“So you run an SEO firm, Carrie Mae, what in the world do you actually do?” a common question that surfaces in many business meetings, conferences, coffee shops, strategy meetings, and family dinners. More often than not, my response, dependent upon present company is brief and to the point, “We help people move from the surface of the moon to the first page of Google.” I’m often met with perplexed stares of deep question and thought, as well as the occasional sideways glance when they realize tech people really do come out of their computer caves for air. More often than not, before thinking about the psychology of the search engines, they simply ask “How do you do that?”
This fantastic question poses the answer needed by every client that enters my firm or utilizes our services. It’s all about the “How?”
In order to meet the standards of judgement known as “algorithms” each website must build, maintain, and cultivate their brand message in a way that is safe, valuable, accessible and answers the questions asked by the user.
Initial Audit, Evaluation, and Analysis
Company Evaluation – Proper SEO always starts with the information we already have access to. Because the needs and intent of every client is different, we start with the initial process of identifying the key performance indicators, target demographic, and complete set of services. We dive into current strategy, historic wins and losses, and potential opportunities. At the end of every day, our efforts need to support the company values and goals – this means that every campaign we handle needs to be customized.
Keyword Research- Good SEO companies won’t only focus on what you are currently ranked for, but will take into consideration opportunities that may have been overlooked and could produce more traffic in a shorter duration of time. Because not all keywords are treated equally, the research of the keywords will include: relevance, search volume, competition variables, and potential ROI.
Google Webmaster Tools Analysis- Reviewing the current status in Google Webmaster Tools as well as historical data may bring opportunities to light, as well as any aspect that may compromise the performance of the site (such as a manual penalty).
Google Analytics Analysis- Reviewing performance though Google Analytics or other analytics tools may unveil negative or positive trends that can be played up or mitigated to increase traffic and performance. Factors taken into consideration: Traffic, Bounce Rate, Time on Site, Traffic Funnel, Source/Medium, Technology…etc.
Existing Link Analysis- Because many companies have used SEO firms in the past they could have inadvertently invited a barrage of issues pertaining to the quality of backlinks that have been established to the site. By reviewing these links and deeming their contribution or detriment to the site, an SEO firm is able to disavow the negative links, and look for opportunities to expand on high performance links to similar sites.
Competition Analysis- Your position in the online marketplace depends directly on the amount of competition in your space. As the internet expands and encompasses more and more opportunity to rise, we must take into consideration those who impose a threat to your market share, and who you’d like to threaten with your placement. Although this is a calculated measure to dominate the space, it is necessary to compete and win. Those who are currently dominating the search engine results pages, are obviously doing something correctly. By evaluating them, their online strategy, their link structure, and offerings we are able to hone the strategy of our clients in order to execute our process with scalpel precision.
The results of the initial evaluation may reveal necessary one-time changes to your website. Some of those recommendations may include:
Website Redesign- Website design and functionality age quickly, and as such the performance of your SEO campaign may require a redesign and adaptation process. Mobile responsivity is the primary culprit of such changes, but user functionality and a lack of conversion tools may also play a hand in making the decision to redeisign.
Code Overhaul- If you are swimming in an ocean of W3C validation errors, and still running flash, overhauling your code to make it more SEO friendly will be necessary. Although this is usually the equivalence of a redesign or a rebuild in terms of hours and expense, an SEO company will live within their means and the desire of the client to meet objectives.
Website Rebuild- Although no one likes to hear they will likely require a site rebuild, with the free tools available to build a “hobby site” many people run into problems that can’t be quickly or efficiently solved with a redesign or coding. This happens most frequently with Wix sites, and the platform’s use of fragmented code. Because we can’t directly manipulate the source code through the platform, it’s almost always more cost effective to select an SEO friendly platform and rebuild the site.
Ongoing SEO Process
In discussions, especially early on, it’s common for people to request the monthly deliverables of an SEO firm, and I’m here to tell you, that on a month to month basis, it’s rarely exactly the same. Our objective is not to repeat a cookie cutter process time and time again and expect different results along the way. Unfortunately, for the sake of sanity, this is impossible. It’s anticipated that the current trend of algorithm updates on a bi-monthly schedule will continue indefinitely. The days of annual updates are long since gone, and we now operate in a fluid environment that requires adaptation and fast action. In order to manage the expectations of both Google and our clients, we are required to document and track data on a daily basis, watching for substantial changes that don’t align with common actions against or for our clients. SEO firms don’t actively avoid this question because they don’t have an answer, the truth is, what is required in 6 months may be very different from what is required today. In order to avoid tying our hands behind our backs we leave the “monthly schedule” described as “monthly services.” For example, if we are on the edge of breaking the top three ranking for a highly valued keyword, and the potential traffic increase dwarfs any other effort, an SEO effort will put a vast majority of their efforts into the propagation of that keyword, in turn impacting overall campaign performance. Adapt, evolve, prosper.
With that being said, there are elements involved in the ongoing SEO process that are stagnant.
Content contribution- Each site, without limitation, should be contributing fresh unique content to their site on a regular basis. Although this may seem like an auxiliary action, the logic is solid. In order to rank for keywords, the keywords need to be on the website. When content is contributed, you expand your available keyword pool of options. Using optimized content (proper keyword placement, internal link structure, meta tag titles and descriptions, schema markup, etc.) you will dramatically increase the bandwidth of the website, improve your authority, and have more of an offering for your target demographic to choose from. This content also acts as a resource that increases the likelihood that you will be seen as the active authority by not only Google but your consumer base.
Link Building- Similar to content, links act as a mechanism to check the pulse on your website. If Google can see that active link creation is taking place, it acts like a green light for the search engines to display your site to the consumer, and diminishes the likelihood that the end user will be taken to a site that is no longer relevant or live. In addition to the pulse-o-meter, links act as a reference to your website, similar to a business reference. Essentially, the website hosting the link is saying, I trust this site, and you should too. But remember, not all links (or business references) are created equally. If your mother were to call and refer you for a position 4 times, that carries less weight than if the president of the United States, the Governor of California, and Bill Gates called to speak praises. SEO firms who claim to establish thousands of links are essentially saying they will take whatever they can get, with little regard to quality. Building links is a process, that requires strategy and end game. As part of the ongoing process, research and time are put into negotiating the reference from one business owner to another. This is a conversation and an agreement. Once these relationships are established, it will be reflected in your Domain Authority (an important term we can discuss in depth if you’d like). Ultimately, it’s the amount of trust and authority you have been given, on a scale between 1-100. The higher your Domain Authority, the more likely you are to surface and stay at the top of the search engine results pages. *Happy bonus, contributing to this on a consistent basis also increases the value of your website as a whole and is seen as intellectual property contribution. This factor is taken into consideration if you are ever to sell the company or domain.
Link Monitoring- Although infrequent, it is important to keep an eye on all links that have been established to a site to ensure it does not become a victim of a negative SEO attack. more to the point, it’s critical to monitor inbound links that are created naturally to determine if modifications could potentially have a greater SEO impact.
Brand Monitoring- In the online game, reputation is everything. People care far more about the opinion of the weird guy they accidentally friended on Facebook than they do case studies and prominence. It’s estimated that the relevance of a testimonial on a reputable review site can impact the performance of a business for over a year (this can vary upon how many reviews are submitted and the frequency). In addition, any positive mention of your company should include a link to your site, our SEO firm scrapes the internet for mentions and takes the opportunity to capitalize on the positive, and return any negative feedback to the company for performance enhancement and mitigation tactic.
Competitor Research- Because competitor research is part of the early strategy development, it must also be integrated on a regular basis. Monthly reports are drawn up to evaluate a set group of competitors, as well as reports on the keywords themselves to determine if there are any potential risks. Watching the evolution of strategy of other competitors can also be elemental in evolution of our own strategy. The internet is a vast wealth of knowledge and we will take whatever advantage we can find.
Social Media Contribution- I will take this moment to express my complete and utter disdain for social media without hesitation or qualm. As one of the most haughtily debated topics in the SEO world, Social Media contribution can be seen as non-contributory to organic listings. This is true. Facebook and Twitter move so rapidly that the indexing process is more of a “snapshot” rather than a repository of information. A post generated on Facebook is visible in a users feed for no longer than 15 minutes, and Twitter, the average time is 4 minutes. Couple this with the “marketing curve” that renders your post visible to only 8% of your followers and it may seem as though placing your efforts for branding into the ocean of gym selfies and food pictures is a thoughtless waste of time. However, this is where we are forced to grit our teeth and bare the truth. There are over 9 million people who use social media on a daily basis. Those nine million people are actively shopping on social media for solutions to meet their needs, and in order to be a player in that realm, it’s imperative that you’re active and relevant. Using Social Media allows for immediate distribution of product updates, sales, business updates, and personal interaction with your customers and loyal followers. The recommendation and notoriety of a brand can be impacted deeply with the proper utilization of branded messaging via social media.
As you can see, the answer to the pending question “What does an SEO firm actually do?” has a multi-layered answer that requires many subsequent questions in order to accurately answer the first. In short, we mine for data, history, reports, and analytics, we research your market, your competition, and your viability, we develop a strategy for realistic goals, and we execute, month after month after month. Our objective is to serve your marketing needs and be seen as an integrated member of your team. I have built a company comprised of dedicated, intelligent, qualified, and passionate team members. They have listened to me preach time and time again about the importance of client connectivity, interaction, and doing more than is required, simply because we can. We are always chasing the win…….the day our clients call in tears because they have an 85% increase in their business, and thank us for our efforts and time……the day a short tail keyword we’ve been gunning for for over a year hits the first page, and the result is dramatic and moving for the future of our customer…….the moment we realize we aren’t in this industry to live behind smoke and mirrors, but more so to be the willing participants in fulfilling the lifelong dreams and ambitions of our client family.
Stay tuned, it only gets better from here.
Carrie Mae Sorensen, CEO, ThinkBIGsites