The importance of search engines in sending traffic to highly ranked Web sites
has led to the development of an entire industry of consultants specializing in
search engine optimization or SEO. These hired guns promise to attract
more visitors to your company’s site by moving your rankings higher in the
But how effective are these SEO firms, really? More importantly, how would your
company know which of the hundreds of SEO companies seeking your business will
do the best job?
An entrepreneur is now planning to launch a service in the next two weeks that may
be able to answer these questions on an objective basis. For the first time, a
comparison of different SEO firms might be possible on the basis of statistics
rather than mere suggestions of success.
Then There Were 2,500
The entrepreneur is Bruce Chapman, 56, who’s worked at search-engine
optimization firms in the past. He’s designed a computerized system that, ironically,
has required a great deal of human judgment:
• Looking for key words. The project started more than two years
ago, Chapman said in a telephone interview. His company, SEO Comparison Inc.,
used nine different search engines and 18 search phrases to look for
companies claiming to offer SEO services. The search terms included typical words
customers might use to find a consultant: two examples were search engine
ranking and search engine optimization, Chapman says.
• A universe of 5,000 possibilities. The result of his online
expedition was that he found some 5,000 listings of possible consulting firms.
Each of these sites was examined manually, Chapman says. At one point, he
employed nine computer programmers and half a dozen temps to conduct the
project, although now only three programmers are needed, he indicates.
• A narrower but still very large focus. The eyeballing of the
various possibilities convinced Chapman that only 2,500 of the listings
corresponded to “true SEO companies” that are doing business in the United
States and Canada. He says he’s whittled this down much further and is about to start
selling reports on the top 60 SEO players.
The Tough Business of Search Engine Optimization
To explain his focus on SEOs, Chapman relates a story about a consulting firm
where he used to work. A study of the firm’s customers was commissioned, asking
them to rate the service they were getting. The average rating, on a scale of 1
to 10, was a paltry 4. The customers didn’t feel the benefits of the
relationship even qualified as mediocre. The firm later went out of
business, Chapman says.
This experience gave him an idea: Why aren’t SEO firms objectively rated? A lot
of companies would pay good money to know which firms were effective and which
could just talk the talk.
last week that an “eyetracking” study had recently underscored the
competition. By monitoring where test subjects looked on a computer
screen displaying Google search results, the researchers found that 100% of the
participants looked at the top three listings. But the readers’ attention
rapidly faded. Only 20% of the Web surfers even glanced at the 10th listing.
Search Engine Optimization Rankings For Sale
Chapman says his company will begin selling reports comparing groups of SEOs
firms for approximately $200 per report. He’s just getting started on collecting
and analyzing the data, and he must be a patient man. He says it typically takes three
to nine months for a company to see an increase in traffic due to a
search-engine optimization effort. His data, therefore, are expected to grow
Meanwhile, he’s planning at least the following reports:
• How well SEO firms optimize their own sites.
The easiest part of the project — if anything about a two-year research effort
can be called easy — will record the position of SEO firms’ ranking on
SEO-related terms in the largest search engines. This could be a crude but
effective means of testing how well an SEO firm optimizes its own site to
attract potential customers via search engines.
• How well SEO firms optimize their customers’ sites. Chapman says
he’s making a list of the top five customers of each of the top SEO firms. He
asks these customers to confirm that they use the services of a particular SEO
shop, and he inquires about the five most important words or phrases they’re
trying to rank highly on. He’ll then measure how well each SEO firm’s customers
are ranking on those terms.
• How well each firm’s customers rate over time. Chapman says he
doesn’t have any immediate plans for reports in this area. (He’s got his hands
full with just the first two lines of business.) But by far the most intriguing
possibility to me is that his company could show which customers are going up in
the rankings and which are going down over time, as new listings and avid
competitors bubble to the top. After collecting a few months of raw data, it
seems to me that Chapman could have some dynamite figures on his hands.
As an example of the type of reports he plans to sell, Chapman provides a sample
chart. It compares the ranking scores of 20 SEO firms in the listings at Lycos,
a small search engine that served 1.9% of all searches in the U.S. last
December, according to an article in Search Engine
The chart does not show actual figures, Chapman says, but is merely illustrates
what is possible with the data he’s compiled so far. To see the sample for
yourself, visit Chapman’s Compare SEO
Firms page, which contains a demo screenshot of the upcoming service. Scroll
down and click the “Click Here for Sample” button, which opens the chart in a
new browser window.
Will Chapman’s startup succeed? Will his reports be worth the money? Since
Chapman wouldn’t provide a sample report containing real data, and I wasn’t able
to buy a market-priced report because the site hasn’t launched yet, I can’t
tell. What I do know is that the SEO field badly needs some hard figures — call
it an SEO Olympics.
Chapman has managed to keep his project so well under wraps for the past two
years that, according to Google’s advanced search page, not a single site on the
Web links to his home page yet. Despite the fact that his site is light on
information and is slightly cheesy looking, I predict that its lack of
visibility is about to change. Here comes his first link now: SEOComparison.com.