Rarely has there been a more overused and often less understood term than Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Thousands (I am not joking) of freelancers are in front of their Computers across the world with the sign out that says “SEO Consultant”. And you know what? Some of them are legitimate.

If you are a business owner with a site on the Internet, unless this is your game, SEO experts are likely better than you at optimizing your site. But how do you find someone who will make a difference for your business?

search engine optimization
Qualified SEO consultant: How to find one?

The Uber-Goal of SEO

First, let’s define Search Engine Optimization as all the on site things you can do for your web page to increase its Page Rank (PR) on the major search engines, Google being the biggest kid on campus with upwards of 65 % of all global searches. Your work should be designed at getting you to page 1, and if possible, in return results 1-5 which tend to stand out above the fold, or before the user has to page down. It is cautiously estimated that less than 5 % of online searchers ever get beyond page 1 when finding a source. That means if you’re not appearing on page 1 for your keywords, you are a tree falling in the woods with no one around to listen bud.

If your business being “located” on the internet via search result is important to your prospecting plan, you simply cannot afford to neglect top tier SEO approaches.

Defining Great SEO

Here is what the aces bring to the table for superior SEO:

1. Good Copy— Legible, enticing, conversion-producing, with just the right mixture of keywords on the web page that gets high rankings without getting the hated Google slap.

2. Local Optimization— Make their web assets the biggest player in the local game, optimizing for regional SEO and knowing that even for abstracts like SEO services and infotech, people seek those nearest to them. They take advantage of tools that complement your site like the millions of unclaimed local websites that already exist for companies from Google Places (see this Google Places video for more).

3. Staying Up-to-date— Google comes up with new changes that change the way the game is won seemingly every other day (Panda anyone?); are you up to speed? If not, then your best SEO intentions may work against you and penalize your site PR.

If you have the skillset to be labeled an expert, then you can affordably optimize your own web pages provided you have the free time. If not, it makes sense to vet Search Engine Optimization firms to see who works for you.

4 Questions to Ask SEO Consultants

Rip-off artists reign supreme on the web when it comes to buzzwords about promoting your products on the Internet. Any kid with a laptop and dorm room power supply can profess the handle SEO Expert, and some may be. The same goes for Search Engine Marketing (SEM) specialist and the latest “anybody can be one”, Social Media Marketing (SMM) consultant.

Here’s what to look for when hiring an SEO outfit:

1. Visual Portfolio— Don’t be someone’s guinea pig; make sure suppliers show you other websites they have worked on, AND tryout the sites against the phrases they were optimized on by searching on Google, Bing and Yahoo! Are the samples sites turning up on page 1? If not, keep looking.

2. Start Local— It’s much easier to verify if a firm is legitimate or not by seeking expertise in your own burg. If you live in San Diego, search San Diego SEO. You get the idea.

3. Comprehensive Plan— Make sure the SEO firm provides a detailed plan of exactly what they will be doing to optimize your website for local SEO or any SEM offline strategies they are using to drive traffic. The best SEO consultants will lay out the strategy in detail regarding keywords per page, strategies, distributions, etc. without being asked, but request anyway. Stay away from anyone who basically says, “Trust me.”

4. Check Recommendations— Testimonials need to be from authentic people that you can call if you want to. If you see a quote from Steve Z, Phoenix, RUN, don’t walk, to another alternative.

So if you’re in business and you need an online presence, do it correctly. Don’t have one of the hundreds of thousands of sites online that get no visitors and wonder why the bottom line is down. Bone up on SEO strategies or use a pro using the steps I outlined here, and become web relevant locally and beyond.

About the Author:
Karl WalinskasIs your site on Google Page 1?   Local SEO from a top tier partner can help.   Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness.   His Smart Blog covers leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and was recently named by Buyerzone as one of the Top 20 Business Blogs of 2011.   He is the author of Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in the SmartShop and Amazon.com, and has been a featured expert for Inc.com with articles published in Site Pro New, Selling Power, and America Online to name a few.