. Do the backlinks look clean or is there masses of blog spam? View the source on some client sites and see if there are any hidden surprises such as hidden divs or hidden text. Often some quick research will start to show if they are really practicing ethical (ie. not spam) SEO or not.
Search for each potential company’s name
Search for the company name and see what comes up. And make sure you go beyond the first couple of pages of search results – if they have bad reports showing up for their company name, they could have done reputation management to attempt to get those negative results lower in the search results. Or search for “Company Name scam” or “Company Name BBB”. Likewise, if it is an individual, search for his or her name the same way.
Price can be a key indicator, but not necessarily a big clue. If you only get quotes from reputable companies, then going with the lowest bidder might not be a bad thing. But if the low bid is $19.95, let’s just say you’ll get what you paid for. While price could be a deciding factor when you have narrowed it down to a few different companies you liked, don’t let it be the ONLY deciding factor, as chances are good, you’ll regret it.
Is something not sitting right with what they are saying? Even if you can’t put your finger on it but something just feels off, don’t hesitate to go with another company based on gut feeling alone. How often have you had a gut feeling you wished you had followed? Same thing applies here.
Finding a reputable SEO or SEM can be tough, but because of the current economic climate, you could likely get more bang for your buck than you might have a year or two ago. But be wary when going the route of the lowest bid, because if you don’t do your research, it could bite you back bad.