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How to Choose Professional SEO Management


What should I look for when I want to hire someone to handle my SEO?

There’s a lot of subjects that are in the SEO category, with a lot of content. We’re going to try to break everything down into a digestible format here.

What Professional SEO services should I look for?

Well, that’s really the black box of the questions because first of all, no two companies, no two websites, and no two entities are going to be exactly alike. So, looking for a Jack of all trades or one size fits all professional SEO solution can be the first way to throw your money down the drain.

Those cookie cutter solutions offered at flat rates don’t make sense because every client is going to want or need a very different solution than other client. Even if two companies are in the same vertical and even if they’re in the same city, their SEO positions are going to be very different.

That’s partly based on the content and type of their websites, the type of business, and position of each company, etc. For example, is the company in a startup phase, a growth phase, or an expansion phase? Their SEO needs are going to be very different based on so many factors.

Because of the industry we’re in, our personal Facebooks are bombarded with ads like, “For $299 we’ll handle all your SEO.” But do you know what we never see? We never see deliverables. What are they actually doing for $299? The ads never say.

The first thing to remember is that having a custom solution is key because of the unique factors of your website, your competition, your industry, your niche, your geographic location, your products, your services, and any other benefits your business can  offer. These are all going to play a role into how effective your SEO can be, and what should expect when bringing on professional SEO services.

When looking for professional SEO services, seek out a company that’s knowledgeable with onsite and technical SEO, keyword research and analysis, content creation and/or optimization, and link building. Those are really the fundamentals of SEO.

SEO has been a buzzword for years, but if you ask someone who’s not on our side of the business, “Well, what is SEO anyway?” they’re not going to know. Or they’ll say, “It’s what gets me to show up on Google.”

Okay, there are a lot of things to get you to show up on Google. But which of those are going to actually drive business results? What’s going to actually bring actionable results in the not-too-distant future when we’re talking about search optimization?

Well, 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.

You have to make sure technically that the right pages are telling Google, “Okay, this page is important in this instance” and clarifying the hierarchy of your site. The taxonomy plays a key role in letting Google know the meanings of different parts of your site and how they play into it search.

For example, if someone types a question into Google’s search bar, Google needs to understand that you want to show them your FAQ page, not your About Us page. At a very high level, that’s really where the onsite and technical SEO comes into play.

You could rank for a whole series of keywords, but some of those keywords are going to be more valuable to your business. They will either be more profitable or be in a vertical that you specialize in. There are many tools out there that will provide guidance as to how often certain keywords are ranked.

Let’s say you’re a tile installer. So, if someone’s looking for grout cleaning, there are going to be keywords around grout cleaning that can help your site rank higher. Let’s say a potential customer lives in a very specific geographic area, and they start looking for a vendor to come over to clean the tile in their house. Well, you can try to rank higher on the results page to target people in that area.

Unfortunately, we often see business owners who have a specific set of keywords that they think are very important, maybe certain lingo or acronyms.  But the reality is that most of the actual consumers have no idea what those search terms are because they’re looking for a common phrase. So, those terms are not going to be valuable, and in fact may be distracting and a waste of time and money.

It’s the fundamental hoodwink of SEO, in our opinion. People will say, “Oh, my company X is ranking for ABC search terms.” And we’re like, “Okay. But nobody in the real world searches for that, so why is it valuable? Of course you’re ranking for that search term, it’s the easiest thing to rank for. It generates no traffic and has no competition.”

A lot of times, with some of our real estate clients, they’ll come in and they’ll want to rank for being a realtor in Las Vegas or for when someone types, “real estate agent near me.” They want to be able to rank. That’s never going to happen. You’re not going to be able to compete with Remax, Sotheby’s, Compass and all the other national players with big pockets.

However, there are specific search terms that — if you know where to look — you can get a genuine competitive edge.

At the end of the day, most people are not going into Google, typing, “Find me a realtor.” Instead, they’re going to go in and do some research. Maybe they’re going to be search for, “Best places to live around Henderson.”

Well, you could optimize a specific landing page on your website for the best things to do in Henderson, or the best schools, or the Top 10 reasons to move to Henderson. You could even write comparison articles of why they should move to Henderson versus Summerlin.

Using these kinds of workarounds, those keywords will allow your site to rank. And you’re not even stepping foot on the same field as 99% of the other real estate agents where everyone is getting lost.

Instead, you’re going to count on what people are actually typing into Google. If they’re looking for an education about where they would potentially want to live, they’re going to be doing research. It’s not just an impromptu decision for them. And during that research phase, you can introduce yourself to them as a subject matter expert and showcase your brand.

What Is Link-Building and Why Is It Important?

There are two types of link-building — internal and external.

Internal linking is when you link your own pages to each other. This certainly helps Google understand how the pages relate to each other, but it also lets users see other relevant content.

So, back to the example of a 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 and related. And someone who’s interested in cleaning their tile will also likely be interested in cleaning their grout.

External linking is when you link your own pages to a different website altogether….

What Should I Ask Before Hiring an SEO Expert?

It’s much better come prepared with the right questions and get satisfactory answers to them before ever thinking of hiring any professional SEO firm or person.

One of the toughest things about professional SEO services is that it’s a newer industry where the benchmarks are very loose and where things aren’t really defined in terms of, “Here’s the right way to do it.”

The questions we recommend asking a potential agency are just as important as if you were asking a potential new hire.

The first place we recommend starting would be to ask the company about their process and execution. Who is going to actually write the content? Who does the content editing and revisions? Who’s responsible for approving the content? What does the content approval process look like?

The link building is key on how Google will rank your site. Because if the link building is done in shady ways, Google can easily tell that the links were bought or that they were created with unscrupulous practices. This is a very dangerous situation because you could easily get your site a D index, where you’re not going to show up no matter what you do.

The big thing is to understand what’s actually required. SEO is certainly not cheap. It can’t be cheap because it’s incredibly time intensive. If you hire someone to do your SEO and it’s cheap and fast, you can be sure you’re in trouble.

And if someone is advertising, “Hey, here’s an extremely low price for search optimization,” you should walk into the situation asking, “Well, what could I possibly getting be getting for this price?”

The amount of time it takes to do SEO optimization, and do it well, is very intensive and it’s not something that can be outsourced.

There are no shortcuts. There no machines automating it. It’s just pure work. And you need to understand who’s going to be responsible for that work.

At a low price, sure, maybe you can find someone that’ll give you some knockoff discounted rate, but you can’t expect them to do the work themselves. You’re going to get exactly what you paid for. And once you get the content, who’s going to go through it and optimize it?

You should be getting a breakdown of the exact strategy 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 professional 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.