Last week, in Part 1, I explained that, first and foremost, your SEO firm ought to set realistic expectations. The two most important ones to establish are:
SEO takes time
It’s like word-of-mouth: it doesn’t happen overnight.
SEO is not guaranteed to work
SEO is marketing — and no marketing company can guarantee with absolute certainty how consumers will respond.
Knowing what to expect means you can hold your SEO firm accountable without making unreasonable demands based on poorly-defined expectations. Once that foundation has been laid, here are the seven things you should expect from your SEO firm.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Use Acceptable Practices
I said in Part 1 that search engines like Google use complex mathematical formulas called algorithms to determine how sites rank. Although these algorithms are kept secret, Google openly shares which optimization techniques are acceptable and which ones violate their guidelines. Techniques that break the rules are known as “Black Hat,” while those that abide by the guidelines are called “White Hat.”
Did you know the average web searcher does not click past the first two pages of a search result? This makes the stakes to rank well extremely high — thus, the temptation to resort to black-hat techniques in order to get ahead.
As I also mentioned in Part 1, Google regularly changes their algorithms to prevent black-hatters from gaming the system. This means a black-hat technique that works today may get your site banned tomorrow.
I’m not sure how many millions J.C. Penney lost after being penalized by Google because of black-hat tactics. Soon afterwards, the J.C. Penney website was nowhere to be found in the Google results for the search queries where they had previously ranked number one.
Unfortunately, many black-hat practitioners are here today but gone tomorrow, and you’re left holding the bag… or, rather, the hat.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Find the Best Keywords
Just because you think a particular word or phrase is the search term your company should focus on doesn’t mean it actually is. Professional SEO firms have access to tools that allow them to perform keyword analysis to determine the best converting keywords. Certain keyword phrases perform better than others, and a good SEO firm will know how to find this out.
Generic search terms may deliver a lot of traffic, but you want traffic that turns into paying customers. Oftentimes, less but more qualified traffic yields better results and a higher return on investment. Expect your SEO firm to take your keyword suggestions and come up with a list of specific phrases that will convert searchers into buyers.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Optimize Your Website
A successful SEO campaign involves both On-Page and Off-Page optimization. In a nutshell:
- Off-Page Optimization is the process of obtaining incoming links from relevant websites in your industry. Suppose you want to rank for the term paintball supplies. Then you’ll need sites that already rank well for this phrase to link to yours.
- On-Page Optimization involves placing keyword phrases you want to rank for in the title, heading and content of your web pages, as well as in the behind-the-scenes code.
To ensure your content is properly written, search engine optimization ought to include professional copywriting. If you have an existing website, your SEO firm should make these changes (or provide recommendations to your webmaster). Oftentimes, a complete redesign may be justified.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Hold Themselves Accountable
I said earlier that SEO is not guaranteed to work. That doesn’t mean if you hand an SEO firm your cold, hard cash and get no results, they get to throw their hands in the air and claim, “I guess it didn’t work. We told you there’s no guarantee.”
On the contrary, a reliable firm will hold themselves accountable for the work they perform, by providing ongoing tracking and reporting. The first benchmark to measure is where you currently rank. If you don’t know what you weight today, how will you know how much you’ve lost a month from now? Your SEO firm should start off reporting where you rank for each keyword phrase so you can track progress.
Another report should show link-building progress. It’s easy to generate a high volume of irrelevant links. But getting high-quality, relevant ones takes time. It’s not unreasonable to expect your SEO firm to provide regular reports detailing what they’ve done.
The accountability process should also include regularly-scheduled meetings or conference calls to go over results, discuss what’s working, what’s not, and what to adjust.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Track Results
Link-building and ranking reports are important metrics, but you need results. Click-through rates and conversions are key performance indicators that tell you what results your SEO campaign is producing.
A conversion happens when your visitor takes the desired action. For an ecommerce site, this means a sale. For a service-based business, this is most likely a lead in the form of a phone call or email. Call-tracking phone numbers can be used to track number of calls, and email form submissions can be tracked in Google Analytics.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Take a Holistic Marketing Approach
When I owned a web business, I made sure any discussion regarding a client’s online marketing took into account what they were doing offline. In those days, companies tended to keep their online and offline marketing in separate silos. But I preached a holistic marketing approach.
I continue to advocate that today. As I’ve said before, traditional marketing is far from dead. But in the wake of Google’s massive changes over the past few years, a holistic approach must now include content marketing and social media.
The relationship between SEO, social media, and content marketing is an article unto itself. Many SEO firms are unprepared to offer content marketing and social media consulting or services. But a growing number realize that the three are becoming an inseparable trio. If I were in the market for SEO services, that second type of SEO firm would get my business.
Expect Your SEO Firm to Know the Different Flavors of SEO
Although they share similarities, local, national and worldwide SEO are different in many ways. If you are a local business trying to be found online by local consumers within your geographical area, choose a company that understands the nuances of local SEO, or specializes in that discipline.
We live in a time when an “SEO consultant” can be a multi-national firm or two guys in a basement — and each may have a slightly different approach regarding SEO. No matter who you choose, you’ll do well to expect them to abide by the expectations above.
Got questions? Post them in the comments below.
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.