When you search Google for SEO or search optimization, you find no shortage of firms willing to sell you services. But for many businesses the question is: How many of these firms really offer what I would consider professional SEO?

To me, there is a large distinction between link building, low quality / off-shore SEO and professional SEO. And the later category has far fewer players in it than you would think. If you take the first 10 pages of Google results for 'search optimization', you can probably rule out 60% of those web sites as non professional SEO players. What criteria do I use when I make this statement? Here you go:

1) The firm does professional SEO full-time.

2) The firm has fortune 100 experience.

3) The firm can produce evidence of results for terms that have over 5,000,000 competing pages in Google's index.

4) The firm can produce positive customer references from other professionals who manage SEO for big companies.

Based on these criteria, many in the first 10 pages of Google fall out quickly. What you are left with are real SEO professionals who can help you with high-power SEM strategy and execution. They will bring discipline and accountability to your SEO campaign. Furthermore, they will have enterprise SEO reporting tools so you see exactly what's happening. For more on this, see this entry on how to find a professional SEO company.