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April 6, 2011

Hiring a Search Engine Optimization Company? Ask About a Pay-Per-Click Campaign as Proof of Concept

There are generally two types of clients who seek out search engine marketing services – those who are new to the discipline and are researching various companies, and those who were unhappy with a previous SEO company and are now looking to engage with the right vendor. Whatever your background or familiarity with SEO, it’s important to understand that while most good firms do require a contract for services, the firms that have the most confidence in their own abilities will offer the chance to prove themselves to you by first providing a no-contract, introductory pay-per-click campaign.

Understandably, clients are sometimes wary of handing over the reins to their website – most often their most powerful marketing tool – to a random search engine marketing firm. In order to test an SEO company’s mettle, why not give them the chance to prove how effective they can be at managing and improving your PPC campaign instead? This way, you are engaging in a low-risk, high-yield endeavor that will truly serve as a litmus test for your working relationship. First, if you are already running your own pay-per-click campaign, give the SEO company control over all or even a small portion of your account to prove that they’re worthy of your business by not only maintaining the account, but measurably improving your results. If you don’t have a current PPC campaign, you can take the money that you’d spend on SEO and request that the search engine marketing firm build and run a pay-per-click campaign to serve as a proof of concept. While SEO and PPC are certainly different disciplines, they share a number of similarities including keyphrase selection, creation of targeted copy, tracking of metrics, and overall ROI. If the SEO company excels in generating results for your company’s PPC campaign, there is a likely correlation to the success that they will deliver a return on a longer-term SEO campaign.

Another benefit to this trial relationship is that you can find out if you enjoy working with your search engine marketing firm. For whatever reason, sometimes business relationships just do not work out. Expectations, styles, and workflows differ, and these cultural and philosophical variations can render the relationship a poor fit. During your initial pay-per-click campaign, when your potential SEO company promises a deliverable, are they on time? Do they deliver results without asking for too much work on your end? Can and will this search engine marketing company accommodate your needs? And do they take the time to explain concepts that you don’t understand?

These same principles and considerations apply if you are looking for a search engine marketing firm to take control of your existing and ongoing campaign. A good SEO company with years of experience should be able to identify new search terms for cultivation, and improve the metrics of even your very well run in-house pay-per-click campaign. In addition to standard SEO knowledge, the firm should act in your best interest and should have access to a variety of cutting-edge tools to measure what works and what doesn’t for your campaign. Even if you allocate only a small portion of your budget to this trial-run, a good SEO firm should be able to deliver swift and impressive results.

Since the SEO company is supposed to be proving themselves to you during this time, a pay-per-click campaign with a new search engine marketing firm, especially serving as a proof of concept, should not have a contract term. This is meant to provide you with peace of mind and eliminate anxiety on your behalf for multiple reasons. For example, if you don’t think the company is a good fit and isn’t delivering results, you should be able to immediately leave without having any long-term damage done to your campaign. Even if the company is delivering improved results from the pay-per-click campaign, but you’ve experienced a negative or cantankerous relationship with the firm, you should be able to take your business elsewhere to another firm that will work with you to meet your goals, and match your business culture and communication style. Essentially, during a proof of concept period, you should have expended little capital, have experienced a symbiotic business relationship, and have developed a firm sense of trust with your future SEO company.

Another reason why a pay-per-click campaign is the ideal medium for acting as proof of concept is because unlike long-term search engine optimization, which can require weeks and months to deliver full results, you should see an almost instantaneous uptick in results from a PPC campaign with a skilled search engine marketing firm. Although SEO is almost always the better long-term investment for your money, a pay-per-click campaign as proof of concept should give you the confidence you’re looking for in your relationship with a SEO company. With PPC, you should see measurable results within 30-60 days. Not only should you see your cost-per-click go down and your conversion rates rise, but both of these variables should lead to an increase in revenue. And just think – if you spent this same 30-60 day period searching for a SEO company without engaging in a proof of concept pay-per-click campaign, this is a lost opportunity cost that could have brought you not only a financial return, but also the confidence to engage in a worry-free campaign with a reputable search engine marketing firm.

Every SEO company says that their reputation is solid and that they deliver results. But unless they’re willing to accommodate your needs and adjust their workflow to suit your business, they’re probably not the firm you’re looking for in the long run. So, whether your business is just exploring the world of search engine marketing firms, or if you are looking for a reputable vendor who can confidently stand behind their work, don’t be afraid to ask for no-contract pay-per-click campaign to see if they can really deliver.

Scott Buresh is the founder and CEO of Medium Blue, a search engine optimization company, which was awarded a prestigious American Marketing Association award in both 2008 and 2010. Buresh has been featured in respected publications such as Entrepreneur, Success, Direct Marketing News, Business to Business, Search Marketing Standard, Public Relations Tactics and the Atlanta Business Chronicle. His articles have appeared in numerous online publications, including ZDNet, WebProNews, MarketingProfs, DarwinMag, SiteProNews,, and Search Engine Guide. He was also a contributor to How to Build Your Own Web Site with Little or No Money: The Complete Guide for Business and Personal Use (Brown, 2010), The Complete Guide to Google Advertising (Atlantic, 2008) and Building Your Business with Google for Dummies (Wiley, 2004). Medium Blue is an Atlanta search engine optimization company with local and international clients.