As with any industry in its infancy, the search engine marketing and search engine optimization professions are full of many people making claims of professional expertise. With no standardized set of professional certifications or demonstration of competency, just about anyone can claim to be an expert in search engine marketing.

How do you know if the adviser you are working with is any good? Unfortunately, there is no central spot allowing you to research an adviser’s professional qualifications and results history. This leaves you with both subjective and quantitative analysis to be done to arrive at your conclusion. Here are some key questions to ask:

How well am I doing?

Mike Moran, IBM’s search engine marketing expert, states that many companies make the mistake of measuring their performance against others. The error with this approach is that it fails to allow for differences between businesses’ goals and objectives, as well as fails to acknowledge incremental improvements gained through search marketing efforts.

It’s also important to make sure you are evaluating the elements that are really important to your business success. Most organic search marketing programs need six months or more for maximum impacts. With all this being said, the key thing to look for is consistent incremental improvements in your key metric performance areas.

What is this costing me?

The purpose of a search engine marketing or search engine optimization adviser is to make you money. Obviously, if your results are improving, that’s a good sign. However, it’s a short-sighted approach to focus on growth only without costs being considered. Great advisers provide gross results and net results with management and advisory fees included. This allows you to fully assess how much you are paying for performance.

Am I getting the correct advice?

Is the advice you are getting specific to your situation, or is your adviser currently promoting the latest internet fad that they recommend to everyone? What qualifications does the adviser have to make recommendations? What attempts has the adviser made to understand your business objectives and processes. What do they know about your other marketing initiatives, both traditional and online?

Your adviser should be up-to-date on the latest communication technologies and their impacts on search marketing. They should be actively involved in trade associations promoting best practices, ethical search engine marketing standards and on-going education. Some of the professional associations promoting these ideals include the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), the Web Analytics Association, the eMarketing Association, the American Marketing Association and the Direct Marketing Association.

How often do I hear from my adviser?

Regular interactions with your adviser are crucial for long-term, consistent search engine marketing success. The purpose of these interactions is to discuss results and take corrective actions.

Search engines constantly change the factors they use to provide organic search results. The highly competitive and ever-changing nature of online marketing demands more than just yearly attention to your search engine marketing program. A quarterly review should be the minimum requirement for most search marketers.

Great advisers also publish newsletters, write blogs, and produce podcasts, all with the intention of increasing your online marketing knowledge and effectiveness.

Finally, ask yourself how often you hear from your adviser and how long it takes them to respond to your inquiries. If the only time you hear from them is when they want you to buy something, that may indicate a need for a change.

Is my adviser putting my interests first?

Trust your instincts on this one. Is your adviser more interested in getting your money or in helping your business profit from their efforts? Are you working with a “bill you by the second machine” or someone that appears genuinely interested in seeing your business grow? Do you feel like your adviser really cares about what happens with your investment and its return?

Do I need more than search engine marketing advice?

Developing search engine marketing and search engine optimization strategies and tactics may be all you need from a search engine marketing adviser, but most companies require a broader array of professional services, including web site development, copywriting, ad campaign management, web performance analytics and more. Is your adviser capable of providing that?

A great search marketing adviser helps your business to be found online; works to convert web site visitors into desired business actions; and, measures impacts and analyzes data to ensure peak marketing results. This often requires the search engine marketing adviser to offer programming and development services, graphic design, link building, newsletter, web page and other copywriting services, web analytics services and much more.

Make an assessment of your current and future online marketing needs and make sure your adviser has the professional expertise to assist in those areas.

Still unsure if you are working with the right adviser?

Ask for advice from professional trade organizations like those mentioned earlier within this article. Ask your accountant about other businesses like yours (not direct competitors) that are growing well and contact them to find out who they work with.

For those of you with multiple websites or businesses, hire multiple advisers. Let them dish it out while you evaluate who performs the best. Returns are important but also test them by asking their opinion on issues of importance to you. You’ll learn a lot by the answers you receive.

© 2006. BizGrowth Search Engine Solutions and Brian Offenberger. All rights reserved. Permission to publish online or in print granted provided the article and byline are printed intact with live links.