SEO is one of those industries which has, somewhat fairly, developed a bad reputation as a bunch of "snake-oil" salemen (and women!). How so? If you have a business email you'd have, at least in your life, gotten an email (usually from some foreign company) promising #1 on page 1 of Google - guaranteed! The problem is, no one can guarantee such results (at least shortterm) as no one but Google knows their algorithm that does the ranking. SEO usually takes time and the client needs to view this as an investment and know that they are trying to help their business for the longterm.
The bad news/The lies
"Guaranteed" results are only achievable one way - scamming the system. The problem with this is that Google is smart. They'll catch you. Guess what happens to your ranking then? That's if they don't totally ban your site from their index.
Get to #1 fast! If you want to rank for a really obscure search term, that's possible. But if you're Mr or Mrs Average Businessperson, getting to the top takes time. There's no "quick fix", though some methods and options can have dramatic effects fairly quickly.
I can do it myself. Yeah right! Not! As a pretty accomplished web designer, I don't touch it. It's specialized, and it takes a lot of time and knowledge. And the penalty for getting it wrong can be devastating.
A company has said they can do it for $100/$200 a month. Yes they can. But how long are you prepared to wait. In all but the most UNcompetitive search phrases, that lowly investment will take years. As I said, SEO take a lot of time - the SEO company's time. How much time will $1-200 a month buy you? Just like you, they want to be paid. A good SEO company can range anywhere from $800 - $1800 per month, depending on what industry you're in and how competitive your search terms are.
I don't need SEO. I checked on Google and we're #1 already. Really? The more you Google your own company the higher you will see your ranking. That's because Google is smart. They'll see you search that term often, so they promote it to you. If you want a true indication of your rank, you'll need some sophisticated software. Or, you can use an anonymous proxy if you have time to search all your search phrases that way (not recommended - do what you're good at). For the quick, honest search that doesn't require sophisticated software try clearing your search history in your browser and then do a search again for a popular search term you want to be found for or thought you were ranked for. Never search for your company name as everyone should be #1 for their own company name....that's easy. The hard part is getting ranked for a high volume search phrase potential customers are using on Google to find services just like yours.
What to look for in your SEO company
Pedigree. Do they have a client base that's happy and continuing to spend with them every month? Will they let you contact current clients/past clients?
What do they claim? Any company offering guarantees of placement or fast results is selling something - something you don't want!
What reporting are they offering? This is where the rubber meets the road. The numbers don't lie - where are you this month v last month?
Final thoughts on SEO
You aren't in this SEO "thing" for a few months, or a year. SEO is a slow, methodical process that does get results done correctly, over time.
SEO is not cheap, either per month or overall
Let the buyer beware! There are great, reputable SEO companies out there. But there an awful lot of "dodgy" ones.
Just like cosmetic surgery or dentistry, get a "before" snapshot of your position so you can tell where your ranking is going.
Don't be afraid to ask, "Why aren't my rankings improving?" You're paying for a service to improve your rankings - that's what you can expect!
Shameless plug for our guy who IS achieving us solid, ongoing results - Matt Deloff, FMS Online Marketing. (623) 687-1673