The top questions to answer before paying for an SEO specialist

 It's happened about seven times this year (so far). I work with a new client and within our discovery session they'll bring up SEO. The conversation goes a little like this:

Me: What have you done to date regarding your content?
Client: Well, I know SEO is important so we hired an SEO consultant.
Me: And how did that go?
Client: Not well. We paid a lot and I didn't see a difference to our business. 
Me: Did you have clear objectives about what you wanted before hiring them?
Client: Not really. I don't know much about SEO but I know I need it.
Me: What was the end result?
Client: We just stopped working with them. Nothing in the site has changed. 

Therein lies the problem, my friend. Hiring an SEO consultant without an understanding of what SEO is or what your objective in doing so is, makes it virtually impossible for either party to feel good about the end result. This blog post is a long one, but I hope by the end you'll be a bit more clear on what SEO is, why you need it and what you can do yourself to achieve it.

So, what is SEO?
An acronym for Search Engine Optimisation, SEO is basically making sure you rank well (ideally on page one of search engine results pages (SERPs)) when someone searches for your business and/or the products or services your brand offers. It's about creating content and links that help your audience find you online. What's less well known, is that SEO can be divided into two camps: on-page SEO and off-page SEO. 

On-page SEO is the one you hear about most and is made up of everything you do ON your website to help search such as:

  • tagging photos correctly (i.e, not "image123.jpeg" but "Mothers-Day-Gifts-Under20-Myer-Purse.jpeg")

  • using alt tags in images (Mother's Day Gift Guide Purses Under $20)

  • using keywords in your text (naturally my friends, not just shoved in there 30 times!)

  • adding in descriptions for content (meta tags and title tags)

  • using sub-headings and headings to "chunk" content (43% of people skim website content)

  • having URLs that are easily read (by people and search engines)

Off-page SEO is all the stuff that builds brand awareness and has other people/sites linking to your site such as podcast interviews, affiliate links (if you're a retailer), shared video or other rich content, LinkedIn and other social media, guest blogging, media/PR, influencer marketing and responsive community management/forums. 

Why do I need SEO?

90% of people will research online before buying anything these days and of that 81.12% will use Google to help them (followed by 6.97% on Bing, 5.82% on Baidu, 4.74% on Yahoo and the rest smattered across other search engines).

In fact, 80% of ALL website traffic starts with a search query (#massive!). Not having an optimised website is like sending out a birthday invite without including the address. It makes it hard for anyone to find you (and makes you feel like a total loser #sadface). 

How can I improve SEO myself?

The good news is there's a bunch of stuff you can do. The bad news is that this usually takes time and effort.

1. Basic optimisation

The first thing to do is look at your site and check if things are optimised. That is, that you have added in alt-tags and descriptions for images, titles and content, that long chunks of text include in-bound and off-site links, and you have easily-understood headings and sub-headings. You can use a free tool like QuickSprout Checker to check this (and get some great advice on what to change).

2. Check your URLs

Look at your URLs. Can you understand what they are about (i..e vs. If you can figure them out then so can search engines. (And vice versa!) Remember, Google advises you use hyphens over underscores (i.e. fiona-killackey not fiona_killackey) when naming URLs and capitalisation should never feature.

3. Optimise for mobile

Consider next if your site is optimised for mobile. Since more than 50% of searches now happen on a mobile, search engines look to incorporate mobile optimised sites in organic search results first. Talk to your web developer about how you can become mobile optimised, if not already. 

4. Check your backlinks

Next, understand which backlinks you currently have pointing toward you (i.e. sites that link to your site). You can do this using a backlink checker. This may give you some sense of who is directing traffic your way and if most of it is going to a specific landing page/category on your site. If you notice themes (i.e. most of your top links are coming from Pinterest) look at how to exploit exposure (i.e. adding more search terms to your Pins or suggesting people "pin" content from your site). 

5. Focus on keywords

You then want to look at the top search terms your audience uses and incorporate these (naturally!!) into your content. You can use Google's free Keyword Planner or Keyword Tool to find commonly searched terms and those trending, and UberSuggest, which helps you look at which sites currently rank for those search terms as well as a nifty word cloud to see the most common related words in search queries (such as 'credit card' + 'limit').

Sites like Buzzsumo will show you what the most popular titles are for articles which may give you ideas for your own headings (which in turn, help search). 

Even look at the predictive text Google uses when you start typing in an example search query. This will help direct which words you look for and how you may use these words in your site's content.

Remember, it's about what your audience calls things, not what your brand does. (When I was heading up Kitchen & Home at Amazon UK, one of the lessons learned was people were searching for "rugs" when we were using the term "carpets". Simply being aware of that and making changes to title tags, navigation and metadata helped increase traffic and conversion.).

Now you know a little more about what SEO is and have five tactics for amending things yourself. If you're still keen on hiring an SEO expert make sure you're able to provide them with the answers to the five questions below. This will ensure both parties are aware of the objectives and metrics for success. 

  1. Do I want help with on-page SEO, off-page SEO or both?

  2. What's my budget and what do I expect in return (i.e. weekly reports, training on Google Analytics, a site audit, overall strategy or monthly tactics etc.)?

  3. What's the main objective (i.e., traffic, awareness) and how will I measure this at the end of 30, 60 and 90 days? 

  4. What have I done myself / in-house / with a PR or Content agency to improve SEO and how have I measured if that's worked or not?

  5. Do I know how well my site ranks today for my key search terms?

Phew! We got there!

SEO is important for any business, including yours. Understanding what it is, why you need it and how you'll utilise it is essential before splashing out cash on an expert. I hope this snippet gives you a little more confidence when delving into SEO for your small business.

If SEO is something you wish to focus on in 2019, make sure you’re on this email list to be the first to know about our upcoming online Marketing course.

Fiona Killackey