Are you interested in SEO for your small business? You've come to the right place!
When searching for the right SEO provider, you can't go in blind. Cheap or blackhat SEO can easily ruin your business with bad results and penalties. In this case, it pays to be informed. (Click here to find out why you can't afford cheap SEO.)
So, to help you cover your bases, we've outlined a few things you should know going in & things you should find out when talking to a potential provider.
1. How Does SEO Work?
SEO uses a combination of technical (301 redirects, 404 pages, XML sitemaps), on-page (keywords, content, images, user experience), and off-page tactics (organic link building) to make your website more visible to search engines.
There are five major components of effective search engine optimization:
- Loading Speed - Site speed affects both actual rankings and bounce rate of visitors. Search engines prefer fast website, and users are more likely to leave a site if it takes more than three seconds to load.
- Clean Code - Simple, clean code is easiest for search engines to read. If an engine has trouble reading something about your site, whether it's the code, content, media, or something else, it will affect your rankings.
- IP Detection - Helps a search engine serve relevant location-based results.
- Crawlers - Crawlers help your SEO provider see your site as the search engines see it. It allows them to detect and fix issues before they have a major impact on your rankings.
- & More. These technical factors help search engines read and understand your website so they can rank it effectively. The easier it is to understand, the better your base rankings.
- Long & Short-Tail - Both long tail (phrases with 3+ words) and short tail (1-3 words) keywords are important for an effective SEO strategy. Smart SEOs use a mixture of both.
- Titles & Descriptions - Keywords are especially effective when used appropriately in titles, descriptions, and other prominent places.
- Webpages - Keywords should be used strategically & sparingly throughout a website.
- Blogging & Other Content - Focusing blog content and other content on certain keywords can boost their performance.
- Organic Inbound Links - Organic links are those given freely by other websites. They are the most difficult and most valuable form of SEO currency.
- Link Reclamation - This involves finding other websites which already mention you, your product, or your content and asking them to link to you.
- Influencers - Specifically mentioning or calling out influential people can get their attention, and may result in a link from a reputable source.
- Outbound Links - Linking to other websites with high authority within your own content can boost your SEO.
- High Quality Content - The only content you should produce is high quality content. Search engines penalize websites for poor & irrelevant content every day.
- Repurposing Content - Take a series of old blog posts and turn it into an eBook. Turn that eBook into a video. Reusing (not duplicating) content is a viable way to boost SEO for targeted keywords.
- Curation & Aggregation - Not all content has to be original. Content curation and aggregation are also helpful types of content for your best buyers.
- Competitive Analysis - What are your competitors doing well or poorly? How can you use this information to inform your own strategies?
- Impressions - How many people have seen your link in search results.
- Clicks - How many people have clicked on your link in search results.
- Rankings - Your position in the search result rankings.
- Links - How many inbound links you get & activity that results from these links.
- Visitors - How many people visit your website each day/week/month, no matter where they come from.
- Sessions - How long visitors stay on your website & how many pages they visit.
- & More.
- Analytics inform your SEO about progress, goals, and improvement opportunities.
2. Agency / Freelance / In-House
Many small businesses have similarly small marketing budgets. It's not uncommon to find small businesses who hire a family member or friend to do their SEO for cheap (which is actually a very bad idea). DO NOT trust your SEO to an amateur - penalties and traffic problems are only a few issues you can face with inexperienced SEOs.
Your best options are:
- Hiring a full-time in-house SEO
- Hiring an experienced freelancer
- Hiring an agency
Going the in-house route will give you complete transparency and control over the process. However, you may find the paperwork and responsibility of another employee too stressful.
Freelancers can be cheaper than agencies, though they are often shadier as well. Beware of web designers moonlighting as SEOs.
Agencies differ greatly in offerings and strategies - some only do SEO, some do full inbound marketing consulting and implementation. Some are incredibly shady and can ruin your business - others will bring you more success than you could have imagined.
No matter which type of provider you choose, do a lot of research before you commit. Look into their current and past customers (you can even shoot them a quick email to get an honest review), learn about their strategies and tactics, and trust your gut if something feels off.
3. Black Hat vs. White Hat
There is such a thing as bad SEO. Bad SEO can completely ruin your business and your reputation. Check out these 5 SEO Horror Stories for some scary examples. You should be knowledgeable about the difference between black hat and white hat SEO before talking to potential providers.
- Buys, bribes, and begs for links
- Uses legitimate tactics in a spammy way (keywords, anchor text, guest blogging)
- Duplicates & plagiarizes content
- Relies on links, keyword stuffing, and other practices over quality content
- Ignores Google's best practices and invites penalties
- Follows Google best practices
- Follows Webmaster guidelines
- Uses high-quality, relevant content to grow links organically
- Uses relevant keywords
- Doesn't attempt to cheat the system
Why use goody-two-shoes white hat SEO? Two reasons. First, you'll get higher quality results. Producing great content means the people who are most likely to buy from you will find you faster. Growing links naturally means they're more likely to drive relevant traffic to your site. The more great links and great content you have, the higher you'll rank in Google.
Second, you won't have to fear penalties. Even when algorithms change suddenly, white hat tactics mean you're "safe" from falling off the results pages. Black hat tactics mean you're in danger of sudden traffic loss, ranking drops, and even being kicked out of the search engine completely. Depending on the severity of your infraction, Google might ban you for good.
4. What Strategies Your Potential Agency Uses
When you talk to a potential agency, one of the first questions you should ask is "What tactics do you use?" or "How do you plan to improve my SEO?"
If they make any concrete or grandiose promises ("We'll have you ranking #1!"), beware. Do not trust them. No one can guarantee SEO results, because no one outside of Google truly understands the search algorithms. Algorithms are constantly changing, and Google guards their secrets as closely as the U.S. government guarded the Manhattan Project.
If their SEO tactics sound great, look them up anyway. You'd be surprised what Google gets testy about.
5. How SEO Fits Your Overall Marketing Strategy
Don't just budget for SEO. SEO alone will not bring as much success as a full inbound marketing strategy. How does SEO fit into your overall goals & vision for your business? How will it mesh with
- Content Marketing
- Your Website
- Landing Pages & CTAs
- Social Media
- Email Marketing
- And other online marketing tactics?
How can you use each tactic to benefit the others? SEO should not stand alone, especially since the vast majority of ALL buyers do their research and purchasing online.
6. What You Hope to Gain
What are your concrete goals for SEO? Do you want more traffic? More leads? Brand awareness? Visibility? If you know what you want to get out of your SEO, it can help your provider shape the strategy to your goals. A great provider will also help you dig deeper into your SEO goals and pull out long-term, actionable SMART goals for your whole marketing strategy.
7. Your Budget
SEO, as with other marketing strategies, is very much you-get-what-you-pay-for. That doesn't mean you have to throw your entire marketing budget at SEO to see results. However, the amount of time your SEO provider spends on your project equals how much of their time you buy.
If you bid for more of their time and resources, they'll be able to spend more time optimizing your site. The quicker your site is optimized, the faster and more noticeable your results will be.
So, if your SEO budget is pretty small, don't expect your agency to work miracles. You'll still see results, but they'll be more gradual in comparison. Also, don't try to take shortcuts with cheap SEO - you'll soon find it's much more expensive than paying to do it right in the first place.
Finding the Right SEO Provider Is Like Dating
You'll probably go through a few not-so-great relationships before you find The One For You. Armed with this knowledge, you should be able to spot a bad relationship quickly and understand your own expectations of an SEO provider.
Always do your research, stay informed, and trust your instincts. The right SEO provider will be transparent, make you feel comfortable with their services, and ultimately make you a very happy customer.