How do I find the right SEO?

SEO is NOT like selling used cars It's really more like health care for your website. To a website, basic health means usability, functionality, content, and search engine viability.

There are legitimate website health professionals who can provide:

• preventative measures that help keep a site performing at its best,
• interventions that can give the site new life and energy,
• emergency procedures that can save a site from failure.

Unfortunately, there are also tons of unscrupulous quacks who will try to sell you "miracle cures" and "cheap viagra."

In order to make sure you aren't being taken in by a snake-oil salesman, make sure that you understand three things:

1. Exactly what is the SEO offering to do for you? Make them give you an SEO plan--in writing--that itemizes the work to be done, in very specific terms. For instance, it should say how many pages will be optimized, exactly which page elements will be modified and who will do the work, if new content will be created (and if so, how much? How many pages? How many words? How many videos?) It should outline any link-building strategies in detail. If you receive a written plan and don't understand any part of it, ask questions until you do.

2. What are the expected results? Any SEO who "guarantees" anything is trying to cheat you. Any SEO who promises "instant success" is trying to cheat you. Improved search ranking through SEO takes time to achieve—sometimes six months or more—and requires a sustained effort. Ask the SEO for some success stories, but make sure you can verify the facts they give you. I would recommend that you DO NOT rely on an SEO's own ranks for keywords. The top pages of Google for search marketing-related terms are stuffed with SEOs who have gotten there using "black hat" tactics that are risky and unwise.

3. How much will an SEO program cost? Make them give you a total program cost upfront. If you have received the detailed SEO plan noted above, then it should not be difficult for the SEO to attach a price. If there is a monthly retainer, make sure you understand just what you will get for that fee.
Clarification added 1 day ago:

There are also some things an unsavory SEO will try to tell you that should raise very large, very red flags.

1. "I'll submit your site to thousands of search engines!" There are only three search engines that really matter, and all three of them find and index sites all by themselves. It does not help in any way to "submit" your site to Google, Yahoo, or MSN. (Submitting an XML sitemap is another matter that probably deserves its own discussion.) Directories are different from search engines. It used to be worth the time to submit a site to a few of the better directories, but that is really not so much true anymore.

2. "I can get you into a 3-way (or 5-way or whatever-way) link exchange!" This is the 21st Century equivilent of the chain letter and is a very bad idea. For one thing, you may find your site linked to by any number of "bad neighborhood" domains. For another thing, you need to be even more careful about whom you link TO. In a complex link exchange, you can lose control over your outgoing links.

3. "I can sell you thousands of text links in quality blogs!" Contextual link spamming is last year's hot tactic, but Google's on to it. It is also a hugely bad idea to acquire lots of any kind of links all at once. Google wants to see an organic-looking links coming in a natural-looking development vector.

4. "I'll build you some landing pages specifically designed to get ranks!" There definitely is some value to creating content around particularly valuable keywords. BUT this content needs to be useful to your visitors and integrated into the site—not just orphan pages stuffed with keywords. That kind of thing used to be called "gateway" pages back in the day. Trust, you will get slapped if you try it today.

And all that blather really just means this. If you want a healthy website that gets visited by people who are really interested in your message, you need to include search awareness in your overall program. My personal recommendation is to learn about SEO and do it yourself. Of course, not everyone has the time or inclination. And that's where professional search marketing consultants come in. Just watch out for the quacks.

Does that answer your question?

Okay, you’ve done the front work and you’ve decided you want your business to succeed with natural search placement. You know how you want your website to perfrom. You have planned the whole operation, and even hired an SEO professional team. Good for you! But that's not all you can do to improve your web business. There's PPC and guerilla marketing, and mobile, and local.... okay, okay! one step at a time.