Inhouse vs. Outsourced Optimization

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Search engine optimization, or search engine positioning as it's more recently been called, is a critical part of any successful marketing strategy. However, many organizations are baffled by how best to go about it.


Some choose to ignore the issue. Others hope that the power of black magic will result in high search engine positions. Some simply assign the project to the new intern.


For those who choose an inhouse effort, the only path to success is to create a system that takes into account the many variables inherent to search engine optimization. These include the frequent changes in ranking criteria, the huge variations among different search engines' algorithms and the need for human intervention when it comes to getting listed in the major directories.


Such an inhouse effort starts with a lot of research, a long-term organizational commitment, and funding for reading material and software. Whoever is assigned the responsibility for SEO should not only be interested in the subject but should also be 100 percent dedicated to the task. Anyone can become adept at search engine optimization, provided he has the time and motivation to research, read and practice what has become the fine art of SEO.


"Search engine optimization is a long-term strategy and one which comes with a lot of hard work and devotion to getting it right," said Gavin Appel, general manager at Sinewave Interactive, an interactive marketing company in Melbourne, Australia. "It can take substantial effort and resources to generate worthwhile results."


Even when you think you've finally succeeded, prepare to start over again, as changes constantly occur in the field. Nobody said it would be easy, which is why search engine positioning has become a cottage industry.


When time and expertise are scarce, find a partner. A good partner not only will cut out the learning curve but also will generate results much faster and possibly at a lower cost.


Be prepared for a long-term partnership. The company you outsource the business to will be working with you for months or years. As with any partnership, occasional upsets and failures are to be expected.


Unfortunately, the industry is littered with fly-by-night companies that don't produce results or, worse, take your money and run.


There are several things to watch for at the outset of the partnership to prevent problems down the road. The first quality to look for is competency. How long has the company been in business? Can it provide you with a client list and references? How do its own search engine rankings stand up? Perhaps the greatest irony in the industry is the number of companies that claim expertise yet fail to get their own sites listed properly.


The next thing to look for is direct contact. You need an account manager who is your key contact point, who will keep you updated on your site's progress and who is empowered to answer any questions. Regular contact, at least once a month, is vital to maintaining a good working relationship.


Finally, a clear set of expectations must be established between both parties. This needs to be followed up with regular progress reports, which usually consist of a list of keywords and your site's corresponding rank for them at each search engine with which you're registered.


Costs for outsourcing search engine optimization can vary greatly, depending on the pedigree of the company doing the work, the number of keywords for which your site is being optimized for, and the methodology being used to generate the results.


Be wary of per-click-through pricing, as this model leaves you wide open to fraud and untargeted sources of traffic. A flat, monthly fee for achieving and maintaining the desired positions in particular search engines is the most desirable pricing scheme. Don't forget to ask whether the price includes the cost of submission to Yahoo and Looksmart, as well as any fees related to pay-for-inclusion listings at Inktomi or AltaVista. At $78 per page per year for AltaVista and $30 for Inktomi, the costs can add up quickly.


Guaranteed results are also something to be careful of. Some companies can opt to use gateway pages or cloaking to deliver on these promises. Both techniques are frowned upon by the major search engines and can result in permanent bans from the index if they're discovered.


The decision to go inhouse or outsource is yours. Either way, just devote enough time and resources to the project.


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