What does an SEO agency do? Do I even need SEO services? Read on to get the answers.
As a professional Webmaster, everything I do directly or indirectly revolves around SEO. Things in the internet marketing industry change often, (algorithms, expectations, technology, etc) but one thing remains the same, almost no one outside the SEO field even knows what SEO companies do! Business owners and friends alike ask me three questions when they find out that I work in digital marketing and that I am constantly preaching SEO as a primary factor in any solid online marketing strategy:
"What Is SEO?"
“What does an SEO agency actually do?”
“Do I need SEO services for my business?”
First things first, SEO is the common abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization and is the process of getting traffic from the “free,” “organic,” “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines such as Google and Bing.
Since SEO is so necessary for any sort of online marketing success I would like to explain exactly what a SEO company (or at least one like mine) actually does.
What should an SEO company really do?
Many people don’t even understand what goes on at an SEO agency, but after reading this article hopefully they have a better idea of how much a decent SEO company or freelancer is actually doing for their clients.
Hiring a legitimate SEO agency is important to any business because over 90 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine, and almost 50 percent of people click on one of the first three listings they see in the search results.
I said a “legitimate” SEO company because in the online world there are two general types of SEO: black-hat SEO and white-hat SEO. White-hat SEO gains search rankings based on actual hard work and data. Black-hat SEO involves shady methods that can get you to the top, but not for long—and these tactics are are usually damaging to your long-term presence (more on that later).
What goes into white-hat SEO? Well, there are a couple hundred factors that go into what makes a page rank high in the search results, but the ones that matter the most (and the ones white-hat SEO revolves around) are:
- Whether or not your website is secure (HTTPS vs. HTTP)
- Whether or not your websites is mobile-friendly
- How fast web pages load on your site
- Whether a web page has the correct schema markup (type of website code)
- The quality of your web pages’ content
- The length of your web pages’ content
- Presence of social signals that point back to your website
- Presence of quality backlinks that point back to your website
- Whether or not you have optimized images on your web pages
Services that should be included when you hire a SEO agency
The factors mentioned above are influenced by a few key SEO services, any good SEO company should at least include the following services:
- Website structure analysis
- Website content analysis, including conversion rate analysis
- Off-page online analysis
- Optimization of website code and structure
- Optimization of onsite content
- Optimization of off-page factors
Website structure analysis
Google and the other major search engines primarily want sites designed for users rather than search engines but it still needs to be structured properly for the engines to read if you ever want to get those users to begin with. Things an SEO looks for include:
- HTTP or HTTPS – The “s” at the end of HTTPS means your website is secure. You need a secured site even if you don’t take credit card payments online because Google gives secure websites preference in the search results.
- Analytics setup – Check for existing analytics tracking, and if there is none, install it to better track where leads and sales are coming from. Analytics are crucial for helping provide the most meaningful results.
- Robots.txt – This is the file that is used to prevent search engine crawlers from crawling and indexing pages on your website that you want hidden from public view.
- Site errors – These send signals to search engines that your site is not trustworthy and thus not worthy of being a premium listing spot. Common errors include 4XX errors, duplicate page content, duplicate title tags, missing title tags, and crawlers blocked by Robots.txt.
- Sitemap – Your XML sitemap is a list of all the pages on a website that you want a search engine to index (not to be confused with the robots.txt which tells a search engine which pages not to index).
- Meta elements – Duplicate title tags, meta descriptions, and site content can all negatively impact your site’s search engine rankings and click-through-rate. Ensuring your meta elements are optimized will improve your chances of being found on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
- Conversion rates – Check for bottlenecks in the user experience and any content that might be limiting leads. For example, A:B testing different contact forms or links can help find out which ones work the best.
Checking out the content you already have on your site can help to diagnose a number of issues related to:
- Duplicate content issues
- Missing pages
- Name, address, phone number inconsistencies (for local SEO)
- Poorly targeted keywords
- Poorly ranking content
- Voice search compatibility
- And more
Your website content is the most important thing you can have since it’s what will attract visitors and convert them to leads. So having an idea of the content you already have helps determine how to structure the plans for your website strategy. Performing a keyword analysis is very useful for finding good opportunities to rank higher and connect with more customers.
Much of the SEO success will actually take place off your website, on review sites, industry blogs, online directories, and more. The good news about that is that if you’re really popular online or have lots of awesome reviews from past customers, it’s easy to rank really well for your targetted keywords. The bad news however is that most small companies aren’t that popular and some may have more negative reviews than positive, no matter how good their services really are.
So, once your entire website has been audited, turn the attention to what people are saying about you. This includes finding mentions of your site across the web and seeing what can be adjusted to your advantage. If there are negative reviews, respond to them and hopefully make amends with the customer. The goal is for you to have a reputable online presence that users trust and we use the following tools to get there:
- Content focused on locality
- Consistent NAP across every listing
- Authentic reviews, marked up with schema
- Reputable directory listings
- A mobile responsive website
- Increases in organic traffic
- Authority building measures
- Unique title tags and meta descriptions for each product and service area
You would be surprised by how theses little things can make a difference when you’re trying to expand your web presence online.
Optimizing code and site structure:
If your site code and structure is in already good then it's likely it will only need a few minor tweaks. If your site needs more of an overhaul then an SEO team will optimize your site code and structure but more importantly, they should:
- Structure your site’s navigation so it’s easy for people to find exactly what they want
- Clean up the code in your site so it runs faster
- Eliminate errors Google picks up when it crawls
- Add an XML sitemap so Google’s crawler can quickly visit the different pages
- Add internal links to pages within your site so users can flow to the places you want them to go
Optimizing on-page content
Content is king but when it comes to maintaining a website, it’s not just a one-off job. You can’t just create landing pages and assume that’s all there is to it. To consistently drive highly desirable organic traffic to your website, you need to constantly be creating new, meaningful content as well as regularly optimizing the existing pages on your website. A legit SEO agency will:
- Remove or rewrite duplicate content
- Place keywords in your page titles to help Google rank your pages
- Add well written, keyword rich copy to underperforming landing pages
- Create new landing pages to draw in other visitors
- Add images, format text, and change colors to entice more visitors to convert
Optimizing off-page factors
Off-site presence is just as important as any of the on-site factors. A SEO company will work to:
- Use local SEO tactics to improve your position in the search results for local terms
- Find directory listings of your business online, verify them, and update them to make sure they contain accurate information
- Seek out new, valuable directories to list your site on
- Submit press releases about new services your company is offering and other newsworthy items we come across
- Discover noncompetitive blogs in industries similar to yours for whom we can write guest posts in exchange for links
SEO is more than just making the previously mentioned changes to your website. Making all those changes would be pointless if the data is not analyzed. Collecting data and understanding what is means is the central component in a good SEO's workflow, throughout this process they will:
- Monitor rankings, traffic, and conversions on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis
- Use the data gathered to determine which of the above items will help your site most
Should you hire an SEO company?
If you meet any of the following requirements listed below, then you need to hire an SEO company:
- You want to grow your business
- You currently don’t know how your website is contributing to your bottom line
- You want to be found in a newly expanded market area
- You want more people to call you than your competitors
- You want more leads
- You want more sales
- You want to differentiate yourself from your competitors
- You want to ensure your company’s future
- You want to outrank your competitors in the search results
How do you find the right SEO company for your needs?
An SEO partnership is a long-term relationship, so you need to be sure of who you’re choosing. Remember the black-hat techniques mentioned earlier in this article, you are definitely going to want to avoid those at all cost.
- Overnight rankings
- Doubled traffic
- Instant leads
- X amount of backlinks
- Any sort of ROI projections
You can certainly find promises that claim to give you some or all of these but you’ll regret it later when the results aren’t what you expected.
How to spot a black hat SEO
Red flags should go up anytime an SEO expert makes claims about getting results in X amount of time. The SEOs that give the industry a bad name use “churn and burn” practices, generally involving cheating the search engine rankings by:
- Creating fake news in order to spam links
- Using a computer program to generate tons of crappy web pages
In some cases these techniques do work but the problem is that Google slowly shuts them down. If you have never used black hat SEO on your website you have nothing to worry about but if you have you should strongly consider working with a reputable SEO agency that can help clean up your site so you don’t risk the chance of getting penalized by Google.
Also don't do business with someone that insists on owning the copyrights to the meta data they create, edit, or analyze. If they have this right assigned to them, they can legally bar you from using it if you choose to discontinue their services.
What to ask SEO agencies before hiring
Before hiring anyone, do a little research. If lots of people have had issues with a SEO service provider then there is cause for concern. The following questions can also be very helpful for finding a good fit for your business:
- What’s in your current contract? Re-read the contract. What does it include? When does it end?
- What’s the process if you cancel? Sometimes you won’t gain access to your website or you’re tied into a contract you didn’t know had an end date.
- How will you communicate and how often? Set expectations early, otherwise you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
- Do you have full access to your site and Analytics/Adwords accounts? It’s helpful to know who has FTP access, CMS access, Analytics access, and AdWords access.
- Do they provide guarantees? A good SEO company doesn’t usually offer any because of all the frequent changes in the world of SEO and because each client site is different. If a company does offer a guarantee you need to consider that a red flag!
- Have they done work like this for any businesses similar to yours? This is important, different industries have different nuances and SEO requirements, which means you need to find an SEO provider that knows your specific industry.
- What contracts and options are available? How do you determine the right budget? Depending on your starting point, goals, competitive landscape, and internal capabilities. Specific strategies can have varied levels of effectiveness in certain indusrties and niches, there is no one-size-fits-all solution so the best SEO companies tailor each strategy for each client.
- What are the fees and payment options? You need to know every single aspect of what you're expected to pay for, otherwise you might have some work withheld because you didn’t pay for particualr services.
Hopefully this article will help you find the right SEO company that is a good fit with you and your organization. If you happen to be looking to hire someone for SEO then please consider Raven Web Services.