SEO should do more than generate leads and customers – what about branding and overall marketing strategy?
Wellspring Search content manager, Laura Pajaro, covers in detail how Wellspring Search leverages SEO to build brands and improve the customer experience and user experience for client websites.
Laura demonstrates how Wellspring Search’s Local SEO efforts have not simply propelled them to #1 spot in Gettysburg PA where they also have an office, but why gaining that #1 slot in Google has helped improve their agency’s image in the minds of customers looking for a partner who can demonstrate they get #1 ranking results.
Your brand also lives in the mind of customers, no matter what you may think about how your brand has been built, ultimately it is the people who interact with you who define what your brand is. Ranking highly in search engines, particularly Google, helps build this brand identity in the consciousness of consumers, irrespective of whether they are already customers or not. There is an implied boost to your brand if Google ranks you as #1 for a search term input by real users, and Wellspring Search demonstrate how they leveraged SEO and achieving #1 ranking for a local Gettysburg term has contributed to their branding efforts in conjunction with content marketing and outreach.
Laura also looks at why a good SEO partner will also tackle improving your User Experience (UX): the things that make it easier for website users to contact you (and become a lead) or actually buy from (and become a customer). The article also shows how improving UX leads to improving the overall Customer Experience (CX), and all by leveraging SEO as a key marketing strategy component.
Spending more money on lead generation & marketing is not always the right answer – spending your money smarter is
by Karl Hindle – Founder of Wellspring Search
My marketing strength is SEO, Content Marketing, and PPC (especially Google AdWords), so I have a digital bias, but with that admission out of the way, let me get to the meat here.
How can you increase your lead flow right now without increasing your marketing spend?
This is going to apply to 99.99% of businesses right now – you have multiple marketing efforts in flight, both online and in the real world, and your metrics may look good or bad compared to prior year or prior period results.
If down – do you need to spend more money?
Possibly – impossible to say right now.
If up – can you readily explain why you are up – especially so you can do more of the good stuff?
Maybe, but probably not.
Irrespective, you haven’t worked out makes for a good marketing balance across all the channels you are active in right now, and this is something I see almost every time I sit down with a prospective client – even at enterprise-level.
What do I mean by a good marketing balance?
By this I mean, have you coordinated your paid search with seasonal promotions being advertised in the local press, radio, or TV?
Are your SEO strategies working in conjunction with your PPC/Paid Search campaigns?
Do you have a logical schedule of promotional events and strategies, with collateral prepared in advance, and direct marketing supported by your digital presence and vice versa?
If I visit your website, navigate through to your Facebook page, catch your TV ad on cable, will I see a continuity and uniformity of the message you are pushing to me?
In other words, have you looked at how different marketing and promotional channels work in unison, not as standalone campaigns?
For the vast majority of readers, you are going to say “No!”
But how different marketing channels work together can make the difference between making and breaking your business.
Drawing from personal experience, I find Social Media campaigns to be great ways to improve awareness and branding, for acting as a sound board with potential prospects and the market generally, and for getting in front of a potential train wreck when it comes to dealing with customer complaints.
But, I do not find Social Media to be a goldmine for lead generation for most businesses (unless you are selling something that lends itself to social sharing).
I see a lot of ROI from lead generation campaigns using Social Media – most of it is negative!
So, on the face of it, we should can Social Media for not delivering ROI – right?
What I also find with Social Media is that it is used a great deal by prospects who do become leads, but come in from another marketing channel, e.g. SEO or PPC, touch Social Media profiles as part of the “can I trust this business” process they make, and then come back to the website for more research before hitting the CTA.
Prospects are checking you out on Social Media as a ‘trust’ validation exercise, so while I do not credit Social Media with the actual lead generation, it deserves credit for helping to move prospects through the funnel, to the point where they follow your Call to Action and turn from prospect into a lead.
This issue applies to every marketing channel you are using – how do specific activities contribute to your lead generation, as opposed to which activities are getting the credit.
Working with Google Analytics and Google AdWords, we can see the interaction across digital channels much more clearly than when TV, radio, and direct marketing is in the mix. It is possible to gauge the value of marketing activities that look like lead generation dogs in terms of creating leads, but are in fact lead gen stars as they assist prospects to make the leap in contacting you.
Your challenge is to unlock the data you already have (and you have a lot you may not realize) and see how channels are interacting and helping each other (or not).
Spending more money is not always the right answer, and optimizing your marketing balance will not only cost you less, but give you visibility into what is actually working well for you and why.
There are lots of reasons why a website ranks the way it does, but not getting to #1 means you are missing out on a whopping 33% of the clicks available for that search term. Being ranked #1, #2, or #3, means you get to participate in the lion’s share of clicks, and the higher your website rankings, the more relevant traffic you’ll attract to your website. Being anywhere but on page one for search results, puts you in the desert where business websites die of thirst for search traffic. But, no matter the fact you have a brand new website that looks shiny and all, you cannot find your site in the search results, even though the web developer said they used all the best SEO practices for the coding.
What is going on?
The common reasons I see for why a website is not ranking well are:
Your Website is Not Indexed
When a search engine, such as Google, analyzes and ranks web pages which it is going to then display to whoever searches on it, it has already ‘seen’ the website and captured a snapshot of it in its data storage, and we call this the Index. If you are not in the data store aka Index, then you do not get to compete for a ranking spot.
One of the first things I look at when I am conducting a website audit is whether your site’s code and setup encourage being Indexed (you may hear webmasters talk of being ‘crawled’). Sometimes code is included which tells search engines not to look at your website or include it in the Index, and this is a common developer technique to stop a search engine from Indexing the site while it is being built (you don’t want people looking at a partially constructed site thinking this is the best you can be).
Sadly, this ‘no-index” or “nofollow” code is frequently left in there by mistake, leaving website owners scratching their heads as to why they cannot get the website to rank. A quick check is to try googling your website address in the search box itself (not the browser navigation), e.g. “www.mywebsite.com” – your home page should show up in 1st position, and if not, there is a problem.
“Content is King” is a popular SEO refrain, and you must have good content on your website, both for search engines, and more importantly, real people. Search engines will look at your content to determine what the site is about, and especially what keywords you are relevant for.
If you are selling children’s clothing on Market Street in Frederick, then your content should reflect this, or you will find it very difficult to rank for “children’s clothing Frederick MD” as a search term. Your content needs to include keywords that will help you gain higher ranking for search terms, and this is where you need to perform keyword research to identify popular search terms which are commonly used. (Your SEO should be able to do this for you, and they should have access to keyword tools to identify the search terms, the traffic potential, and how difficult it will be to compete for the ranking spots).
Once you have keywords, you incorporate them into your content, but don’t just think of words; you also should include content that delivers value using other media, such as images and graphics, audio, and video. All of these can be optimized on your target keywords, and having multimedia does help your human users and will help you gain higher ranking in search engines too.
Video in particular is a relatively quick way to yourself ranked highly, but you cannot take just one approach, and always remember that ultimately, you need content created for people, not search engines.
Inbound Links or Backlinks
This is a big one: when a website links to your website, then generally this is taken as a vote of confidence that you are a relevant, quality website. The more backlinks you have from other, different websites, the more trust and authority you create for yourself.
I frequently find that backlinks are either non-existent or low in number, because there is no formal SEO strategy in place, or lots of backlinks, but of the wrong type (which can be very damaging).
I am not going into technical issues here, this is for business people and marketing-types trying to come to grips with the problem, not qualify as a technical expert!
The bottom line is that if you have few backlinks, or backlinks of the wrong type, you are going nowhere fast (except down!)
Cut & Paste Content
Originality is crucial for ranking in search engines – if you are simply cutting and pasting content from somewhere else, either someone else’s website, or another site you own, then this is duplicate content.
Duplicate content will not rank!
Your website content must be original, and you should check to make sure it is – you can use a free tool such as Copyscape to help you check on this for yourself.
Now here I make a distinction between the regular competition you face in the ‘real’ world, and online competition for rankings in search engines. Your biggest competitor may be the company down the street, but for ranking in Google, the competition may be someone on the other side of the world.
What counts here is who are you competing against to get ranked for your keyword terms.
Personal injury law firms tend to be a very competitive arena, as do car dealers, so if you are new or just recently started a push for SEO rankings, you may find you are making very slow progress. Your progress is slow not because you are doing something wrong, you’re just not doing enough to make a dent in the competitive advantage those above you have created with their SEO – you need to do more.
Conversely, you can have very little competition for rankings, and with relatively little effort, you can find yourself rocketing to the top if you get your SEO right. Remember, SEO is played out in a dynamic environment where Google makes continuous changes to how it ranks web pages, and your competition is not standing still either, plus how your target market behaves will also have an impact too.
Budget & Know How
You need to know what you are doing.
It is not enough to blog, use original content, or create backlinks (of the right type) – there is a lot more to SEO, and it is easy to do more harm than good.
A commercial website should not be entrusted to amateurs, no matter how gifted.
That throws you into the hands of the professional SEO, either in-house or an external firm such as ours.
Either way, this also means budget.
Too little budget means not enough work is going to get done to get you moving up the rankings. You must also be prepared to commit to SEO as a discipline and process which will continue for some time, and certainly I recommend you should test it over 6 months as a minimum and then assess the results. If you are not in this in a serious fashion, and for the long haul, then save your money and get out of trying to gain high rankings in search engines (but lose the tried and proven opportunity for great results we all know are there).
I recently had a conversation with a company marketing shelters (such as the shelter you stand under if you are waiting for a bus or a cab at the airport). They could not understand why they did not rank for shelter-related keywords, so I took a look and had a consult. They had had an SEO firm in to do some work, but after 6 months there was little to show for it, so I asked, how much were you spending because my concern was, I couldn’t see any progress on SEO factors I would normally expect to see.
My surprise quickly turned to understanding when the marketing lady advised me that the monthly budget was $200….
You can hire a company in India or the Philippines for that, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Poor Website Rankings Takeaways
Check your site is indexed in Google – if it isn’t, you will never rank for anything;
Put relevant content on your website, backed by the best keyword research you can find;
Backlinking is important, but it must be of the right type, quality, and quantity – never hire an amateur to do this, or you’ll be paying my children’s college fees to unblock the mess!
No duplicate or copied content – your website must use unique content;
Competitors are not standing still and they are running SEO too – you have to do enough SEO to overcome and rank past them; and
Budget – SEO is not the cheapest nor the most expensive, but you will get what you pay for.
If you would like to discuss your own situation, or you are looking to engage an SEO, PPC company, or digital marketing agency, then call me, Karl Hindle, on (240) 415-6191 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In this post I’m going to outline the organic ranking factors for local SEO – these are the actual ranking results (SERPs or Search Engine Results Pages) you see when you perform a search. These are not the factors to get you listed in the Snack Pack or Local Stack listing, and I’ll cover these off in my next post.
For now, we’re dealing with straight forward, local SEO ranking factors, and I’m only handling the top 5 (there are plenty more).
Local SEO Factor #1 – Domain Authority
Domain Authority (DA) is a metric developed by Moz, and is a popular measure of how well a website is likely to rank in the SERPs. Factors taken into account include the number and quality of linking root domains and various backlink measures, as well as quantified measures of trust and predictive ranking capability.
DA is measured on a scale of 1 to 100, and it uses over 40 weighted metrics on website health to come out with a number. This is a logarithmic scale, so it is easier to go from 10 to 20 than it is to go from 70 to 80, i.e. the higher you go, the harder it is to advance again. DA values are updated once a month on average, and while I don’t personally put a lot of weight into this metric on its own, it is very useful when comparing against other competing websites.
If this sounds like gobbledygook, don’t worry as even experienced SEOs have their mind boggled over what is going on with this. The bottom line is it’s important to gain some measure of what Domain Authority is for Local SEO in a competitive environment, and understand what the level of effort is going to be to get your business ranked.
Local SEO Factor #2 – Quality of Backlinks
I keep hearing about how backlinking is dead, or even worse, bad for SEO rankings. I’d like to dispel that myth completely: if you have online competing websites, then backlinks are a major part of what will cause one site to rank over others. You need backlinks, but it is not a case of sheer volume of links, but rather the quality of them that are inbound to your website.
Earlier this year, there was a Q&A talking heads session with Google’s Andrey Lipattsev who flat-out confirmed backlinks are one of the top 3 ranking factors for SEO (not just Local SEO). For the tech heads reading this, here is a link where you can find Ammon Johns, Bill Slawski, Rand Fishkin, and Andrey Lipattsev discussing this: click here for Search Engine Watch article.
Quality backlinks will come from relevant websites, from sources which are local to your area of service and operation, and from websites which themselves have a good level of DA.
The problem for many business owners is how to generate these links, and sadly, many providers claiming to understand and offer local search optimization services don’t know how to do it either. Backlinking is a disciplined and labor-intensive exercise, and you really need to know what you’re doing to generate results, but ultimately you need them to compete in search engine rankings.
Local SEO Factor #3 – Google My Business
Google My Business (GMB) is a Google-owned property which requires you to go through a physical verification process (you register and a postcard with a verification code is sent to you at that address). This demonstrates you are a legit business, and that the address you provide is real and you’re there, and with that address you boost your local credentials for Google.
Make sure you claim your GMB listing and go through the verification process, but be ultra-careful that you use the exact spelling of your business name as you do for everything else, and ensure that you use a local telephone number instead of a toll-free one (the area code is a further check on your location).
Local SEO Factor #4 – Click Through Rate (CTR) from Search Engine Visitors
No matter where you are currently ranking in the search engine results, the rate at which users click through to your website compared to others listed is a measure of how relevant your site is. Google published an article on their blog about this, and then very quickly took it down because it was giving too much of the Google algorithm away, but fortunately Barry Schwarz over at Rusty Brick managed to capture a copy of it.
You want to optimize this not just to grab the optimization benefit, but because this means real people looking for your products and services are going to be visiting your website in greater numbers.
Ensure you have well-written meta descriptions, which provide a succinct explanation about the web page being listed, and are usually displayed by Google in the search results. You have 160 characters to do this, and you need to include Calls to Action (CTAs) to entice the user to click on your listing rather than the competition.
Local SEO Factor #5 – Topical Keyword Relevance of Website Content
If you want to rank for “Frederick Family Dentist”, then it makes good sense to include the keyword phrase on your web page, and talk about what this means – assuming you are in fact, a family dentist based in Frederick MD!
If you are selling banking services, it would make no sense to talk about dentistry on a ranking web page – you would be talking about banking services!
There is also more to ranking than simply focusing on a keyword or phrase. Google in particular, is very good at identifying synonyms and semantics. Taking our Frederick dentist example, we could also ensure terms associated with a dental practice are included on the website too: “sedation dentistry”, “oral surgery”, “dental hygiene”, “children’s dental services”, and so on.
Negative reviews are not pleasant, and in my experience when your business is seriously focused on delivering good customer service, a negative review is like a public slap in the face. There has been some movement to control what customers say about a business after the sale, including a highly controversial use of penalty clauses in the sales contract.
The bottom line is “No!”
If you do use them in your terms of service and sales contracts, then (a) they are likely to be unenforceable; (b) they are very likely going to land you in a lot of trouble with the online consumer community if you try to use them; and (c) the practice is illegal in California, and thanks to federal legislation awaiting the president’s signature, it will shortly be outlawed across the country.
Palmer v. KlearGear is the leading case on this: in 2014 a federal judge ruled in favor of a couple from Utah, who bought from an online retailer. The items were not delivered, so they left a negative review on RipoffReport.com detailing what they felt was very poor customer service.
KlearGear then demanded $3,500 based on a “non-disparagement clause” in their terms of service agreement, even going so far as to set a collections agency on the couple.
By the time this case got into court, KlearGear decided not to contest the lawsuit and allowed a default judgment to be entered against it, landing the company into a host of problems with garnishment of assets and levies on credit card receipts.
There have been similar instances with hotels and wedding planners, but all of this is about to become illegal.
Spurred on by the KlearGear case, California enacted legislation banning fines or penalties for leaving a negative review. Now, the federal government is all set to follow suit with bipartisan legislation only waiting for signature from President Obama – The Consumer Review Fairness Act (CRFA).
CRFA will prohibit and void any contract provision which seeks to restrict or prevent customers from leaving any type of review. In addition, it will cancel out any financial penalty or fees who post online reviews, and places enforcement powers into the hands of the Federal Trade Commission, including issuing penalties on businesses who violate CRFA.
Dealing with Negative Reviews
Negative reviews do happen, and there are ways to deal with them.
First, ensure you are providing great customer service and communication is key with this. That said, at some point someone is going to be unhappy no matter what you do, and it is so very easy to go online and complain.
When a negative review is issued, having them removed is almost impossible – freedom of speech and legal protections for publishers who are not liable for what customers write on their websites.
My advice when receiving a negative review is to respond initially in a way that shows you are listening to what the customer is really saying, and offering to make good whatever the complaint issue is about. Sometimes the customer has valid feedback, but equally they can just be having a bad day, or be a jerk with too much time on their hands. Once you have offered to work out the issue, it’s out of your hands – do not under any circumstances act defensively, or do things such as demanding the removal of the offending review – this just makes you look like the guilty party looking to brush things under the carpet. In fact, once you have offered to rectify the issue, the only reason to make any further comment is to show you have dealt with the problem, either fixed the issue, or made your position clear you don’t feel they are justified (I once had a client with a bad review, where the complainant demanded $10,000 to remove her complaint of being given a dirty glass in a bar). Beyond that, I would not recommend any further online commenting or involvement, because this adds fuel to the fire and helps gain wider exposure for the negative criticism, justified or not.
You should look at the feedback to see if it is justified, and take corrective action to prevent it from happening again. When negative reviews are complaining of the same things, you quickly will get a deserved bad reputation, whereas a one-off is more easily dismissed.
A reputation management specialist will be able to help you reduce the impact and exposure of the negative reviews too. This involves promoting good news about you online, and relegating the bad to deeper within the search engine results, or elsewhere on Social Media. Be careful though, as this can get very expensive very quickly and mishandling negative reviews can blow up in your face – just ask KlearGear.
The motivation for writing this post is I was asked if it was a good idea to abandon an old website and put up a new one on a new domain, and what would the SEO impact be. Well, age is one of the major components for gaining the trust of a search engine, in particular Google. Think about why that might be for a moment: as an SEO, I cannot manipulate age, it is simply a function of time, so Google is able to trust that whatever the age is of your website, then it is a credible metric because it is ‘pure’. If we are looking at age in isolation, then in this case, Google would choose an old hag of a website over a new, pristine model – looks are meaningless when you are dealing with a search engine algorithm.
Google places trust in age because it is a sign you have a credible, legitimate website that is not looking to deliver irrelevant results in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
But, there is another important reason why Google puts an emphasis on the age of your website: the lifespan of the majority of websites is measured in weeks, not years. Most sites that are created have a nefarious purpose, to scam users, or to spam them with porn, get rich quick schemes, Viagra, casinos, pharma and nutraceuticals, and a host of generally crappy content.
Millions of these websites pop up, fly for a few days or weeks, and then disappear, and it is an endless process which continually repeats.
Only a small minority of websites actually make it to their first birthday, and being one-year-old is considered a milestone in the eyes of Google.
The older the website becomes, the more it is considered credible and trustworthy, for very similar reasons we as people look to a business that has been established for some time when we are handing over our money.
When I carry out a website audit, the age of the website is one of the things I specifically look for, and see how it compares to the age of the online competition. This helps me come to a reasonable estimate of the level of effort required to get the website to rank in SERPs generally, and particularly to outrank the competition (though is only one of a number of factors that will determine this).
Three Notes of Caution
The Age Clock is Set Against the Website and its Content not the Domain
The age clock is determined by how long the website (and its content) has been in the Index (the database maintained by Google, against which it runs the ranking algorithms).
The age clock is not set against how long ago the domain was registered – Matt Cutts, Google’s anti-spam guru, explains why the myth of aged domains came about in the video below:
This distinction is important because domain resellers try to put a premium on domain names registered years ago and simply renewed, but the age clock doesn’t start ticking until Google sees the website, with content, published to that domain.
Buying aged domain names is a waste of money if you are just looking at buying it because it is old – save your money.
The Age Clock Can Be Reset
Gaining age is a good thing because you’re gaining the trust of the search engines by having it, but while we cannot improve upon the age factor, we can do things that will cause the age clock to reset and lose the benefit of it.
Things to look out for include, changing domain ownership, or a major website rebuild that take the content off the previous theme of the site.
The impact of losing the benefit of age in the eyes of Google can be extremely severe, especially in highly competitive environments.
Buying an Aged Website for SEO
Rather than buying an aged domain name, you may be tempted to buy an aged website that has been around for a while. This can be a great tactic, as you have age, plus content, plus you may have a backlink profile already built to provide more trust and authority for the website.
But you must check what you are buying and the history of the website. Spammers are known for buying defunct websites precisely because it is easy to get it to rank for other search terms. For instance, buying a pet accessories website, but instead of selling pet stuff, they will re-purpose the website to offer porn, pills, or casinos, or at least they do until Google catches on and takes action to classify it as a spammer. The spammer then puts the site up for auction, typically replacing the bad content with the original theme, or simply sells the aged domain after canning the content.
Along comes a clueless buyer, thinking they are getting a deal when in fact they are buying a toxic dump that will leak hazardous waste all over their efforts and web portfolio because you are now the owner of a known spam website (but don’t know it).
In this instance, Caveat Emptor – buyer beware! Always check what you are buying when it comes to domains and websites, because not only can you buy a lemon, the fact you own the lemon can have a severely negative impact on other websites you own and operate (if Google identifies a spam site, it will seek to identify the owner, and once it has done this, it will then look at every other website that person is associated with).
Age is one of over 200 factors used by Google to generate the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
The older your website and its content is, the better.
Credit is given for the content on the website, not for the domain name – buying an aged domain name for the age is a worthless exercise.
Be careful with age, as you can unwittingly lose the value by allowing a domain to expire, changing domain ownership, or fundamentally changing the character and content on the website.
About Karl Hindle
Karl is the founder of Wellspring Search, a digital marketing firm serving Frederick MD and the surrounding area – if you have any questions you would like to ask, you can call him on 240.415.6191 or email him at email@example.com
He has over 15 years of SEO experience, formulating and executing SEO and PPC campaigns for a wide range of businesses and organizations, at local, regional, national, and global levels.
He is certified by Google in both Google Analytics and Google AdWords (including Video AdWords) – click the image below to see his profile on Google Partners website.
SEO is a powerful digital marketing technique, and one for which many businesses will pay a premium to be able to leverage. There are also no qualifications to start up in business as a digital marketer, or optimization specialist, and certainly none as an SEO agency or practitioner. So with almost no barriers to entry, almost every business you can see a lucrative prospect, and with a lot of money to be made, it is no surprise that there are a lot of SEOs who will happily pitch like a champion, but can barely find Google online.
How do you know you are getting a search optimization specialist that really knows what they are doing, and will actually properly execute on the work, and deliver results?
I’ve been on the agency side of the table for over 15 years and also acted as the in-house expert helping select vendors, and I’ve heard some good questions and some really bad ones. I’m drawing on my experience working for clients, the challenges I faced when choosing vendors myself, and my own opinion based on knowing what I do about SEO.
So, I’m going to suggest you include these 3 questions for prospective SEO partners, and see what they come up with.
Question #1 – Do You Offer a Guarantee for Rankings?
This separates out the vendors after money from those who have a deeper understanding of SEO, the purpose in asking this question is to help you create your vendor shortlist.
If you are told by anyone that they will get you to #1 in the search engines, or even guarantee you will get to the first page, then shut that conversation down fast!
The reason I am so emphatic about this is that the only person who can guarantee you will get to #1 on Google is Google – and they don’t do SEO.
SEOs, even the most experienced ones, may have some understanding of what factors are taken into account for search engine rankings, but they do not know all of them, and in any event they change constantly. Also, where you rank is also determined by how well your competitors are doing with SEO too, and that can also come down to size of budget, experience of their SEO practitioner, and things such as how old is your website. None of which makes it possible to guarantee you will get ranked, nor how long you will stay there if you do.
Any SEO or agency claiming you are guaranteed to get to #1 is either (a) flat-out lying to you, or (b) they are so ignorant about SEO you cannot trust them to actually do what they claim they can do.
Wellspring Search has a high rate of success at generating high rankings and increasing website visitors, but we can never guarantee you a #1 ranking, and neither can anyone else.
Question #2 – What Experience Do You Have with SEO and With My Type of Business?
Really, this is two questions – how much experience have you got with SEO, and how much with my own niche.
Let’s take the first one first: how much experience as an SEO do you have?
SEO is a strange brew of creativity, technical expertise, current knowledge of search engines and behavior, and the ability, discipline, and resources to execute and to be effective with SEO.
Someone who has spent a year reading about SEO may know enough to put their foot on the gas and go faster, but they will not be able to steer, nor will they be able to brake if they are doing something that is adversely affecting the website health.
I think a good yardstick is that you are looking for someone with at least 5 years as a practitioner, and ideally with multiple disciplines under their belt in addition to SEO.
My reasoning is that firstly, they need to have a good grasp of the SEO fundamentals in action, and also have encountered situations where things do not go according to the original game plan. Secondly, they need multiple disciplines and skills because SEO is about combining a multitude of tactics and strategies to get to the desired outcome, and you need the ability to look up and see the bigger picture. It’s no use getting to #1 for a keyword term, but overall you have ignored all the other rankings and now see a drop in visitors and ROI.
The second question is experience in your particular niche, and I personally love being asked this question because, (a) chances are very high I do have experience working in their niche, and (b) this tends to be a buying signal from the potential client that they are moving to hiring me.
If you ask this question, be aware of the buying signal you are sending out, but that said, you ought to dig into where the SEO firm has gained their experience. If you are in a highly competitive environment, having someone who already knows and understands the general environment within which you are operating is invaluable. For instance, personal injury law SEO is helped enormously if you understand things such as “TBI”, that railroad workers are not covered by worker’s compensation (they have their own federal scheme), or can spell “mesothelioma” correctly without looking it up in a dictionary.
Question #3 – Do You Practice Black Hat SEO?
There are 2 types of SEO – White Hat and Black Hat (and I suppose it is fair to say there are an infinite number of shades of grey in between).
White Hat is ‘good’ SEO and uses techniques that are unlikely to result in you being penalized or punished by the search engines, and they are also unlikely to damage or harm the long-term health of your website and business.
Black Hat is ‘bad’ SEO and uses techniques that are associated with spammers and criminals. While Black Hat can generate very impressive results very quickly, they are almost always short-lived and the benefit disappears very quickly. A frequent results with Black Hat SEO is that your website is penalized causing a massive loss of rankings, and in extreme cases, your website can even be banned.
One word of caution here: Black Hat SEOs will typically deny they are doing the ‘bad’ stuff, while White Hat SEOs will probably know quite a lot about Black Hat simply because they know the rules. Be on the lookout for the former, but don’t discount the latter: at this point you may want to get some technical support in to help you identify who the good guys are and eliminate the questionable from further consideration.
Before hiring an SEO agency, ask questions and lots of them.
The Big 3 for me are:
do you offer a ranking guarantee – a trick question to be sure, but it eliminates the dishonest and incompetent;
what is your SEO experience in my industry – dig into this, you’re looking for broad and deep, including handling things that went wrong; and
Black Hat-v-White Hat – you’ll be looking for a White Hat SEO agency in all likelihood, but dig in to this, there is a lot of Black Hat stuff that goes on under the White Hat banner.
Karl Hindle has practiced SEO and digital marketing for over 15 years both as an external consultant, and as an in-house resource, working with clients such as Colfax Industries, Adidas, Barclays Bank, and Childfund International (formerly Christian Childrens Fund), and a very long list of small and medium-sized businesses, including clients here in Frederick MD who will provide references.
He has direct, hands-on experience working with small, medium, and enterprise-class clients in a wide variety of niches, at home and internationally. Karl is also certified Google for both Google Analytics and Google AdWords (including AdWords Video and Search Advertising).
You’re looking for an SEO company to help you, and we certainly have the skills and experience to do that, but we also like to make sure we’re a good fit for the long haul, so if you answer “Yes” to these 3 questions, please call us:
1. Is your business established?
(We do not take on start-up clients for SEO except in very rare circumstances, but we can help you in other ways so call us)
2. Are you selling great products and services, and have a strong commitment to providing fantastic customer service?
(We have a very strong customer service ethos, and we will not work with clients who don’t care about their own customers or their own reputation)
3. You are a B2B or B2C business in the mainstream, i.e. you do not sell porn or adult-related services?
(We’re asked enough times about this that we want to make it clear, we do not provide SEO or digital marketing services to porn providers, get rich quick schemes, or escort services, so ‘regular’ businesses only please)
If you answered “Yes” to all 3 questions, call us – (240) 415-6191 – because we would love the opportunity to earn your business.