OK, so your website isn’t brand-new, but it’s not that old, either. It’s not ugly, your sales people don’t complain about it, it’s consistent with your current branding and accurately presents your business strategy, products and services.

Problem is, your traffic isn’t even close to what you feel it should be. Plus you keep hearing from prospects who find you via a press story or other means, and say: “You guys have got to be the industry’s best-kept secret; I Googled your product space several times in doing my research, and your site never popped up.” Which is the same experience you have when you enter a sensible keyword search for your business, and your website doesn’t appear in the first 25 pages of results. (Making matters worse: your top three competitors all appear in the first couple of pages.)

SEO – Visibility for “ghostly” websites

The usual explanation for this state of affairs is search engine optimization (SEO) …or rather, the lack – or ineffectiveness – of it. It’s the science of “tuning” your website for maximum visibility to the search engines, in response to keyword queries that are likely to be made by users looking for your type of product or service. Most likely, it was done once, by the folks who built your latest site; probably it hasn’t been touched since, while the world and the search engines changed around it.

Here’s some pretty unassailable logic: if your website is clearly short on visibility, and no one in your company has been able to fix it by now, then you need professional help …period. By the way, this isn’t a sign of corporate weakness; SEO is a complex and ever-changing science, and there’s no good reason for your company to build internal competence in this area when it needs to focus on developing and selling your own products. A good SEO agency will always be better at SEO than your staff ever will …or ever needs to be.

Picking a provider

Frankly, the biggest problem in outsourcing your SEO requirement may be an oversupply of providers; many of these are one-man former webmasters who’ve read up on SEO, or primarily website-design shops who know they need to provide some smattering of SEO as the final step in their process. It’s unlikely that firms of either type will have the depth of expertise or resources to meet the needs of a growing B2B, month in and month out.

So what should you be looking for in an SEO agency? Probably at least 4 things:

  1. Established vendor – How long has this company been in business? How long has it been focused on Web marketing? Has it shown staying power through down economies?
  2. Client references – Does this vendor have a clear track record with at least some companies like yours who will speak favorably of the firm’s ethics and work quality?
  3. A “real” SEO Department – Too many firms will put a Web designer or former webmaster on your SEO task as a part-time activity. You should ask enough questions to make sure that your provider has an actual SEO group, staffed by professionals whose primary mission in life is SEO.
  4. “Holistic” approach – Because everything in Web marketing touches everything else, you’ll better off with a full-service Web strategy consultancy, not a niche SEO service. Your problem may not be so much poor site optimization as a lack of site “stickiness”: i.e., visitors come in adequate numbers, but they don’t stay and don’t convert. If so, a “pure” SEO agency may work wonders moving you up 5 places in Google’s listings; but without improving your site’s usability and content, your conversion rate may still not noticeably improve.

By following these rules, you’ll be sure to engage an SEO provider who can help you improve traffic flow to your site …and perhaps other less-evident problems with your Web strategy as well.