We’re here today to talk to you about what to look for when you’re considering hiring someone to handle your SEO. There’s a lot of subjects that are in the SEO category. It’s a lot of content. We’re going to try to break everything down into a digestible format and here we go. So let’s talk about this. Number one, what services should somebody looking to get into SEO look for? Number one.

So that’s really sort of the black box of the questions because first of all, no two companies, no two websites, no two entities are, are going to be exactly alike. So looking for a Jack of all trades or one size fits all SEO solution can be the first way to throw your money down the drain. These cookie cutter solutions offered at flat rates, they don’t make sense because what someone’s going to want or need is going to be very different than another client. Even if it’s in the same vertical, even if it’s in the same city, the positions are going to be very different and that’s partly based on the content of the website and the type of website and the type of business and the position that the business is in, a businesses is in a growth phase versus an expansion phase versus a startup phase. Their SEO needs are going to be very, very different.

Mike, I am constantly bombarded because of the industry that we’re in, in my own personal Facebook with ads for “for 2.99 we’ll handle all your SEO.” You know what I never see Mike? Is I never see deliverables. What are you actually doing? What are you doing? I see ads. I don’t see any deliverables whatsoever.

Sure. So the first thing to remember is that having a custom solution is going to be key because again, the unique factors of the website, the competition, the industry, the niche, the actual geographic location, the products, the services, what other benefits someone’s business is able to offer, is all going to play into the role of how effective the SEO is going to be and what they can expect out of bringing on SEO services. So what someone should be able to expect when looking for SEO, is going to be a company that’s knowledgeable with onsite and technical SEO, keyword research and analysis, content creation and or optimization, and then link building. Those are really the fundamentals of SEO. SEO has been a buzzword for years, but if you ask someone who is not on our side of the business, Oh, I want to SEO, or what is SEO, they’re not going to know. “It gets me to show up on Google.” Okay, there’s a lot of things to get you to show up on Google, but what’s going to actually drive those results?

Yes. What’s going to actually bring actionable something of a result in a not too distant future when we’re talking about search optimization?

Sure, so the onsite and technical SEO, that’s going to be the first part. That’s going to be what allows Google to understand exactly what’s on your site, what search terms, someone types into Google to get your page to rank. Making sure that technically the right pages are telling Google, “okay, this page is important in this instance” or the hierarchy of the site. The taxonomy really plays a key role into letting Google know what the meaning of different parts of your site and how they play into it. If someone types a question into Google, it needs to understand that it needs to be showing your FAQ page, not your About Us page and that’s really where the onsite and technical SEO again at a very high level, comes into play.

How about, how about the keyword research and content creation aspect of what you had mentioned earlier?

Sure, so you can take a business, maybe a take a tile installer for instance. They could rank for a whole series of keywords, but some of those keywords are going to be more valuable to the business, either more profitable or maybe in a vertical that they specialize in. So if they’re looking for grout cleaning, there’s going to be keywords around grout cleaning, they’re going to be able to help the site rank when someone in a very specific geographic area and someone starts looking for a vendor to come over to clean the tile in their house. And there’s many tools out there that will provide guidance as far as how often certain keywords are ranked. Now, often I see business owners, they have a specific set of keywords that they think are very important, or maybe it’s certain type of lingo or acronyms, but the reality is most of the actual consumers have no idea what these search terms are because they’re looking for a business, [crosstalk 00:04:45] so those terms are not going to be that valuable.

It’s the fundamental hoodwink of SEO in my opinion. People will say, “Oh, this company has this ranking for ABC search terms,” and we’re like, “Oh, okay. But nobody looks for that, so what value is that? Of course you’re ranking for that. It’s the easiest. It’s easiest thing to rank for. [inaudible 00:05:03] no traffic.”

You know, I say this a lot of times with some of our real estate clients, they’ll come in and, and they’ll want to rank for being a realtor in Las Vegas or someone types, “real estate agent near me.” They want to be able to rank. That’s not going to happen. You’re not going to be able to compete with the, the Remax and the Sotheby’s and Compass.

But there are specific search terms that if you know where to look for, you can get a competitive edge. Because at the end of the day, most people are not going into Google, say, “find me a realtor.” They’re going to go in, they’re going to be doing research, and maybe they’re going to be looking at “best places around Henderson.” And if you optimize a specific landing page on your website for the best things to do in Henderson or best schools or reasons to move to Henderson or even comparison articles of why to move to Henderson versus Summerland, in those contexts, those keywords will allow a site to rank and that way you’re not even playing on the same field as 99% of the other real estate agents. You’re going to count on what someone’s actually typing into Google. If they’re looking for a solution on where they potentially would want to live, they’re going to be doing research. It’s not just a impromptu decision and during that research phase is where you can get introduced to them and showcase your brand.

Another main element of what you spoke to earlier was link-building. Can you please educate us about the process of link-building, what it means and why it’s important?

Sure. Link-building is, well, there’s two types of link-building and there’s internal and external. Internal linking is linking your own pages to one another. This certainly helps Google understand how the pages relate to each other, but it also lets users see other relevant content. So if you’re writing, back to the tile installer, if you’re writing about cleaning your tile, you could also link internally to how to clean your grout, because those are relevant, those are related. And someone who’s interested in cleaning their tile likely will also be interested in cleaning their grout.

Mike, how about questions to ask? Let’s educate the audience and say, “Hey, you better come prepared with the right questions and get a satisfactory answer to these before ever thinking to hire any SEO firm or person.”

I think one of the tough parts about being in an industry where the benchmarks are very loose and things aren’t really defined as, here’s the right way to do it. You know, these questions are just as important to asking a potential agency as it is to ask a potential new hire. So the first place that I would personally start would be to be asking the company about their process and execution. Where that comes into play is who’s going to actually write the content? Who’s responsible for writing the content? Who does the editing content? What’s the approval process of the content? The link building is key on how exactly it happens. Because if it’s done in shady ways, Google is able to determine that links were bought or they were done with unscrupulous practices, and that can easily get your site a D index where you’re not going to show up no matter what you do. I think a big thing is understanding what’s actually required. SEO is certainly not cheap. It can’t be because it’s very time intensive.

Yeah, and if, and if someone is advertising, “Hey, here’s a stellar price for search optimization,” one should already walk into the situation and say, “well what could I possibly getting be getting for this price?”

It certainly should be looked at a value. We’ll touch on price towards the end, but the amount of time it takes to do it and to do it well, it’s very intensive and it’s not something that can be outsourced. There’s no shortcuts, there’s no machines. It’s just pure work and understanding who’s going to be responsible for that work, because at a low price, sure, maybe you can find someone that’ll give you some knock off discounted rate, but you can’t expect them to do the work. And if you are expecting them to do the work, you’re going to get exactly what you paid for. And once you get the content, who’s going to actually go through and optimize it? And getting a breakdown of the exact strategy is something that should be given just right out of the gate.

I also think it’s important to understand who you’re working with, the type of company you’re working with. Is it a Jack of all trades? Are they doing billboards and they’re also doing SEO and they have a print shop on the side and they’ll do your Facebook ads? Understanding exactly what the company does, how many people are involved, are you going to have a dedicated team or is it just going to be handed off to college grad? A test project for them.

Sounds like a nightmare.

It sounds very expensive.

No, what I mean is, I’m sorry. It sounds like a nightmare sending it to the college kid for a test, a test run.

It sounds very dangerous.

Well, okay, so we’ve outlined some questions, right? At least be critical of the situation when you’re going into it.

It’s also important to understand what tools the agency’s going to be using. What’s the definition of success? Again, SEO is something that it’s a long-term strategy. If you’re looking to drive business today, SEO will not work no matter what anyone does. You can easily expect it to be a three to six month on the short term, but certainly a six to 12 month plan and part of your strategy to start actually seeing real results. So since it’s not a short term growth strategy, what’s going to be defined as success? What KPIs are they measuring? What are they looking for? I guess what tools and what platforms? There’s a tons of tools. SEMrush, Moz, Hrefs, these are all great tools that at least give some guidance.

Certainly you’re going to want to hear that they use Bing and Google Webmaster tools because at the end of the day it’s optimizing for the search engines on these platforms, understanding contracts and how long is someone obligated into something for? And what happens if they don’t meet the deliverables or quotas or the KPIs? Those are certainly key things to look for. Understanding the onboarding process, understanding how long it will take before you can begin to expect certain results. Again, this isn’t an answer someone can just blurt out on the first conversation. It does take some research to understand what type of competition someone up against, how much content is going to be needed and again, the internal politics between both companies, both the agency as well as the company on what it actually takes to put out the correct type of content that’s going to rank.

Okay, so we have a list of questions to ask and things to be aware of and we’re not just blindly going in and, and signing up for something that we have no idea what the deliverables are. What about red flags? Let’s talk about some issues, red flags that a customer should absolutely be aware of.

So sometimes it’s a little hard to understand exactly who’s going to be the most successful. However, it’s usually very easy to understand the bad ones.

I like what you just said. Mike, in my opinion, it’s very, very easy to go in and sign up for something without thinking about it, without having a clear list of what the deliverables are. It’s not so easy to identify who the real winners are. Right?

Exactly. You know, certainly if you’re not able to get a customized plan or they already have a roadmap outlined on what is going to work for you and your business, transparency is by far the most important part, because once certain damage is done, it’s not like a website that you can just go have someone rebuild you a new one. This is going to have long-term effects on how your pages are able to rank. So if there’s not a very clear communication on what exactly they’re going to do for you and how it’s going to work, it’s certainly a red flag. Communication or if you find that they’re very slow to respond. If you notice a big drop in your rankings, you’re not going to want to wait a week or two before someone begins to look into something to find a fix for it.

Mike, speaking to that issue, specifically in the not too distant past, I had a client, very successful local business person, couldn’t understand why there was absolutely zero ranking on the site. When I checked, I said “something’s really wrong here,” so they had quite a bit of content on the site, but what was it? It was all plagiarized stuff that was taken from other sources online. It was nothing new, nothing fresh, all taken from other sources and I believe that obviously that was to the detriment of this particular client and it took significant time in order to reverse the damage of what had been done previously by the previous SEO firm.

Yeah, that’s unfortunately a very common problem.

It’s totally opposite from the point of what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to increase exposure, increase awareness of the business, but by taking this content and slapping it on the side by supposedly a reputable firm, you’re doing exactly the opposite. You’re pretty much putting the nail in the coffin. It’s never going to work.

Yeah, I’ve seen that before where SEO companies make promises. No one is able to make any sort of guarantees or promises regarding SEO. At least with paid search, you can guarantee that for X amount of dollars, you’ll add a show on top. You’re paying for placement. I mean there’s variables in that and could be a very expensive not profitable click, but at least you can get that placement if you so desired. SEO, there are no guarantees. You know, anyone who promises X amount of back links or they’ll acquire this ranking within this many days, they have no control of it. No one does. Google outlines that very clear in their documentation. A very simple Google search of “can anyone guarantee Google results?” If you look for the Google website, they flat out say no one can guarantee. So anyone who does make a guarantee, it’d be very interesting to have a conversation about that.

Yes, it would. So what about cost? Let’s talk about cost. How do we provide some kind of a basis for what this should cost somebody?

Yeah, so I think it’s everyone’s favorite answer that it really just depends. It depends on the industry, the competition, it depends on what other marketing efforts are involved. It depends on what assets the business already has. If they are already have a lot of content that can be reused or repurposed, it would certainly help bring the cost down. What I would not do, is I would not pay for an hourly rate. That doesn’t incentivize anyone to work any faster. It’s very, again, very time consuming. So there certainly is a cost. For anyone who offers that 2.99 special, there’s certainly just nothing that they could possibly do for that. The time alone just does. You just couldn’t possibly produce any results and be able to make a living at those types of rates. It doesn’t even matter how many clients you have. It’s just not possible.

Mike, my opinion is this is the long-term goal plan. This is not something that, as you said, it’s not, we’re not going to see results tomorrow. This is not paid placement and paid search. I think you go into it with your eyes wide open. You ensure that the right keyword research is being done so that we’re actually going to focus on keywords that are of substance, of merit. Not some random keyword that has five searches locally. It’s a complete waste of time and it’s about reporting, reporting, reporting. If we know that there’s an upward trend for our particular keyword raises over a period of time, that can be measured as a success, right?

Yeah. I mean, you’ll certainly be able to track the progress. You’re not going to not see anything for six months.

Of course, but look, we’ve talked about this many times. If we’re showing up on page seven where it’s near worthless, but if you had no ranking whatsoever and in the next month you popped up 30 points and if you continue to see an upward trend and you’re moving in the right direction and if it is an informed business decision that says, “we understand that while this may not be a significant director of traffic to our site now, we are moving towards that and it is a part of our marketing budget, not the entire whole.” I think going into it intelligently makes it an acceptable and a positive part of the marketing budget.

I completely agree. I think the key to remember is that it is a investment in your long-term digital strategy. You know, one of the biggest benefits is if you’re doing any sort of social or Google advertising, ultimately integrating with an SEO strategy will help bring down your overall costs, because as you improve your SEO over time, you’re going to be able to reduce how much you’re spending on Google ads because you’re going to get more traffic organically.

Sure. And that’s a dream. The dream is of course to be ranking in the top few placements for your ideal keywords, of course. But as you’ve said, and as the reality is, it’s not going to happen overnight and it is a long-term process.

Exactly. I think at the end it’s really about finding a company that is transparent, that has a clear direction on the strategy, that puts out a strategy that you’re comfortable with, that represents your business and your business goals, and just taking baby steps to really have a clear understanding of exactly what you can expect, and to watch the process of starting from no SEO work, to eventually being able to see your page on the first page of Google.

I love it. May everyone have that success and find that kind of solution as quickly as possible.