What to know before hiring an SEO agency (or DIY)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is not just about hiring someone to “Do Your SEO” on your website. It’s certainly not just a buzzword either, it’s a verified marketing strategy that is critical to the future success of your online presence as a business. You need to put yourselves in an SEO mind-frame. Your website is living in an ever-changing digital environment. No matter what your business is, thinking in terms of digital brochures will only ensure your irrelevance in years to come. The more you begin to view your website as your marketing hub to connect with your customers, the more visibility you will have online and the better you will rank on the search engines.
Start thinking about SEO as part of your marketing channel
First thing you need to do is stop thinking of marketing and SEO as unrelated. SEO can and should encompass everything from traditional PR to social media marketing. In order to successfully integrate SEO into your marketing plan, you’ll need to start thinking of it as a common message across all mediums. It should be consistently incorporated across all other marketing efforts to further the goal of retaining customers and ensuring long-term sustainable growth of your customer base.
Why SEO? The pro’s and con’s
When considering SEO as part of your marketing channel, you have to know the pros and cons.
Set realistic mid-term and long-term goals
SEO, especially for competitive keywords, is not an overnight strategy. It’s a slow and steady organic growth and it should be at the risk of looking artificially inflated. It’s an investment in long-term growth of website traffic and your overall online presence with some short-term and even more mid-term benefits.
The first expectation we need to address that everyone asks, is “Can you guarantee that I will rank on Page 1?”. The honest answer, is NO. There isn’t a single person on this earth that can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google who is not lying to you. Is it possible, absolutely, but is it guaranteed, absolutely not. You should be aware of SEO providers that claim to guarantee rankings or claim they are a Google partner for SEO. There is no such program for Google SEO partners, only for their AdWords platform.
Is it possible to get fast results?
The benefits of SEO are not realized overnight. It’s an investment that if implemented properly will provide long lasting benefits for many years to come. It should be a gradual growth strategy that doesn’t appear as an artificial manipulation. Google is not where they are today because they are fooled easily.
Can an SEO strategist give you overnight results? Sure, the good ones (or maybe we should say bad) can, but would never do so because it would only be a matter of days before it was realized by Google and corrected. Once corrected, there would be negative implications for that website that would take a long period of time to subside.
SEO results are going to vary based on the amount of effort you put into it. A website owner who has tasked their SEO strategy to an in-house web developer or another individual within their organization who also needs to stay on top of their other responsibilities is not as likely to see the same level of results as a large firm. SEO firms have teams of individuals, each with unique responsibilities based on their skill sets. It’s also more than likely that they have larger marketing budgets (because they can demonstrate the need and value to the client) and know how/where to spend that budget in a way that will maximize the effect on search visibility and volume.
How to Measure Results
Typical measurements for results include:
- Organic traffic
- Amount of links, search visibility
- Conversions and revenue from organic traffic.
- While it might be hard to accept because everyone wants to see immediate returns on investment, you need to measure your progress over a 3, 6, 9, 12+ month period. Rapid growth could very well result in negative implications.
- Traffic and rankings can fluctuate, sometimes randomly. There can be seasonal fluctuations that make growth looks smaller in given months.
- Drop-offs of old back-links can make your growth appear stagnant.
- Use relative measurements and set mid-term and long-term goals for growth.
- Percentage based, month-over-month growth will be the most realistic and effective measurement tool.
Don’t allow only SERP (search engine ranking position) or only organic traffic growth to be your sole measurement(s) of positive results. High SERP positions on low-volume keywords have little value and unethical SEO companies can send fake traffic to inflate your analytics.
Insist on reporting which combines the following: overview of work completed, keyword position progress, search visibility historical overview, new incoming links, conversion/goal tracking or revenue attributed to organic traffic.
What is the broad overview of an SEO agency’s strategy?
- Keyword research (niche research)
- Internal optimization and performance enhancements
- External link building (or any other external SEO activity)
Each of this points is deserving of it’s own article, but just understand that in the initial stages of your SEO strategy you have to make sure that each of these components are being addressed.
We will provide a checklist for each component so you can better monitor your SEO agency or professional.
How to Hire the Right SEO Company
While SEO might have seemed like a very specific job that one individual was capable of handling 6 or 7 years ago, it’s actually quite a broad field now. Do a quick search for “SEO Professional” or “SEO Company” and the results are endless. This means that your job in finding a qualified individual or company will be somewhat difficult.
You need to get an understanding of the strong-points of the team members as well as the type of work they’ve done. Not only in terms of performance which is of course top on the list, but also the industries that they have been successful in. Welcome the professional to hide the company name, but to share with you some reporting on their campaign for a 6-12 month period. The reporting will show performance results from work they’ve completed as well as potentially identify any weak points.
Transparency is imperative for you to gain the trust of any SEO professional, especially an SEO firm. Don’t expect to get all of their trade secrets and contacts, but there should be a very comprehensive plan of action spelled out for you and a mechanism that will allow you to track its success, quantitatively.
Like many other areas of life, you usually get what you pay for. You will notice drastic differences in pricing from company to company. Cheaper is not always better, in fact for most competitive keywords, it would be an anomaly to find a company who can actually deliver results for anything less than $500 a month. Keep in mind that the majority percentage of what you are paying is going to a marketing budget, and not just towards implementation labor.
Some RED FLAGS to look out for
- Email. Never work with someone who e-mails you out of nowhere, especially if they are not willing to have a conversation with you and provide references.
- Guaranteed Rankings. Anyone who guarantees you to rank on page 1, no matter how good they are, or their past accomplishments, is a fraud. Search engines are operated by a third party, and so there is a giant variable that could quite honestly make a change at anytime that would potential affect your current ranking or ongoing SEO efforts. There could also be other strategist competing for the same keywords with a much higher marketing budget.
- Google SEO Certified. Anyone who claims to be a Google partner or certified for SEO is lying to you. The only partnerships and certifications are for Google Adwords and Analytics.
Some questions you SHOULD ask
- What is your process if I decide to work with you?
- What can you expect to see happen in the first month, third month, and sixth month?
- Will you provide me a free SEO analysis report?
- How will you report on my results and can you provide a sample?
- Is there a contract, if so how many months?
- How often will speak about the progress of my campaign?
- Are there any other services that I might need which would be an added cost?
Other factors to consider
- Client references (online reviews and offline verbal references)
- Does this company serve businesses in your location (to make sure they are aware of local specifics)
- Is this company able to share success cases
Tips to maximize results of your SEO strategy
CRO (conversion rate optimization)
Using your website analytics combined with customer feedback you can make adjustments to your website with the intent to increase your conversion rates. As your SEO strategy brings in more traffic, you will convert better on both your existing and newly acquired traffic, the end result will be getting more value out of your website traffic, a better ROI.
Use re-marketing for organic traffic
Re-marketing based on organic visits is a commonly overlooked and usually quite effective strategy. As people visit your website through organic search, your ad account can save a list to later re-target those same people with ads as they browse the internet (as long as they are in advertisers display networks). Not only is this a great way to reinforce your brand, but it’s also arguable that that traffic would be more qualified and likely to result in conversions.
Offline conversion tracking
Note every click on an ad results in an immediate conversion. Many times, a customer clicks through a path of various websites that ultimately leads to an “offline” conversion. Offline conversions can be completed at a brick and mortar store or even over the phone. Without putting the proper measures in place to capture this data, you are potentially overlooking significant value that was a result of your SEO and/or SEM campaigns.
You can use a call tracking service that will allow you to setup numbers which forward to your main line, but provide you more data on the users conversion path. Companies like CallRail offer services like this for a reasonable price. You might setup one for your Yelp listing, display one on your website to organic visitors, and use another in your Google Ads as well as on your website when a user visits after clicking on a paid ad.
Over a mid to long-term period you will be able to calculate the ROI (return on investment) of your SEO efforts. Make sure that you have enabled e-commerce tracking on your website analytics if you accept payments online. Alternatively you can measure goal or call tracking. Once you know the cost of your leads and SEO-related expenses, you can fairly easily calculate your ROI.
The research for this article was done by a staff writer for LDA Interactive, a Los Angeles based web design agency. Contact LDA at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (213) 342-1770 for an SEO or SEM consultation.