Working With Search Engine Optimizers

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

Can a company do search engine optimization on its own or does it need a consultant, also called a search engine optimizer (SEO)? As you’ve probably already guessed, there are varying opinions on this question.

“If you don’t know anything about optimization, it probably makes sense to talk to a consulting firm to find out what might make sense for you to do,” offers Danny Sullivan, a consultant and editor of Search Engine Watch. “If you’re only doing paid listings you could successfully do that on your own.”

That may be true, others say, but sometimes staying on top of how the keywords you bid on are performing can be a huge task. Search engine optimizers, which now often refer to themselves as “search engine marketing firms,” use such tools as mirror sites, doorway pages, meta tags and keywords — some of which are sometimes considered spam.

Some of these techniques can be done successfully without such a consultant, but even when hiring one, you should have enough familiarity with the discipline to understand what services the optimizer will and won’t provide.

SEOs say their expertise is needed, naturally, because the rules of the game – especially, the engine’s algorithms that determine your ranking – are constantly changing, though Anthony Muller, president of search marketing firm Zen in Bayshore, NY, believes this is not true to the extent many people say; as an example, he says pages he created a year and a half ago for one client are still performing well.

Another advantage to working with the SEOs is they have (or should have) close relationships with the search engines and know how they work.

But if decide to have someone in-house handle this work, experts suggest it is too big a task to allow only a few hours of dedication per week. It should be a full-time job or at least a big part of the job.

How do you find a search engine optimizer? Ask for a recommendation from your other suppliers – your Web designers and ad agencies (assuming they don’t do this work themselves).

A useful tool in finding a search consultant is Marketing Sherpa’s “Buyer’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms.” The guide is in its second edition (June 2002) and contains profiles of 55 firms, including what they charge.

Also, in its “Search Engine Optimization Guide” (, marketing newsletter Iconocast has a list of about a dozen optimizers to consider.

Other resources on finding an SEO include:, and (an industry group; includes an “SEO Offender List”).

In considering an SEO, find out exactly what the consulting will entail. Will the work be aimed only at getting people to your site or will it also target conversion once they get there? Scrutinize claims that the optimizer will increase your conversion rates.

Also, ask whether they use techniques the search engines might consider spam. Ask whether they do – and will – work for your competitors. This is not a huge concern but it is beginning to be an ethical question in the industry.

It’s best to hire an optimizer in while you’re designing the site but that often doesn’t happen. In that case, the optimizer will make suggestions for changing the site.

SEO contracts are usually for a year or six months. Muller, who wrote the first edition of the Marketing Sherpa guide, which came out about a year ago, said in looking at what about 90 SEOs charge, an optimization campaign was about $2,000 a page, which went down to about $1,500 if you took out the high end and low end.

A typical starting price for packages is $5,000, which is the case for Jill Whalen, owner of High, a search engine optimization company based in Ashland, MA, but she also has lower-priced options such as phone consultation.

Dennis Pushkin, CEO, of search engine marketing firm in Boca Raton, FL, says his company also works on an annual contract starting at $5,000. “We charge per keyword or phrase on a basic program and then work on CPC [cost-per-click] where appropriate,” he adds.

Dale Moore, president of @Web Site Publicity, a search engine marketing firm based in Peterborough, NH, says his firm ranges “from a few thousand dollars a year and up depending on how broad the keyword strategy is. If it’s a niche-y product or service it would be less expensive. If it’s broader like a cataloger it does tend to be more expensive because it’s a more competitive situation and a broader product line.”

Some optimizers are beginning to offer charging on a performance basis but the approach is too new to know whether it’s worth it to the marketer. If the advice is very successful, the marketer may end up paying more than on a flat rate. If looking at this, make sure you understand the guarantees and also whether there are any loopholes in the contract that would allow the optimizer to keep the “retainer.”


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