To many small business owners, finding affordable SEO services means one a thing: a headache. Considering how full their plates are, the last thing they want to have to deal with is a war on the internet. And that’s essentially what SEO is. On the surface, consumers don’t see any signs of it. They just google away and eat up the 1st page content. But there’s a war being silently waged by competitors big and small, all of whom are vying for their audience’s attention.
When business owners first start getting a grasp of the complexity of SEO, many realize that the most reasonable solution is to hire an SEO firm to take care of the heavy lifting for them. Given the time commitment required to perform good SEO, this will usually be the most expeditious solution. This is especially considering the variety of help one can find nowadays. Unsurprisingly, SEO companies are numerous and extremely competitive.
Unfortunately, corner-cutting frequently goes hand-in-hand with competition in service industries. Further, when it comes to SEO, the deck is unfairly stacked against the consumer. SEO companies typically won’t make guarantees, so if you pay and don’t get any better results, no one is on the line but you. Further, the responsibility to determine if your SEO services company is following good practices (white-hat) rests with you as well. And if google gives you the dreaded manual penalty, even if it’s your SEO company’s fault, you’re the one that pays the price.
So in order to protect yourself, start by educating yourself. The following are 5 things that your SEO would rather you not know.
1. One size doesn’t fit all
Many larger SEO companies will upsell you six ways to Sunday. They’ll give you overly complicated and/or smart-sounding pitches filled with popular buzzwords to get you hyped about add-on services. Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re wrong. But no two businesses are exactly the same and SEO services don’t have to be one size fits all.
Many local businesses function on a strictly local level, and would experience no tangible benefit from ranking for keywords on a national basis. Example: If you run a dog walking business in Brooklyn, what good would it do you to rank for the term “dog walking” on a national scale? The majority (if not all) of your relevant and desired search traffic would be from local customers. If an SEO services company had you on a comprehensive package, 9 times out of 10 you’d be overspending. Returns begin to diminish after certain target markets are hit by achieving 1st page SERPs.
Some SEO companies that focus on local business will hit a lower price point but still be able to provide safe and google-friendly SEO services that would be a better value proposition for lots of small businesses.
2. Some SEO companies DO offer guarantees
These are a little rarer and harder to come by given the nature of SEO. However, some SEO firms have figured out some innovative ways to offer various forms of guarantees for customers. With any luck, this is a trend that will continue to grow in popularity and more SEO services companies will get on board to help protect consumers.
RankPay was founded in 2007 as the first pay-for-performance SEO company to offer a guarantee of its kind: “if you don’t rank, you don’t pay”. There are some other firms that offer similar promises. As with any other purchase decision, do your homework!
3. Traditional forms of advertising are still important
Many SEO firms would have their customers believe that print and other traditional forms of advertising are a waste of money. “Those resources would be better spent on a content marketing package” would be a standard refrain to expect. While content marketing is huge if you’re in the right vertical and your target audience can be acquired and monetized through a solid inbound strategy, traditional advertising can still be a business owner’s best friend.
Don’t underestimate the power of a solid print ad campaign, whether it be in the local newspaper, magazines, or direct mail.
“A study, conducted in 2012 by Dynamic Logic on behalf of the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA), measured the total increase in purchase consideration/intent for a variety of products. The results? Television [ads] accounted for a 30% increase, online [ads] tallied 13% in increase, but, dramatically, magazines represented a 56% increase. In other words, magazines blew the other two media away in driving positive shifts in intention to buy.”
4. You Can and Should Monitor What Your SEO Company Is Doing
While many SEO’s would prefer to keep their methods, strategies, and resources entirely under-wraps, the majority of their actions can be observed by their customers. As I mentioned above, the burden of knowing if your SEO services firm is behaving ethically rests with you. Knowing that, you have every right to investigate their activities and make sure that what they’re doing for your site/s is both up to snuff and kosher.
A simple backlink analysis will usually be enough to tell if your SEO company is getting you spammy links, or working hard to get quality links through legitimate means. PBN’s (private blog networks) get busted by Google literally all the time, and you don’t want to be a part of that. Eric Enge wrote an informative article on Search Engine Watch that will help you understand how PBN’s work and how to spot them for yourself.
With a little diligence and the right tools (Ahrefs) you can pretty easily make sure your SEO firm is doing their job and not putting your online reputation and rankings at risk.
5. SEO starts with your website and not link building
Link Building used to be the number one way to get strong SERPs fast. Nowadays, on-page content is more important than ever. There are a variety of things to know about it, but let’s just cover the basics.
Google’s most recent algorithm updates have all lent increasing weight to the relevancy and age of the content on a given page. It is possible to rank with poor content with some extremely strong links, but in general, you won’t be working with such high-tier links. Even generally strong links will not be enough to bring a poorly structured page to the top (or even first page) or SERPs for any even remotely interesting keywords.
Site structure needs to be clearly and sensibly organized, and should be closely integrated with a keyword strategy. You’ll want to make sure that your entire site is crawlable by all major search engines, and further that all the HTML follows best-practices. These things all matter because the easier it is for google to categorize and sort the data from your site/s, the happier google will be with your site/s. Happy google means a happy SEO customer.
You’ll be able to find a variety of great resources online to help you accomplish this, but to get started, check out how to do a 5 minute SEO audit of your website courtesy the brilliant folks at Search Engine Land.
Knowledge is Power
Armed with this knowledge, go and re-examine your SEO services provider (if you have one) and come to an honest determination if they’re worth your time and money. If not, cut your losses and move on. You’ll never suffer from lack of choice when looking for SEO services, and your rankings could be right around the corner!