As the B2B Centre’s clients get more sophisticated with their use of online sales and marketing many of them are starting to use external suppliers to take on some important tasks. So increasingly you are using website developers, pay-per-click experts and, particularly, SEO companies to provide resources and expertise that might be difficult to get in-house.
The B2B Centre’s approach is that while we continue to bring hundreds of small businesses up to speed on a variety of online marketing techniques there comes a point where you have to get your priorities right. It is good to know what SEO is but your time might be better off spent deciding what products to sell and which markets to sell them to.
So bringing in someone to help could be a good idea. The trouble is we keep coming across people who are paying many hundreds or even thousands of pounds for SEO services that are at best ineffective and at worst are actually damaging the ranking of their websites.
We have put together just a few tips on choosing the right supplier for your SEO needs and avoiding the bad ones, which are based on the experiences of many of the people that we have worked with.
1. Don’t confuse pay-per-click with SEO
A number of our clients have been deliberately mislead into believing that the appearance of a pay-per-click advert (the ones that appear on the right hand side of the screen or sometimes at the top in a pink box) is the result of their supplier’s SEO efforts. Wrong. Pay-per-click adverts are just that, paid for adverts.
The initial objective of SEO is to achieve rankings in the natural listings on the left hand-side of the screen.
2. No one can guarantee a number 1 ranking on Google.
That is a quote from Google’s Webmaster Central site.
A good SEO company will work with you to define a set of keywords and phrases that are relevant to your business and your customers, which could perform well in search engine rankings.
Selecting the right keywords is a very important part of the SEO process and could involve some serious research using tools like Google’s AdWords Keyword tool or some client research.
3. Increased results not just increased traffic
An SEO campaign should result in an increase in the number of potential clients visiting your site not just an increase in visitor numbers.
You should therefore expect suppliers to ask you what constitutes a potential client and tell you how they expect to target that audience. This might mean that what your supplier ends up offering is not a piece of “pure SEO” work but involves writing articles and using Social Media, for instance.
Good companies will also seek to understand what constitutes a good result for you. Is it a purchase? Is it a sign-up or a download or filling in a form? Then they will work out ways of helping to generate results.
4. Check the scope of SEO activity
Every page on your website could be optimised to rank for some keywords or phrases. It makes sense to check with a prospective supplier how many pages on your site are being included in their costings. £500 to optimise 5 pages doesn’t sound like such good value as £500 for 30 pages.
Scope also includes understanding where the supplier’s effort is going. Is it the project focused just on meta page titles? Is page content going to be amended? Will they be trying to add inbound links? Or perhaps they are setting up a blog and creating posts for you?
5. No dirty tricks
People are continually finding ways to trick the search engines and achieve good rankings. However if your SEO supplier decides to use spam techniques then there is good chance that one of two bad things will happen.
a./The least bad outcome is that the effect will be temporary and after a brief moment in the sun those great rankings will become mere memories.
b./The worst thing that can happen is that your site is removed from the Google Index! And it really could happen to you.
So ignore all offers of listing you in a thousand directories or websites for £50. Do not accept SEO advice that suggests constant repetition of keywords and phrases on your pages in a way that makes them unreadable. Beware of anybody who stills says that it is a good idea to do things like have keywords written in white text on a white background so only the search engines can read them.
6. Monthly charges: For on-going work or just spreading the cost?
Many SEO companies charge a set amount per month for their services. This is a perfectly good arrangement if the project includes regular work to change meta page title tags or add inbound links.
We keep finding examples where suppliers will do the upfront work required (and a lot of work can be needed upfront) but do less and less on an ongoing basis. After several months their initial outlay has been covered but they keep charging and slowly but surely your site starts to perform less and less effectively.
Make sure you know what you are paying for; which leads us to…
7. Expect a written proposal
Unfortunately we can’t tell you exactly how much you are likely to be charged for SEO for your specific. What we can say is that the supplier should be able to provide a proposal that details what they are going to do for the moneyand when they are going to do it.
Anybody who tells you it’s a secret or reassures you that one of their employees is ex-Google and knows the algorithm is to be avoided.
Don’t get left in the dark. Agree upfront what is going to be measured and how that information is going to be delivered to you. Expect to receive some analysis of Google Analytics or keyword ranking reports and not just some graphs and a list of statistics. You need to know whether the SEO work is helping to improve your business performance and if it justifies what you are paying the supplier.
If you are serious about online marketing then choose suppliers who are prepared to come and discuss progress with you and make suggestions about how to make improvements.
9. Get references and follow them up
Appointing an SEO supplier is a serious undertaking because they could make the difference between success and failure for your business. That means that you need to check them out.
At the minimum ask for references and follow those references up but also be prepared to get quotes from several companies.
The good SEO guys out there will have no problem with any of the points raised above. They will be open about what they do and how they will do it. They will ask pertinent questions and make suggestions not just about the technicalities of optimisation but also about content, about structure and about promoting your site in general.
Hope you find the right people to work with.
Gareth Edwards – e-marketing specialist