How to Select an SEO Service Provider

How do I choose an SEO company or service?

That’s a question I’ve seen often, although, to be fair, it is also often the subject of some fairly biased articles by search engine optimization agencies and services hoping to sway you to buying from them, by telling you that their way is best.  An infomercial, where the accuracy of the information is often biased.

I can’t guarantee that my view is any less biased, by my personal beliefs and practices rather than monetary concern, but I can promise to be as honest and fair as possible.


Know what you want to achieve with SEO

The first step of selecting an SEO provider or search engine optimization service is to know what you really want to achieve.  By this, I don’t mean that you want to be number one in Google for a particular keyword.

Knowing what you want to achieve is in terms of your marketing objectives.

Is this a campaign to directly increase sales?  If so, is it about the volume of sales, or the value of sales?  Would you rather have more sales of your average value, or fewer sales that are worth more in actual profit?

Is the SEO campaign more about gaining more leads and customers, rather than about the actual sales values themselves?  Is the main objective more about branding, or market positioning rather than sales or customer acquisition?  Or is the campaign more about Public Relations and control of reputation?

Hopefully you can see that these are all quite different marketing objectives, and that you must know which of them is your core focus for each specific campaign.

Think about SEO methods to attain your objective

All of the different marketing objectives I gave examples of above can be met by a multitude of possible strategies and tactics in search engine optimization.


  • To attain more sales, would you rather appear higher for known searches that lead to sales, or appear for a far wider range of sales-prospect searches?
  • To gather more leads or customer acquisitions, is volume of leads more important than the estimated value of the leads or the customer lifetime value?
  • To perform a branding or market positioning campaign, is this to strengthen an existing position, or to break new ground?
  • To manage online reputation are you more interested in increasing the positives, or diminishing the negatives?

You don’t have to decide on these things immediately, or even alone, and this could be something you’d want the SEO service provider to discuss with you.  The point is to think about them so that you can see where you can think up more choices and options than your prospective SEO provider can, and look for someone more versatile and creative.

Do not view SEO as a commodity

Search engine optimisation companies and their services are not a commodity.  One source is not the same as another.  Comparing services by price is virtually impossible because the service and product value varies from supplier to supplier.

I have seen SEO copywriting services advertised on companies who’s staff are barely literate – at least in English.  I’ve seen thousands of ‘Link Building’ services who’s methods are just to spam comments into blogs.  Just because a company claim they provide SEO, and offer a volume of it, does not mean the quality is worth having any of.

Create an RFP (Request for Proposal)

Knowing precisely what you want to achieve, and having thought about some possible SEO methods to attain it will help here.  For best effect, create a written RFP (Request For Proposal) that clearly states your marketing goals, and gives some fair information about your current status and position.

Judging companies by how carefully they read the RFP is a great first step in finding a good one.  Immediately discard any company who sends back a proposal that clearly is a default pitch, and that isn’t specific in addressing your RFP.  If a SEO company isn’t paying attention to you when pitching, their ability to communicate is very unlikely to improve after they have taken your money.

Evaluate the proposals sent in return carefully

If your RFP states you’ve been doing great in PPC for 3 years but are wanting more organic SEO, and the proposal starts out trying to sell you keyword research without asking how broad your PPC keyword research has already been, bin it.

Most especially, look beyond the buzzwords, and look for how well the proposal has addressed your core marketing objectives in business terms rather than SEO buzzwords.  Its fine for a proposal to talk about creating a blog, or building links, or boosting you to #1 for a particular phrase, but unless they actually explain how they expect the technique to tie into meeting your marketing objective of more sales, or increased brand awareness to a particular market segment, it is just hogwash.

One really effective thing that has helped a lot of companies in the past is hiring a quality independent SEO consultant to help you with reviewing the proposals.  Let them know in advance that you are asking them to advise, and not offering them the contract for the work, and they can give you the inside scoop on any warning signs in the proposals.

Tell your SEO what you want to achieve, not what to do

That means stick to your area of expertise – your company and marketing plans – and let the SEO offer the method and techniques for achieving it.  You might think you need first place on Google for some keyword just to get more sales, but the SEO is the one with the specialist knowledge, and may often have far more cost-effective and time-efficient ideas.  Let the SEO be the SEO expert, so long as he meets your goals and timelines.

  • Dan Shure

    Wow, this article rings so true, especially when talking with potential clients about how you can help them. Most often, they’ve guessed at a handle of the keywords they think they should be ranking for, discover they are not, and feel this is the primary objective in hiring an SEO. When #1 on Google might not lead to their real goals at all! Wonderful article, and refreshing, thanks!


    • Ammon

      Thanks for commenting, Dan. On the days when clients are asking for all the wrong things, just keep repeating the mantra “the clients get smarter in time”. Its just a shame that so many have to get their fingers (or pockets) burned first. We keep putting the truth out there. Some lessons only seem to be learned the hard way.