Since the inception of my SEO blog on ZDNet, I have received numerous emails from individuals who are in need of direction. What are they looking for that has them flopping around like a fish out of water? An individual or a firm to do SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for them. Unfortunately, until there's a central industry-wide location where prospective clients can go to verify/validate SEO firms/freelancers they run across, the need for said prospective clients to gather such information will always exist. If you're in the market for an SEO firm/freelancer, you're left with seemingly limited options: Search Google, ask for references, email a trusted source asking for guidance, check to see if they're located in the SEOmoz marketplace (and if anyone has any feedback to offer on them), and little more. Well, now I plan to give you another option or two via this post and I hope you choose to take advantage of them!
Meetup.com and Local Events
If you have never heard of Meetup.com, it's time you become familiar with them -- even if only to link up with people in your area who share your interests! Essentially, it's a site that allows anyone to form a group based on just about any topic conceivable (within reason, naturally). The factor that differentiates it from just some random internet forum you find on a topic you're interested in is the "meet-up" aspect. Yes, you can socialize and have discussions on Meetup.com, but the real benefit is getting out there and attending scheduled meet-ups the group you're interested in puts together! Fortunately for you, Internet marketing (and all of its various facets) has crossed the boundary from obscurity to ubiquity. Even if you live in a small town, there's probably a good chance that an SEO or Internet marketing-related meet-up is happening in your area right now (not as in this very second, but likely happening in general)!
It's easy to search for groups on Meetup.com, so go hit up their site once you finish reading this post and see what you can find! Some good terms to start off searching for are "Internet," "Internet marketing," "interactive marketing," "SEO," "SEM," "Search Engine," "Online marketing," "social media," and variations therein. The site will make recommendations and filter results based on your search term. Also, its results are based on a certain mile radius you specify from a zip code or city you enter; so if there are no groups right around you, it may be worth it to look in the big city that's an hour or two away from you. Once you find a group -- even if you do not actually attend the events -- you will immediately be connected with locals in the industry of whom you can begin to reach out to with the prospect of finding a suitable candidate (be it them or perhaps someone they know).
However, the benefit of attending actual meet-ups (besides the educational factor if it's a themed topic meet-up) is the face-to-face time you get with people. What I've found is instead of having to discern from people who are scams versus people who are legit, the most you have to contend with is meeting someone who is in the process of learning. So, the worst you could land is a beginner. Having said that, that's not a good general rule of thumb, because people have varying degrees of intentions and there are some ballsy people out there who will lie to your face; but here again -- from my personal experience -- those people seem to be few and far between.
Another added benefit of making your SEO search a local affair is the sense of community and desire to help locals that you will find. For instance, here in Charlotte, NC, we have a very active SEO/SEM meet-up group. And though the particular meet-up group I'm referencing is an extension of a local Charlotte SEO/SEM association (membership fees require) -- SEMCLT -- there are plenty of non-members-only meet-ups with a small price of entry (since the meet-ups follow an educational format, are typically held in a city commerce office, etc.). Additionally, there are plenty of other available meet-ups from other Internet marketing groups in the area.
Lastly, once you get involved with a group and you get to know some people, you'll form everything from contacts to friendships! And -- if you're lucky enough -- your local SEO group will host events like the "December Social and Holiday" one I'm attending tonight (12/2/2010). Lots of good, intelligent people in a fun atmosphere -- and they're local!
So, with all of that said, I'd like to direct your attention to a couple of great posts from two very intelligent SEOs I keep up with:
1 - "How do you hire an SEO provider if you don’t know anything about SEO?" by Hugo Guzman.
2 - "10 questions to evaluate an SEO" by Ian Lurie.
SEO isn't a secret; nor are any of its tactics. It's the creativity and unique approach from any given SEO firm/freelancer that allows them to distinguish themselves from their peers. Any SEO firm/freelancer who says/acts otherwise either has little to no real-world experience, or they have something to hide (they're a sham, have never had a client before, plan on utilizing black hat tactics, etc.). Surprisingly, for as competitive as SEO is, the industry is an open book; we all share techniques with one another and genuinely like to help one another out, share results from tests, etc. Naturally, some of us stumble upon certain things that we hold close, but those are techniques/campaigns we can afford to keep secretive. Think of it like we're all makers of hot sauce: We're all happy to tell each other and the world exactly how to make it, but we won't divulge the one or two herbs/spices we add to create our own unique flavor we call our own.
So, with that, you now have the ammo you need to go forth and flesh out those 2 or 3 prime SEO candidates you've been searching for! Do you have any questions or comments? Let me hear 'em in the comments section below!
Thanks for your time and best of luck finding the right SEO candidate. :)