Okay, Seriously ... Does SEO Actually Work?
I’ve continually had to defend Search Engine Optimization (AKA SEO) as of late. Before I get into exactly what you should expect from SEO, I thought it would be wise to look at what the end game is.
As a whole, the entire practice of SEO is meant to get your brand ranking high on search engines. I say “your brand” because there is misunderstanding amongst many business owners, that SEO is meant to make your website rank higher exclusively. In either low search or highly competitive markets, that singular focus can crush an SEO campaign.
So, in point form, here’s what you should expect from those providing you with SEO services:
After accepting terms of contract, your SEO should learn as much about your industry as possible, dive into the data about your brand, and be able to make recommendations regarding the next 12 - 18 months worth of work. The person you’re working with should also be well versed in the changes to algorithms taking place at Google, Bing, and other big search.
Your SEO company should work with you to optimize your website. This can be a long process, but is crucial. Now, you’ll likely never hit 100% on-site SEO optimization because various platforms have different rules and languages, but all of the essentials should be covered.
Those essentials include: content optimization, proper tagging, proper headers, ensuring your site has no penalties or error codes, ideal meta descriptions, keyword/phrase consideration, optimized image handling, site speed, no AJAX issues, and connectivity to external services that help track your site.
After your site is optimized, it’s time to pick the low hanging fruit. Your SEO company should be listing you on as many relevant directories and sites as possible. This goes for general directories, such as Yellow Pages to niche industry directories.
If you’re a local business, then local optimization is key. Having a location properly optimized can mean a huge difference on mobile, when someone looks up “XYZ near me”.
Then, it’s time for back linking power. You should be looking at who currently links to you, and more importantly, who’s hurting your positioning. Spammy ad networks, sites with penalties, and other low quality websites may link to you, bringing you down. At that point you need a cleanse.
Once you’re clean as a whistle, it’s time to build backlinks. Old school guys will tell you this is all about quantity. However, GOOGLE (they kinda know some stuff) has openly said that back links are about quality. Essentially, the link should make practical sense. If it doesn’t, then Google may look at that link as unfavourable. For example: if your run a car dealership, your link should not appear on a magicians resource site.
Social media is important as well. Make sure you have optimized profiles, that are posting, and that your fans/followers are continually engaged. The more people are willing to share your content, the more likely it is to be seen as credible.
Another often overlooked piece to the puzzle is media. You need to expose your brand to media sites such as the local TV station, or credible blogs. In 100% of cases, I’ve seen a properly handled media release boost rankings nearly overnight.
Blogging and guest blogging are aspects of SEO that only stable campaigns with highly engaged staff should be getting involved in. This requires a great deal of time, but will make a difference.
After that, there are certain tricks that SEOs have picked up along the way. Those tricks will be deployed on your behalf, but it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be shared with you. Consider these trade secrets.
Long-Game SEO Strategy
It’s important to remember that this is all ongoing work, and that you won’t rank overnight. You must also be realistic. If there’s giant brands in your industry, without some serious dollars, you’re unlikely to beat them site vs site. That’s where the directories and real world involvement proves valuable.
Your brand should rank, and eventually, so too should your website. That should turn into more clicks, and if you are good at what you do, more sales.
Now, for the frustrating news. This is all long-game, and setting expectations to see results and changes in your rankings in the first year is unrealistic. So, how do you gauge success? The best way, is to get confirmation that work is being done your behalf. If your SEO company can show that the above points are being worked on, then they are worth your time. However, if your SEO company is engaging in black hat SEO techniques it is truly time to move on.
It all come down to this—you should be able to see the work being done through reporting.
Comparing Google Results
I know long-term marketing work with little, to no, ROI can be frustrating for businesses; especially when you see companies that haven’t had any SEO work done and they’re ranking. You must take a few items into consideration when comparing search engine results:
Have they actually spent any money on SEO? Are you sure you know the answer? There’s apps to determine how much work has been done on a brand’s behalf.
Did they enjoy fantastic critical acclaim?
When were they established? Timeline matters, as SEO has become quite strict in the last couple of years.
Did the media run stories on this business?
How’s their social media campaigning?
Is the owner well known, and has he/she enjoyed media coverage in the past?
Summing up SEO
So there you have it. You know what your SEO company should be doing for you. You also know how to track ROI. You even know how to critically look at your competitors online. That’s a great start.
Written by: Jay Hall - Chief Strategist