Finding & Working with An SEO Agency
If you are a business owner trying to grow your business using your website, finding and working closely with a top-rated SEO agency for your business can be one of the best marketing decisions you could make.
You can really power up your marketing strategy and get more sales with almost no extra work or expense if you understand some core concepts of how search engines work.
This guide will give you an understanding of
- How search engines work
- And how you can work with your SEO company to increase leads and sales.
NOTE: If you want to skim the article to quickly find out what you should do, take note of the highlighted recommendation in each section.
The Starting Point: Your Goals Vs. The SEO Agency’s Goals
As a business owner, when you think about hiring someone to do your SEO you are probably thinking you want more business… leads, sales, appointments, etc.
However, when you talk to your average SEO firm, they want to talk about getting traffic to your website, improving your rankings in the search engines, and making your company more “visible.”
On the surface, it seems logical that if you get more traffic to your website, you will get more sales. But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen all the time.
We have seen companies getting thousands of visitors to their website, but the business is starving for sales. People get to the website and don’t book an appointment. They don’t buy the products and the phone doesn’t ring.
Then the business owner starts blaming the SEO agency for not doing their job.
But making the phone ring was never the SEO company’s job… at least from their perspective.
If you don’t have this conversation about your goals vs their goals during the early stages of SEO Planning, there can be a major disconnect that more and more business people are getting wise to.
RECOMMENDATION: Have a clear conversation with your SEO firm so you know what to expect and they know what to deliver.
Are you in the process of hiring an SEO Agency?
Check out this Google Search Central four minute video full of tips for choosing the right SEO company:
What Is SEO?
Traditionally, SEO means Search Engine Optimization. But these days, marketing competition is demanding much more than optimizing just for the search engines.
In ancient times (10-15 years ago) life was easy because people would get so excited when they were able to find what they were looking for by simply typing in a few words into a search engine.
Search engines would simply match the words used in the search box with the words on the website and people would be satisfied with the results displayed.
At a base level of understanding, a search engine is just a computer. Programmers set up a criteria of when to trigger results. The more of the criteria your website triggers, the better your chances that your website will be shown to the searcher.
So historically, “search engine optimization (SEO)” has been about figuring out what criteria the search engine is looking for and providing those elements on our client’s website.
Why Search Engines Don’t Like Certain SEO Tactics
In the past, the search engine computer’s logic was so simple: the more keywords on your website and web page that matched the search, the higher up your website would be shown in the search engine results page (SERPs).
Based on this, SEO companies started “stuffing” the page with keywords for the search engine computer to scan but they provided very little value for the human being doing the search.
This made the searchers very unhappy. They couldn’t find what they were looking for and had to wade through many spam websites all the time. It was very irritating.
Because of this, people started to leave the search engine, looking for another way to do a search.
This was a problem. In response, the search engines started looking for ways to provide better quality results for their clients (the person doing the search).
Today, SEO is still about satisfying the criteria of the search engine computer, but the criteria that the computer uses is now very sophisticated. It is designed to prevent manipulation by SEO companies.
Google is the main search engine of choice today because they are able to provide the information people are looking for quickly and easily (in most cases).
Their commitment to quality is so resolute that in addition to using computers to evaluate websites, Google also employs thousands of humans to manually analyze the quality of websites.
You can download Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines PDF training manual for 2021 here.
RECOMMENDATION: The Quality Rater Guidelines is a MUST READ for anyone interested in ranking well on Google or any other search engine.
What Does It Take To Get Sales And Make The Phone Ring?
While the SEO agency is busy trying to figure out what Google and other search engines want in order to show your website to searchers and send more traffic, the business owner is waiting for the phone to ring.
From a business owner’s point of view, you pay thousands of dollars to hire the best SEO agency and you don’t see your sales increasing. So what if the website is getting more traffic? Traffic doesn’t pay the bills!
There are two aspects of getting sales from your website:
- Getting the right people to see your message.
- Having the right message on your website so you get the sale (or lead or appointment).
RECOMMENDATION: Either write the marketing message yourself or get a copywriter to write it for you. Very few SEO agencies will have people competent in creating effective marketing messages. (Our agency, 1st On The List, does have marketing copywriters if you need them).
Getting The Right People To See Your Message
There are three types of traffic that every business is familiar with:
However, on the Internet, there are two additional categories:
- Useless, random traffic
- And ‘Bot’ traffic generated by spam-bots
If the SEO services agency is successful in bringing buyers to your website you might get some sales if your messaging is right.
But, unfortunately, most of the traffic online is not buyer traffic. So, through SEO, you might start getting more traffic to your website and the SEO company can say they did their job, but you won’t necessarily see much ROI from their work.
The idea of simply getting more traffic to your website falls short of what the business owner is looking for.
RECOMMENDATION: Track how much traffic you are getting to key pages from relevant keywords.
SEO Strategy To Get Good Rankings For “Buyer Keywords”
A. Keyword Traffic
When a person is ready to buy, they will typically do a search using different keywords rather than if they were “just looking” or researching.
A reputable SEO company will always start by looking for all the keywords associated with the searcher’s intent and their client’s products and services. SEO experts use specialized tools to search the Internet and find what people are typing into the search box when looking for something.
Specialized apps designed for SEO work also help us look deep into your competitor’s website, their advertising, and their social media activity.
The end result is a massive list of keywords.
From this list, an SEO agency makes a short-list of the keywords that are getting traffic.
Typically, most keywords don’t get a lot of traffic, so they are eliminated from the initial planning.
Low traffic keywords can be very useful in some strategies, so we put them aside for the moment, but we don’t forget about them.
B. Keyword Value
Next, the SEO company looks at the advertising value of each keyword on the short-list.
When people advertise online, there is a “cost per click” (CPC) associated with the ad. There are companies that provide data for SEO companies where they provide CPC data for us to use.
C. Keyword Competition
This is an indicator of how easy or difficult will it be to rank for a particular keyword. Knowing how much SEO has gone into ranking for a particular keyword helps us develop a better strategy.
D. Keyword Ranking Strategy
When doing search engine optimization, it is important to build up some “momentum” in terms of traffic, rankings and “authority”.
The strategy used by your SEO agency is to first optimize the website for the easy to rank keywords that will provide some traffic relevant to the business.
As the website starts ranking for the easy keywords the SEO strategy is to start optimizing for higher traffic, more relevant keywords. These keywords are not necessarily buyer keywords, but they could be.
Buyer keywords usually have a high “cost per click”. These are the toughest to get good rankings.
High traffic, relevant keywords are also harder to rank for. Ranking for high traffic keywords means your business will get more exposure to your market. It is worthwhile to rank for these keywords if they are closely related to buyer keywords.
Ultimately, the goal is to dominate the search engines for at least the buyer keywords and the high traffic keywords. The work that goes into ranking for the more difficult keywords will automatically get us good rankings for hundreds of lower traffic, low competition keywords.
Even though there is not enough value in these keywords to warrant an SEO focus, they are an important source of sales for a business.
The starting point is to build up the “momentum” of the website by ranking for lower traffic, low buyer intent keywords. As Google realizes that we have a good website, they will push our website higher and higher until we successfully beat the competition and get the good rankings that can make the phone ring and get sales.
Getting the right traffic is a good start, but it is still not enough to make the phone ring.
In addition to getting the attention and respect of the search engine computer, you still have to make your “message” attractive to the human doing the search.
RECOMMENDATION: Get a list of target keywords, in order of priority, from your SEO agency and build content around them.
Using SEO To Maximize Buyer Traffic To Your Website
Google is continuously trying to make it as easy as possible for people to find exactly what they are looking for, without having to try different keywords, the first time they do a search.
With this in mind, they have different ways of featuring the answers they think people are looking for in the search results.
From an SEO perspective, in addition to trying to rank as close to the top of the page as possible, we try to also get a good position in the following places where Google will feature your website:
- Organic “Blue Link” Results
- Above Paid Ads
- Local 3 Pack
- Knowledge Graph and Knowledge Panel
- Image Pack
- Video Pack
- Featured Snippet
- Shopping Pack
- News Pack
- Jobs Pack
- People Also Ask
It is possible to get into the “featured” part of the search results by using SEO strategies and great content. Competition for these spots is very tough but when you get into these positions you will have a big, unfair advantage over your competitors.
Paid ads placements are not based on SEO, but a well-designed paid ad campaign requires a comprehensive strategy based on thorough keyword research. SEO firms are experts in keyword research so it would be good to have your SEO agency work with the person designing your ad campaigns.
RECOMMENDATION: Get your SEO company to make a list of content for you to provide, so you have a chance of ranking in the featured areas of search results.
Crafting The Right Message To Get More Traffic,
Higher Rankings & More Sales
Google relies on “feedback from the customer” (the person doing the search) to help decide if your website deserves to get traffic and good search engine rankings.
Here are some examples of what Google and other search engines are looking for:
After someone does a search they skim through the results and figure out the one they are going to click.
Google shows your website in a prominent position and watches to see if people are clicking on your website listing in the search results.
If you get a higher number of clicks than the competition, the search engines will move your listing further up the page. A lower number of clicks will move your company further down the page.
It is important to get the right messaging in the search results that Google shows. We don’t have total control over what they show, but good SEO practices will often result in an attractive message that people are interested in clicking on.
After they click on your link and get to your website, does the person immediately come back to the search results and select another website to click? If they do, then obviously, your website was not a good fit for the searcher.
When this happens, Google considers that they have failed their client. They take this very seriously. If people keep “bouncing” back from your website, Google will learn that your website does not offer good value for their customer (the person doing the search).
RECOMMENDATION: Create a message on your website that your prospective client will want to dig deeper into.
If the searcher clicks on several links after being on your website, then does a different search, then it’s not so bad for you. It wasn’t necessarily your fault; the searcher just didn’t know what to type in to get the result they wanted.
On the other hand, if the searcher goes back to the listings and finds another website without doing another search, Google feels they have won. They succeeded in matching the searcher with what they were looking for, but your website was not a good fit.
Assuming you would be interested in the person that found a website that gave them what they were looking for, you have a messaging problem that should be addressed.
If people keep leaving your website and finding another site that satisfies them, Google will send you less traffic and put you lower in the rankings.
RECOMMENDATION: If you are in this situation, it looks like either the keyword is wrong for your business or there is something wrong with your message or the presentation of your message on your website. Try to figure out what the searcher is really looking for when they type in that particular keyword so you can satisfy their need.
After they click on your website from the search results, if they spend some time scrolling through your content, clicking the links on the page, filling out a form, watching a video or taking time to explore several pages on your website, that is a win for Google.
Your website will be rewarded with higher rankings and more traffic.
Search engine optimization is a combination of marketing and computer-based optimization.
RECOMMENDATION: When you design the message for your website, it would be good to include the SEO agency in the process.
Your SEO firm will help optimize the message to make it attractive to the search engines on the front end so humans like what they read.
The SEO company will also build the infrastructure in the back end to help search engines understand the messaging more easily.
We use several different types of coding in the front end that people see as well as the backend to help search engines understand who to show that page to.
Every year professional SEOs look at the top 200 variables that affect website rankings and traffic. This is an effort to figure out what SEOs should be doing to rank websites.
However, despite all efforts to make ranking in search engines predictable and reliable, some websites keep showing up in top positions when others are far better optimized.
We call this “accidental SEO” because Google’s computer was triggered without the logic we would normally expect.
The reality is that no one, including Google, really knows how their computer algorithm will react to the variables for any one website or any one strategy.
Of course, there are some “evergreen” strategies that usually work, but there are so many exceptions that no experienced SEO will ever guarantee a specific result.
Here are some examples of websites that got top rankings when all logic would indicate they shouldn’t have.
1. Radio Commercials and Newspaper Articles
I was presenting to a law firm and found out that he liked to do quirky, funny radio ads. He said he got a lot of business from this approach.
In my mind, a lawyer should be trying to build authority by presenting expertise, but according to him, his silliness on the radio was working very well.
After the appointment, I started looking into how his website was ranking for the most competitive buyer keywords. Amazingly, he had not only the top position, but often several top positions on the same page.
In addition to radio ads, he was also often interviewed in the local newspaper, so his website and his name were prominently featured on the news media blogs.
An organized SEO effort would have gotten him good rankings for more buyer keywords and his overall traffic would go up substantially. But he had “accidentally” achieved an enviable position in the search engines for a few high traffic, high relevance keywords on his own.
Press releases and getting articles on media websites is an important part of offsite SEO. However, few people use them effectively because accessing press release distribution networks can be expensive and a “proper” press release SEO strategy involves sending out several press releases every month.
After the press release is published if you don’t do the follow-up work you are not likely to get good results. Follow-up work involves strategically sending backlinks to each page where the press release has been published. This is another time-consuming task that is not affordable for most companies.
In addition to distributing and supporting the published press release we would also publish several key URLs to our network of branded high SEO value websites.
In this case, the Radio commercials triggered the most important SEO signal – people typing in the name of the company to do a search and exploring the website when they get there. That was enough to get a good amount of traffic that would end when the radio commercial stops running.
A properly executed press release SEO campaign would result in improved rankings for several months for a much broader range of keywords.
RECOMMENDATION: If you have the budget, include press release marketing in your campaign.
2. Facebook Lives
My daughter started a company and asked for my help in promoting her website through SEO. I gave her a list of things to do on her website and suggested that she should do a live broadcast on Facebook every week.
She spent some time designing the message on the home page of her website so she gets phone calls when people were interested in her product but didn’t do anything else that I asked her to do.
After the website was ready, she hired some people to do interviews on Facebook Live… with no optimization of the video, the Facebook page, or her website.
Within a few months, she had the top ranked website for all the important buyer keywords and a huge following on Facebook.
Facebook “Lives” and YouTube “Lives” can do wonders for your website, but again, a more organized SEO effort will result in rankings for a wide variety of keywords and longer lasting rankings for targeted keywords.
RECOMMENDATION: Do “Live” broadcasts on social media once a week if at all possible. There is no cost except your time. When combined with SEO on your website, this strategy will help you dominate your niche.
3. Facebook Posting
I was trying to rank a hardwood floor installation company. After working on it for several months I really hadn’t achieved the success I expected.
Finally, I created a Facebook page and started posting. All of a sudden, the website was ranked everywhere. The phone started ringing!
Normally, social media posting is not really a ranking factor in search engines. However, in this case, Google did not respect the website until it saw legitimate posts on Facebook.
I had done everything to build authority for the website, but it took just a handful of posts on social media to tip the scale in Google’s algorithm.
Even though social media posting is not an official Google ranking factor, it can play in important role in the overall evaluation of your business by their algorithm.
RECOMMENDATION: Post something interesting on social media at least once a week, for SEO purposes.
4. YouTube Videos
YouTube is actually a very good way to build authority for a company. But it is considered one factor of many in Google’s algorithm.
A friend of mine was successful in ranking his client in top positions for the most competitive keywords in a very short period of time just by publishing videos, and no other SEO work done on the website.
When I asked him what the secret was, he said “lots of videos!”
Since he didn’t implement an organized SEO strategy, I say he “accidentally” found how to trigger Google’s algorithm through videos.
There are a lot of things to optimize on videos and YouTube, but I don’t think he did that. Just publishing interesting videos that people watch is a huge SEO signal. It was certainly enough to get to the top in a competitive niche, in this case.
RECOMMENDATION: Look into YouTube strategies to grow your business.
5. Google Posts
People have been doing Google Posts for several years now. It has never been a ranking factor in the past. However, a few SEO experts have found a way to use Google Posts, Google Drive, and GMB websites to get great rankings for local businesses.
Doing normal Google Posts still is not a ranking factor, but if you do the Posts in a certain way, in combination with a few other strategies, it is possible to get an advantage over well-established competitors.
We classify this as an “accidental” result because it is very atypical. This strategy is still “under the radar” for most professional SEO companies.
6. Paid Advertising To A Custom Landing Page
I was running a paid ad on Facebook for a client. The product required a relatively long explanation of what it was and what it could do for the target market.
We got a decent number of people to go to the special landing page from the ads, but when I looked at the statistics I found that Google was sending three times more traffic to the page for free!
This was completely unexpected because I had not done any SEO work on the landing page.
The reason I think it got Google’s attention is because I had already optimized the company’s website. Google found the page on its own and saw that people were interested in it. This was enough for them to send a few people to the page. When they found that people were spending time on it, they started sending a lot of traffic.
Can I do SEO by myself?
Yes. Of course, you can. But understand that SEO is a specialization, like engineering. There are many things to learn and many more things that you get better at with experience. And like in any profession, things are changing rapidly and you need to be able to keep up with the changes in order to continuously produce results.
At the end of the day, you have to figure out if your time is better spent doing SEO or working on your business.
If your time is better spent doing SEO, then maybe you should be in the SEO business!
If you do decide to do SEO yourself then I suggest taking some good quality courses.
A lot of people read a few articles, maybe watch a few videos and if they are really serious, they might invest $97 in “all-you-need-to-know” SEO course. Or, sometimes they buy a software or two and think it will help them get good rankings and traffic to their website.
Not a good idea.
I have bought many of these courses, watched the YouTube videos and read the “Ultimate Guide To SEO” articles. They are great, if you already have proper training in SEO, because they give you an idea of the different things people are trying to get rankings.
But if you just rely on random articles and inexpensive courses you are likely to miss a lot of the details and end up with misunderstandings that could cost you permanent, or at least long-term damage to your reputation with the search engines. By the way, I have done that too, with some of my own websites…I never do anything risky with client websites.
Having said that, I don’t want to discourage you from getting educated on the subject.
The reason I don’t mind is because if your business is too small to hire an SEO agency like 1st on the List, then I will feel good that I have helped you. However, if your business can afford a quality SEO company, then it will make it easier for me to explain what I am doing and how I can benefit you.
Here are some free SEO courses that are good quality:
These are great courses, but you will learn a lot more when you start applying the techniques, buying their software and using the data. If you want to get serious about learning SEO I would suggest you purchase some good quality courses in addition to going through the free ones.
SEO is more of an art and skill than simply acquiring knowledge. So, as you start applying what you learn in the courses you will start to see the subtleties.
The subtleties are what separate the top professionals from the rest. Google really appreciates subtleties. They often ban and delete websites from their database that use SEO strategies incorrectly. The same strategies produce good results when used properly.
Google and the other search engines really don’t want you to do SEO that violates their policies because it interferes with what they are trying to achieve with their algorithms.
The problem is, the Google algorithm may place my client’s website ten pages in when someone does a search. We want to rank on the first page of a Google search where our customers can find us easily.
So, the goal of SEO is to work with the Google algorithm more creatively and effectively than our competitors. It is certainly not easy and Google changes their algorithm often.
SEO Marketing – The New Paradigm
There are two things to consider:
- What is the webpage really saying or doing?
As Google’s algorithm has evolved, they do a lot of granular tracking of websites. They want to know as much as possible about your website in advance so when a person does a search, they can display the best website for their purposes.
- What does the person doing the search really want? What is the searcher intent?
Google also tracks people’s activities on the Internet and tries to build a profile that they use to provide the most appropriate search result for a specific individual.
If two people are doing the same search, potentially, Google will show two completely different search results, based on their understanding of who you are and what they think you want – what your intent is.
This level of tracking opens up whole new frontiers in SEO and marketing:
Providing the right content on your website is now more important than ever. You have to consider the human that will be reading or interacting with the page as well as Google’s understanding of what is on the page.
Google is looking for content that demonstrates Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (EAT). Humans will engage with this type of content…they will scroll, read, click, and share. Google tracks all activity on and off your website.
Your SEO company can help Google understand what is on the page by how the information is organized and presented on the front end of the page, that humans can see.
The SEO agency can also create coding in the backend of the page that is specficially designed to communicate with Google’s computer.
Both the front and back end of the page need to be optimized properly.
RECOMMENDATION: Try to really understand what your prospective customer wants and provide it for them on the web page associated with the target keyword for that page.
Instead of just focusing your website on the people who are ready to buy now, it is a smart idea to “make friends” with people while they are in the “just looking” or in the research phase of the buyer’s journey.
Creating content that takes a person step by step from “looking” to completing the buying transaction is a very effective way to organize your ideas. This is called a content funnel.
When Google sees a person going from one page to another on your website in sequence, it checks off a lot of Google ranking factors.
Your SEO agency can set up the coding and other aspects of the content funnel so Google gets involved in pushing as many people as possible in the right sequence through the content funnel.
A properly executed content funnel will attract a lot of traffic from a wide variety of keywords that you may not even have thought of because Google likes them so much.
RECOMMENDATION: First, create content for the person who is ready to buy right away. Then create content for the person doing research. After that, create general content to attract casual “lookers” on your website. Content funnels are very effective with people in the research phase.
The purchase transaction can involve lead generation to a sales page, to up-sells, down sells, cross-sells and more. This is called a sales funnel.
Your SEO professional can help you create a more efficient process for people who come across your website in the search results. This will help you get more sales and, in the process, give Google the right signals so they send you lots of traffic.
RECOMMENDATION: Find out from your SEO company what keywords you should create content around to attract people to your sales funnel. Then create good content for each keyword. Your SEO agency will then be able to give Google the right signals so they understand which page is important and useful for searchers.
SEO Marketing is just beginning to come out. If you are a serious marketer, it would be a smart idea to hire an SEO agency that has marketing savvy SEO professionals.
Is It Worth It To Pay Someone For SEO?
You likely find yourself in one of three boats when it comes to hiring an SEO agency:
A. Successful business with a marketing budget.
If you have a successful business and want to make it more successful, then you are likely to benefit from hiring a professional SEO agency.
SEO is the cheapest advertising you will ever do…it’s grossly undervalued compared to other ways of advertising. I have a client that is paying Google Ads five times more than he is for SEO services, and we are generating 72% of his leads on average.
Properly done SEO will definitely help you get more clients and sell more products at a far lower price.
B. Startup business with a limited marketing budget.
If you are just starting your business and don’t have a lot of money, spend most of your time and money in hiring someone to develop an SEO friendly website. Add at least 30 pages of darn good content that your prospective clients will find helpful.
This will get you started with some traffic and likely, some sales too.
Once you can afford to hire an SEO company, read this guide again to find the best SEO services agency for your business.
C. Self taught marketer working to build your business.
If you have been doing SEO yourself, and you can now afford to hire a quality SEO company, do that. You will be surprised how many things you never thought of and the mistakes you made because of the Google algorithm updates.
All search engines change their algorithm hundreds, if not thousands of times during the year. Small changes in the algorithm add up over time. What used to be a good practice can be all wrong if you don’t keep up with the changes.
A professional SEO company will go through your website in detail and bring it up to the current standards needed to succeed in a competitive marketplace.
If you’re considering hiring an SEO agency to help improve your online visibility, then it is crucial that you know what questions to ask them during the discovery phase. Here is a list of questions to ask every SEO company that you interview.
What About Cheap SEO Services?
Whatever you do, please, don’t hire a cheap SEO firm or get “a guy” to do SEO for you. (Read about our detailed article on the ‘True Cost of Cheap SEO‘)
A lot of companies, even fairly big ones, make the mistake of hiring under-qualified SEO companies. After trying a few times, they finally come to us and we end up spending a lot of time cleaning up the mistakes and errors.
There have also been times when we have recommended that they scrap their existing website and get a fresh start with a new one. This is because of the damage done by other SEO companies. It would just be too difficult to bring the site up in rankings. A new website is the way to go when it can save time and expense.
Our clients are often delighted how quickly we were able to succeed where others failed.
There is definitely such a thing as a “professional” SEO agency. It is worth your while to hire the best SEO firm for your business.
Watch Out For SEO Guarantees!
Lately, a lot of SEO companies have been guaranteeing #1 rankings and doubling of traffic and other such things.
There are tricks that amateurs and SEO hacks use that will get you temporary rankings and lots of useless traffic to impress you, but this is a mistake! As soon as Google figures out what has been done, they will likely blacklist your website and push your website down even further than it was.
Focusing on tricks to get “quick” results and strategies that don’t provide value for Google’s clients (the person doing the search) can have long term negative effects on your website.
Mistakes can also be unintentional. Google often changes their algorithm and people who don’t do SEO as a profession may not realize it. When these strategies are implemented, you can lose all your rankings and traffic plummets. Then, regardless of what you try, you are not able to get it ranked.
Top-level SEOs have repeatedly learned this lesson over the years. Because of this, we NEVER, EVER take chances with our client’s website. We do experiments on our own websites and keep our client sites absolutely safe.
Make sure you only hire an SEO agency that practices “white-hat SEO.” You definitely don’t want to hire an SEO company that does “black-hat SEO.” My suggestion is to never even do “gray-hat SEO” on client sites.
It’s just too risky. All SEO work on your website should be “squeaky clean”, even if it takes a bit longer to get the results we want.
When you are running a business, you can’t afford to lose your main source of new business (your website).
Don’t trust guarantees. Avoid SEO companies that make specific promises.
It is impossible to know exactly how a search engine will react to SEO attempts. There are too many variables.
Professional SEO agencies only use recommended SEO best practices, but there is no guarantee that they will work every time, in every situation.
A properly executed SEO campaign involves a comprehensive, holistic approach to improving rankings and traffic. Given a little patience, we can produce very good, long lasting results.
There are a lot of misunderstandings regarding “backlinks” so it deserves a separate section on its own.
One reason for the misunderstandings is that people can profit from advertising link building services but they can’t profit from on-site SEO. Onsite SEO has to be done by the SEO agency that has access to the backend of the website.
Backlinking services are heavily promoted online in articles and ads, so many inexperienced SEOs start to believe that backlinking is the most important search engine ranking factor. It’s not.
On-page and on-site SEO is far more important, to the extent that many times we don’t even need to do anything in terms of backlinks and we still outrank powerful competitors.
Having said that, backlinks are still an important part of SEO.
What Are Backlinks?
One important indicator of quality is when one website refers to another website as a resource for the topic they are discussing on the page. This involves putting a URL on their page that points to another website.
These URLs are called “backlinks” because these links are referring ‘back’ to the website the SEO company is working on.
How Do Search Engines Use Backlinks?
Initially, when the search engines started using backlinks as an indicator of quality, they simply counted how many links were pointing to a website. If one website had more links than another, it was pushed up toward the top of the page in the search results.
Based on this observation, SEOs started building massive amounts of random links to websites to get good rankings. But this was bad from the consumer’s point of view because all kinds of unrelated content and spam content started showing up in search results.
When Google found out what was happening, they started banning websites and deleting them from their database. Unfortunately, a lot of good websites were taken down along with the bad ones.
SEO agencies really learned a lesson from this.
Good quality references to a website are still considered good backlinks and Google will reward your quality content with higher rankings.
But they want the references to your website to happen “organically.” This means you are not allowed to purposefully build backlinks to your own website, under threat of a Google penalty.
So, good backlinks are still a strong ranking factor, but they have to be natural and relevant to your website.
Over the years, definition of “natural” and “relevant” has changed often. One year Google says one type of link is just awesome, and the next year that same type of link becomes poison to your website.
With this in mind, SEO companies are very, very selective in what kind of backlinking activity they do for clients.
How Do SEO Agencies Use Backlinks?
Some links from directory websites are ok for local businesses. Links from relevant articles and videos on quality websites can be ok in some cases. Many types of news media websites can link to your website… this is a tricky one since there are a lot of spammy news sites. Getting a link from them might not be in your best interests.
There are many types of backlinks. Professional SEOs avoid most of them because they have seen Google change their mind often.
But since backlinks are still an important ranking factor, we do use them sometimes…but very selectively.
Fortunately, our agency offers a link acquisition service for companies that qualify for the service. It is a 100% merit-based approach to building links and is handled by a highly qualified SEO professional. Most of our clients do not need this service and so it is reserved for only very specific situations.
Inexperienced SEOs and underpriced SEO services are notorious for building all kinds of backlinks because they can use software to build thousands of backlinks with very little effort. This is called backlink spam.
Sometimes the strategy works in the short-term but ends up being a liability in the long term.
If you come across an SEO agency that puts a lot of emphasis on backlinks, I would avoid them.
A few (not many at all) selective, very high-quality backlinks is the way to go, generally speaking.
There are strategies where we can use ‘fairly’ high-quality backlinks but we never point them directly at the main website.
Technical SEO can make a tremendous impact on rankings and traffic. Typically, the work is hidden in the coding of the website as a whole, as well as individual pages.
When done properly, Google will prefer a technically sound website over great content for the consumer.
Of course, it is in your interests to have great content as well. That’s what makes both Google and your customers happy.
Most SEO companies don’t have the technical background to fully understand technical SEO. Because of this, our agency can often outrank established companies in competitive niches in a relatively short period of time.
Understanding technical SEO will require some serious study which is beyond the scope of this article. The following is an overview of the subject so you have at least heard of some of the issues that can come up in a technical SEO audit.
Basic Technical SEO
At a minimum, the following must be addressed on every website:
- SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) – is a security technology which creates an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. I have seen where a basic level of SSL is applied, but in many cases it can be optimized further so Google and other search engines trust your website.
- Mobile friendly website – There are several ways of doing this. The simplest is to add a short code to the website so the website content adjusts to the various sizes of mobile phones.
This can be a good start, but the user experience is not very good in most cases because your website won’t look good or behave properly on the different sizes of mobile devices.
Detailed “programming” is required to make the website look good. That means all the elements of the site are the appropriate size, shape, in the right spot and they actually work.
RECOMMENDATION: Make sure your website looks good and works properly on all sizes and brands of mobile devices.
- Site speed – This is a big deal nowadays. If your webpages take a long time to load, people will click away and go to a different site. Search engines will refuse to show your website if it takes too long to load compared to your competitors.
One thing that people don’t realize is because the Internet is changing so quickly, every website naturally becomes less and less capable of loading quickly every day.
You should have someone look at website loading speed at least every six months to make sure your it is still competitive.
RECOMMENDATION: Check the loading speed of your website at least every six months. Make sure your website loads quickly on all devices, especially mobile devices.
- Duplicate content issues – Search engines don’t like it if you have the same or nearly the same content on several pages. Every page should be unique. Your SEO agency will run their software through the website, locate and, with your help, fix all the duplicate content issues.
- XML sitemap – A lot of SEO companies know about this, but not necessarily in detail. You can get software that indexes your website and makes it easier for the search engines to understand what is on the website.
Where people go wrong and miss opportunities for optimization is they don’t address the different types of files used to build the website.
All the different types of files and content should be listed in the XML sitemap in the proper format that Google likes.
More Advanced Technical SEO
The following SEO elements are not necessarily difficult, but do require a more mature understanding of how Google and the search engines “read” the website.
Through proper SEO we can give more or less importance to different elements, different pages and messages. It’s a way to make sure the important messages on your website get maximum exposure…you’ll get more sales if your SEO agency does these things properly:
- Site architecture – Your site structure is how all of the pages on your website are organized. A good site structure makes it easy for Google and other search engines to crawl 100% of your site’s pages.
A messy structure usually creates “orphan pages” (pages without any internal links pointing to them).
A poor site structure is often the reason Google ignores important pages or is unable to see them, so they never show up in a search.
- URL Structure – Putting your pages under different categories gives Google extra context about each page in that category. This can have a BIG impact on your rankings and traffic.
There are several ways of categorizing topics on a website. Clear, understandable coding makes it easier for Google to understand the content on your website.
- Breadcrumbs Navigation – “Breadcrumbs reduce the number of actions a website visitor needs to take in order to get to a higher-level page. They improve the findability of website sections and pages.
Breadcrumbs are also an effective visual aid that indicates the location of the user within the website’s hierarchy, making it a great source of contextual information for landing pages.”
Advanced Technical SEO
‘Advanced’ technical SEO just means a properly done, thorough optimization of a website that makes it easier to understand for both humans and search engines.
Following is quick list of some things in addition to the above that should be optimized on a website, from a technical standpoint:
- Implement structured data to define the content for search engines.
- Eliminate thin content.
- Identify the language of the website using Hreflang.
- Use canonical tags to help search engines find the right page.
- Eliminate 404 error pages.
- Properly redirect missing pages using 301 redirects.
- Utilize txt to define what content search Engines should index.
- Fix HTTP errors – These errors can impede the work of search bots by blocking them from important content on your site.
- Check server performance – Websites are stored on a server. If the server is slow, it can greatly impact your rankings.
- Internal and external linking plays a big role in establishing the authority of your website.
- Content clusters are a powerful way to clearly let Google know that you are an authority in your field (so they send you more traffic).
- Optimize for Featured Snippets – Google often features content so users can quickly and easily find what they want. This is easily the most clicked content in any Google search.
You can go to this website for more information on Technical SEO.
How Much Does Quality SEO Cost?
When you sign up for SEO services there is usually some initial work to do to prepare your website, research the competition to figure out how to beat them, set up tracking and analysis systems.
Your SEO agency will estimate what work needs to be done on your website to bring it up to the point where SEO activities will be successful and quote a price.
We find out a lot of things after we start digging into your website. Sometimes the initial estimate needs to be updated to cover unexpected situations.
The initial setup process usually takes about four months. Sometimes it can take longer.
This process is often enough to see some increases in traffic and search engine rankings.
After the setup we start working on other factors like backend on-page optimization, content optimization, content structure, on and offsite linking… depending on the strategy that we created in the initial setup.
It is difficult to put a number on what it costs, but at the time of writing this article, as a general guideline, setup can cost somewhere between $1,000 to $2,500+ per month for the first 4-6 months.
After that, anywhere from $500 to $1,500+ per month for small to medium sized cities for local businesses and $1,500 to $3,000+ per month for larger cities.
Frankly, these are just made-up numbers. The cost of SEO agency services depends on how hard they think it will be to improve the rankings and traffic for the client. If there is little to no competition in your niche SEO can be very inexpensive. Every situation is different.
Also, as businesses are becoming aware of the power of Google rankings, they are hiring SEO agencies. So, when one professional SEO company is competing with another, there is certainly more work involved. As the work increases, SEO costs must follow.
RECOMMENDATION: Every business needs to do some advertising. SEO marketing is the foundational at this time, so don’t be afraid to allocate enough budget to hire an SEO firm that can get you good results.
What To Expect From A Professional SEO Firm
A professional SEO agency will build “equity” into your website.
They will do things that Google likes. Because of this, Google and other search engines will give you great exposure in their search results to a point where ranking for more and more keywords will become almost effortless.
Your website “asset” will generate more and more leads, appointments and sales.
After the initial setup that can take 3-6 months, you should see a little improvement. From that point, we continue to optimize the website and off-site factors to improve rankings for keyword-based searches.
There will be ups and downs in traffic and rankings, but generally, month over month, year over year, you will see an increase in traffic and sales.
We may start with ranking less competitive keywords that attract a small amount of traffic or are not necessarily the best “buyer keywords.”
What we are trying to do is to “brand” what your website is about in Google’s computers. Gradually, we will start ranking for the high traffic, buyer keywords.
As we continue to work on the website, traffic will start coming from hundreds of keywords that we did not even intend to rank for. This is because Google is starting to see your website as an authority in the niche.
This is “equity” in the business. When you become the authority in your business in Google’s eyes, they will show your website in prominent positions almost all the time, by default, even if your website is not optimized for those keywords. This is because they now trust you more than any of your competitors.
Building “authority” or “trust” is one of the most important things a professional SEO agency does for your website.
What Does An SEO Company Actually Do?
We have already covered many of the things an SEO services company does, but there is more.
Let’s analyze this article to demonstrate a few more of the kinds of things an SEO agency does for you and how you can help them.
Engaging and Quality Content
This article has just over 9,400 words. Why such a long article? Google gives great rankings to content that thoroughly answers all of the searcher’s questions. We call it “cornerstone content.”
Successful cornerstone content that attracts traffic from the search engines is usually 7,000 to 10,000+ words long. In the past Google was happy with 2,000 word articles, now 2,000 words is pretty-well a minimum for serious articles, from Google’s point of view.
Cornerstone content satisfies many of Google’s ranking criteria:
- People scroll down the page
- They click on things
- They spend a lot of time on the website
- And they usually don’t have to go back to Google to find their answers
Sending people to cornerstone content is a big win for Google!
Since Google and other search engines are always looking for the most authoritative content, cornerstone content is more likely to rank well.
Long, informative, well written articles are shared far more often than shorter articles…another Google ranking factor.
When you create an awesome, informative article, people like to link to it in their own articles and on social media. Google loves natural backlinks to quality content.
When researching this article, for our purposes, the main keyword was SEO agency. SEO services was a close second. Other related keywords are SEO company, SEO firm, Google, search engines, keyword rankings, and more.
You will notice that I have used the main keywords often, but did not do “keyword stuffing” where the article becomes artificial and unreadable. I also used several versions of the main keywords and keyword related to each topic covered in the article.
From Google’s point of view, keywords will naturally be used when writing about a topic. This is not necessarily true, but since this is an important ranking factor, I made sure to us as many related keywords as possible, throughout the article.
Additional SEO Activities and Tactics
There are over a dozen other SEO components integrated into this article to promote its visibility:
- Outgoing links are provided to high quality websites that can help the reader.
- Internal links are provided to informative pages on our own company website.
- Headline format is quite important. We have featured a main headline, then a couple of layers of sub-headlines in many parts of the article.
- Good sentence and paragraph structure, and easy to read wording…not too much jargon or big words.
- Short paragraphs, short sentences and short clusters of content separated by headlines. Google wants people to be able to find what they are interested in quickly and easily.
- Images are included in the article. Each image has been optimized for rankings.
- Videos are great to have on a page. The video on this page was optimized before uploading.
- YouTube embed – Google loves YouTube (because they own it). For SEO purposes, if you embed a YouTube video you will get “points” from Google.
- Audio download link. When you make a video, strip out the audio so people can download the article to their phone or other device. Not everyone has time to read articles.
- YouTube channel optimized – An optimized YouTube channel is an SEO asset for the website.
- Article posted to social media – it is a great idea to post your articles to social media. When Google sees people coming from social media to your website they will consider your website more authoritative.
- Article posted to Google Posts – This is great for SEO.
- Questions using “schema questions and answers” format, coded in the background – When you answer important questions on your page, proper formatting increases the chances Google will feature it in search results.
- Researched questions that are already ranking, and provided better content than others – To further increase your chances of being featured, find out which questions Google is already featuring and provide a more thorough and complete answer.
- Answer several related questions in the same article.
- Provided a clickable table of contents at the top of the article to make it easier for people to go directly to the section they are interested in.
RECOMMENDATION: Do as many of the above things as possible on each page of your website. Get ideas from your SEO agency what more you could do to increase the value to search engines. Your SEO services agency need content to work with. Give them great content that your audience will love!
Key Takeaways to Better Your SEO Agency Relationship
- Become familiar with the basics of how SEO works and the purpose(s) behind proper SEO so that you can…
a) select the best SEO company and
b) understand the principles of what they are doing.
- Choose a trusted SEO agency that you can rely on to perform long lasting, white hat SEO strategies that will continually build your brand and grow your business over the years.
- Set very clear goals for your SEO Agency that are related to sales and business growth and not necessarily just traffic volume and rankings.
- Pursue additional digital marketing and traditional marketing activities (like radio ads and Facebook Lives) in order to encourage brand recognition and strengthen and support your Google rankings.
- Stay committed to the process of SEO, ask your SEO agency questions, and be ready to see an increase in customer inquiries and sales.
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