What is SEO and How Can it Help My Business?

An in-depth review of what SEO is, what it isn't, and what you should consider before hiring a specialist in 2019.

Feb 22, 2019 11:22 AM10 Minute Read

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    SEO: it's a short acronym that often comes with a long list of promises, confusing terms and substantial fees. With the explosion of so-called "SEO experts" in the market, it's critical for business owners to arm themselves with a working knowledge of what SEO is, what it can and cannot do for their business, and ways to separate qualified SEO experts from scammers.

    What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

    The goal of SEO is simple: to get search engines to list your website first when users perform a keyword search related to your products or services. Why? Research estimates that the first result returned by a search engine receives 30% of clicks, while the third receives 10% and tenth only around 2%.1 The numbers only go down from there.

    The higher you are in search results, the more likely people are to visit your website and, in theory, the more likely you are to earn a new client/customer. Sounds easy but, the truth is, it's not quite that simple.

    Search engine algorithms are not made available to the public and, more importantly, they are constantly evolving. Consider the quality of the websites you'd see in your search results if Google either explained, or made it easy, to let every spammer get any website into its top search results.

    Fortunately, there are proven methods, best-practices, and documented statements from authorities like Google that will help you develop a robust SEO plan and get the best rankings possible for your website.

    How Can SEO Help My Business and What Can't SEO Do?

    First thing's first: there aren't any magical SEO tricks that can catapult your website to the top of the search engine results page (SERP) and keep it there long-term, especially in a short amount of time. Also, as any reputable SEO specialist will tell you, SEO is not a "quick path to success" that will completely change your business overnight. After all, an SEO specialist's potential to improve your business' search ranking is only as great as the overall quality of your business or website.

    However, when an SEO strategy is properly designed and implemented, it can significantly increase the number of visitors to your website and the number of possible conversions (and micro-conversions, such as sharing content or signing up for your e-mail list), each leading to a more successful brand and business.

    This is primarily accomplished through a combination of Technical SEO, On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.

    Technical, Off-Page and On-Page SEO Diagram

    Although the positive effects of SEO efforts can take 6-12+ months to be fully seen, it is critical to implement certain tactics as soon as possible to remain competitive in your market.

    What Should I Expect When Hiring An SEO Specialist?

    Before you contact any firm or individual for SEO support, take some time to prepare yourself. Think about a few of the keywords that you think are applicable to your product/service and write them down. Then, take some time to do a Google search for each of them. Scan the first page of results to see where your site ranks, if it does at all, and make a note of it. This basic approach is one way to chart the success of your SEO campaign over time. If all is going according to plan, your ranking for those terms will rise over time.

    Next, give some serious consideration to both your budget and the competition in the market. Remember that large organizations can spend tens of thousands of dollars on SEO efforts each month. You cannot, and will not, outrank those businesses on a shoestring budget, nor should you even consider attempting to do so.

    Once you are ready and have found a qualified SEO specialist that you are interested in talking to, your initial conversation should follow this basic format:

    • First, they should spend some time getting to know you, your industry, your team, your products/services, your goals and your budget. An SEO specialist needs to know what you're looking to get out of your investment and, more importantly, what differentiates you in your marketplace. Without this exchange, there is no way you will receive a tailored approach to your SEO and, therefore, it is guaranteed to be subpar.
    • Based on that exchange, the specialist should be able to articulate whether SEO is the best approach in reaching your goals or if a pay-per-click (PPC) / Search Engine Marketing (SEM) approach would be more appropriate. For example, if your products/services are time-sensitive or if your website isn't regularly updated with rich content, SEO is not for you. If they don't initially offer up this information, ask them for their opinion on the matter.

    Of course, during this initial consultation, you should also inquire about past clients and case studies. Do your due diligence in vetting the specialist/firm to ensure they are legitimate and someone you'd be comfortable working with.

    Something to note: if a prospective SEO specialist mentions anything about obsolete methods such as "buying (back) links" or optimizing your "keywords meta tag," it's time to find another specialist.

    If you do decide to take things to the next level, ask to pay for a technical and search audit of your website. This is where your SEO specialist should absolutely shine. Once this audit is complete, you should receive a report that outlines:

    1. Technical Audit Findings: including a summary of things like navigation / internal linking issues, crawlabilitiy issues, URL parameter issues, server connectivity / response code issues, mobile friendliness, language markup issues, page optimization / page speed issues, issues with content, poorly worded page titles, and backlink (including linkless backlink) issues.?? For each of these findings, the SEO auditor should not only identify issues but also suggest improvements. In addition, they should outline the steps required to implement those improvements and explain their expected benefits, such as more conversions or making your website more agile for future enhancements.
    2. Search Audit Findings: including a breakdown of search queries into Branded Queries (keywords that mention your business or product by name; these are not part of SEO) and Unbranded (or "General") Keyword Queries. Essentially, what are the most popular keywords that are applicable to your product or industry and what are the keywords your competitors are using — and why?

    If any of the findings seems strange to you, don't hesitate to ask for clarification on their legitimacy. The specialist will be able to provide validation from an independent source that the approach/suggestion is valid.

    How Much Does SEO Cost?

    Although this is one of the most common SEO related questions, there is no responsible way of providing a definitive answer. However, Ahrefs2 recently surveyed approximately 350 SEO agencies, consultants and freelancers to establish a guideline for the cost of SEO services. For SEO services in the United States, they concluded the following:

    • Most SEOs charge a monthly retainer for some, or all, of their services. Of those that do, 25% charge between $250-$1,000, 19% charge between $2,501-$5,000 and 16% charge $1,001-$1,500.
    • For SEO providers who charge by the hour, 35% charge between $101-$150 per hour and 21% charge between $76-100.
    • For SEO providers who charge per project, 21% charge between $1,001-$1,500 per project and 17% charge between $2,501-$5,000.

    SEO is an investment in your company and, as such, the one that is right for you depends entirely on your specific goals and your budget. Do not rush into paying for SEO services before you are ready to make the appropriate investment. Rushing into the decision, or settling for the cheapest option, will almost always yield unfavorable results.

    Is SEO a Scam?

    The simple answer is "no!" In 2019, SEO is as critical today as it was a decade ago, as long as it is properly implemented by a qualified specialist or firm.

    There will always be scammers who look to take advantage of unsuspecting business owners, as well as hobbyists who misrepresent themselves as experts. In either instance, hiring unqualified/underqualified help for your SEO efforts puts you at high risk of harming your business and SERP rankings, making the job of getting your SEO efforts back on track more difficult, lengthy and expensive.

    Here are a few things you should look out for when considering an outside SEO firm or specialist:

    • First, ensure they meet all of the criteria set forth in the "What Should I Expect When Hiring An SEO Specialist" section above. If they don't, you might consider a different specialist/firm or, at minimum, ask them why they don't do/provide "X" as part of their services.
    • Are they willing and able to provide case studies? Any reputable specialist should. Read over the case study and ask yourself: is it easy to read/understand and does it show a meaningful and relevant amount of growth/success? In other words, would you be happy paying for one tailored to your business?
    • Will they help you with content generation? If so, what is their content generation and distribution plan? A reputable SEO specialist/firm will repurpose the content you're already producing and leverage a professional writer to create new content. They will not churn out derivative/"non-exclusive" works and they will not use automated scrapers to create content/blog posts.
    • Are they overly focused on link building and promising significant increases in inbound links? If so, this is a big red flag. Long gone are the days where quantity outweighed quality in terms of inbound links to your website. Make sure any link building plan is thoroughly documented, discussed and comprised of legitimate websites that you'd want associated with yours. Link building takes focused effort; it is not a simple act of "submitting your website to directories" or "adding your link to a network of websites."
    • Are they guaranteeing specific, top ranking results? If they are, proceed with extreme caution. As we've discussed, SEO is not an exact science and there are no ways to "beat the system" and guarantee any specific placement in any specific amount of time.

    In Conclusion

    Some claim that SEO is "dead" and no longer worth the investment. While we fully disagree with that assessment, it is important to recognize that SEO is not a static, one-time implementation and it is not a magical solution to all of your business problems, online or otherwise. SEO takes a significant investment of time, effort and continuous research to ensure your implementation remains effective in a dynamic environment of paid advertising and ever-changing search engine algorithms.

    If you do decide to hire outside support to help you with that effort, we hope this article gives you the information you need to make a more informed choice.

    Reference: Glossary of SEO/SEM Terms

    Branded Keyword
    Words or phrases that include your brand/company name or a variation thereof. Branded Keywords are not a function of SEO as, by their nature, no optimization is needed to rank in the first position.
    Cost-Per-Click; The actual price you pay for each click in your pay-per-click (PPC) marketing campaigns.
    The ability of a search engine to crawl through the entire text content of your website, easily navigating to every one of your webpages without encountering an unexpected dead-end.
    Click-Through Rate; The percentage of people who click on your website or ad in a Search Engine Results Page (SERP).
    Head Terms
    Also known as "Head Keywords," these are highly popular keywords that drive high search volume. These keywords are the most highly competitive and the most difficult to rank for. The opposite of a "Long-Tail Keyword."
    The number of times your website has been listed on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP) or the number of times your ad has been shown to users.
    Inbound / Back Link
    A hyperlink on a third-party website that points to a web page on your site.
    Internal Link
    A hyperlink on a webpage that points to another page or resource on the same website or domain.
    To users, these are words and phrases entered into search engines to find relevant websites.
    To search engines, these are words and phrases found on your website that help the search engine understand if your webpage is relevant to a user's search.
    Keyword Competition
    The measure of how difficult it will be to rank for a specific keyword. For example, you're highly unlikely to outrank "nfl.com" in a search for "football" as it is a highly competitive keyword.
    Link Building
    The process of getting other websites to link back to your website.
    Linkless Backlinks
    Mentions of your business without a hyperlink to your webpage.
    Long-Tail Keyword
    A keyword phrase that contains at least three words. These are the least competitive keyword phrases as they are so specific they drive very few impressions. As such, they are the easiest keywords to rank for and are the opposite of a "Head Term."
    Pay-Per-Click; A model of Internet marketing in which advertisers pay a fee for each time one of their ads is clicked.
    Search Engine Marketing; The process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.
    Search Engine Optimization; The process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.
    Search Engine Results Page; The list of results that a search engine returns in response to a specific word or phrase query.

    1 https://www.brightedge.com/info/content/why-seo-important-business
    2 https://ahrefs.com/blog/seo-pricing

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