These days, pretty much every business understands that SEO is important — that the higher you rank in Google search results, the more people will discover your business. In a time when most people go online to look for a business, the fact that 92 percent of clicks go to companies on the first page of Google search results (with nearly one-third of all clicks going to the top spot) cannot be ignored.
The problem, of course, is that understanding the importance of SEO and knowing how to improve your rankings can be two very different things. I’ve seen plenty of businesses fall behind their competition because they knew the why, but could never wrap themselves around the how of SEO implementation.
Because of this, most companies in need of SEO assistance will outsource the task of improving their web rankings to an advertising agency or a freelance marketing expert. The thing is, not all SEO experts are created equal.
By having at least some understanding of the SEO process before you make a hiring decision, you can be better informed and ask the right questions so you don’t accidentally get involved with someone who will use black hat schemes that ultimately tank your rankings.
Here are some key questions to consider when hiring an SEO expert:
How do you select keywords?
Keyword research is the basis for any SEO campaign. The right keyword variations need to be targeted in both your on-site content and in any articles you get published with third parties to help increase your relevance in targeted searches.
No two keyword sets are exactly alike — and even changing a single word could yield three times as many searches. Alternatively, a keyword with fewer overall searches may be better for your business, as it is used more frequently by your target niche.
A real SEO expert will use Google Analytics to research keywords related to your business to select the best options based on factors such as competition level, bid amounts, and brand relevance. Be wary of agencies that aren’t willing to take the time to better understand your own company’s operations, as this could completely throw off the keyword strategy.
What is the strategy for on-site optimization?
Quality SEO begins with improving your own website. This covers everything from updating meta descriptions and title tags to compressing images to improve site loading speed.
I’ve found that many SEO agencies almost entirely emphasize backlink generation, while on-site optimization gets completely ignored. The thing is, it isn’t enough to have a lot of links going to your site. You also have to provide high-quality, relevant content so that users don’t immediately click away when they arrive.
On-site SEO efforts should be designed to improve the site experience so you can lower your bounce rate — the percentage of visitors who click away after only viewing a single page. The more time users spend on your site and the more pages they visit, the more relevant Google will determine it to be.
Fine-tuning your current site experience is a great start, but a quality SEO expert will also ensure that you are consistently providing quality content by helping you produce a blog that addresses the interests and needs of your target audience.
What is the strategy for creating quality backlinks?
It’s not enough for an SEO agency to tell you they will “help you build backlinks.” After all, there’s a major difference between backlinks coming from the New York Times and a link from a low-authority blog that nobody actually reads.
Dig a little deeper when meeting with a prospective SEO agency …
Ask about which websites they use to generate backlinks for their clients, as well as how they obtain these links. Stay away from those who use shady practices like spamming forums or creating generic link pages. Make sure that they also take steps to enhance your local SEO by submitting your site to local business directories or helping you maintain an accurate My Google Business account.
Link-building is a never-ending process. As you continue to generate new quality links to your site, Google views your brand as an authority figure in its niche. However, getting backlinks from low-quality or spam websites could lower your domain authority instead.
Even after you’ve made a selection and hired an SEO expert, you should periodically ask to see the backlink profile for your site so you can have confidence that you are getting quality links to your site.
Can I get any references?
Depending on the type of business you do, you likely get asked this question by potential customers on a regular basis. It’s only natural that they would want to hear from a previous customer so they can have a better idea of what it’s like to work with you and if you deliver on your brand promises.
When it comes to your company’s marketing budget, you can’t afford to simply take a so-called expert’s word for it when they explain their services and how they will improve your SEO results.
You have to do some research on your own — this is what I expect of everyone who comes to me for marketing help, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to any legitimate SEO practitioner. Online reviews can be helpful, but you’ll get far more detailed information by reaching out via email or a phone call.
Be wary of SEO practitioners who are unable or unwilling to provide references, as this could indicate that they don’t have current or former clients who are satisfied with their work. Honest agencies have nothing to hide, and should be more than willing to refer you to case studies or former clients you can speak with.
Make the Right Decision the First Time Around
As with any other service you might hire to assist in your business endeavors, who you choose to help with your SEO will make all the difference for your results. SEO isn’t a quick fix — rather, it’s a long-term investment.
An SEO expert won’t necessarily get you to page one after only a few weeks. Instead, they will implement strategies that help you gradually build a legitimate web presence, so once you reach the top, you’ll stay there.
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