The ABC’s of Outsourcing SEO
November 1, 2004
- Algorithms. These are the major thorns in the side of the SEO industry. Many organizations have invested a fair amount of money in an SEO project without insuring that maintenance is part of the deal. Search Engines such as Google (and others as their technology improves) spend a lot of time redefining their algorithms, and therefore SEO must be updated as these algorithms change.
Bottom Line: ensure ongoing maintenance is a part of any SEO deal.
- Business Model. B2B B2C B2G B2? Who is your target? When optimizing a site, ensure that you have properly explained your target market to the SEO Company. This will ensure that no unnecessary work is done. A good example is "security systems.” There are many keywords that can be targeted that include "home” or "house.” Does your company deal only with industrial security systems?
Bottom Line: make sure your SEO Company understands the nature of your Business model.
- Competition. You must know your competition in order to be successful in Internet Marketing. The more websites that you can provide to the SEO Company as examples of what you want to emulate or avoid, the better the "look and feel” of your optimized site will be. A good SEO company will probably grill you for this type of information. Some of the best competitive sites to study are the ones that are mainstays in the sponsored listings, especially in very high cost keyword fields. If these sites are spending a lot of money "per-click,” chances are that the site is converting leads for them.
Bottom Line: as Caesar said: ""Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer."
- Doorway Page. Although the idea of using doorway pages as a safe and effective SEO tool has diminished over the past few years, the "doorway” concept is solid. Your website content should provide a doorway for your target market to step-into from search engines. This does not mean that you should design keyword-dense pages and submit them in order to gain rankings. This will no longer work as it used-to. Even if it does, you could potentially be banned from being indexed in the future.
Bottom Line: think of what’s beyond the doorway as searchers enter your site.
- Ethics. Ethics is a very important subject when it comes to choosing a SEO company. There are a variety of ways that a SEO can act in an "unethical” manner when either selling their services to you or when performing the actual optimization that you contracted-for. Everyone has a different set of ideals and what they believe is morally right and wrong. You should therefore decide for yourself if an SEO company ethically "jives with you.” The best ways are to ask specific questions about methodology; and best of all: search the Internet for the company name. If there are many negative results about the SEO Company’s behavior, you should probably look elsewhere.
Bottom Line: "If it looks and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.”
- Framed sites. Many SEO Companies will agree that framed sites are not suitable for search engine spiders. Although content within "i-frames” can be read by some search engines, if you want to improve overall rankings your website will probably have to undergo a major restructuring if it has been built in frames.
Bottom Line: see the previous sentence.
- Google. Google is the heavyweight in this industry, period. If the SEO Company that you are considering does not offer to help you with your Google rankings, or skirts around the issue, they are taking the easy way out. Almost anyone can follow simple directions and optimize their sites to appear well within lesser search engines, but achieving ranking in Google’s top listings requires a science based on current experience and occasional failure. A very important thing to remember when optimizing for Google is found in the letter "U.”
Bottom Line: the majority of searches occur within the Google network, and thanks to the publicity generated with the recent public offering, as well as their outstanding search results, this is not going to change any time soon.
- Hispanic Market. This letter will be used to discuss the idea of optimization for all foreign language keywords. In the United States, the Hispanic market is one that can not be overlooked. Most search engines will provide relevant results for searches performed in Spanish. If you rely heavily on the Hispanic market segment, or another foreign-language-speaking segment, you should look for an SEO Company that specializes in that market. You should also rely on a native speaker to proof the copywriting. One of the biggest turn-offs for website visitors is to find a misspelling or grammatical error.
Bottom line: Not all SEO Companies are qualified to help with foreign language market segments.
- Internet. What is this all about? It is very important to remember when dealing with an SEO Company that the Internet is their specialty. You may receive conflicting information from traditional advertising agencies that have never dealt with Internet Marketing. Things will be said such as "you can’t market that on the Internet,” or "no one in your target market uses the Internet.” Do not pay attention to the nay-sayers: the Internet as a marketplace and a branding platform is here to stay. Let an SEO Company decide if you can perform on the Internet, and make them prove it to you with statistics.
Bottom Line: As of September 30, 2004, nearly 1 billion people are using the Internet. (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm)
- Keyword. What exactly is a keyword? Is it one word? A phrase? The answer is "yes.” When a SEO Company talks about improving your keywords, they are not simply targeting one particular keyword. If an SEO Company claims that they can get you ranked very highly for a one-word search phrase such as "love,” and they are charging very little money for this work, it is highly unlikely that they will succeed. Keywords are much more than single one or two word phrases, and thorough keyword research will be the bulk of a good SEO Company’s contracted deliverables.
Bottom Line: A SEO Company should give you a list for approval of keywords to target after seeing your initial list and analyzing your site and market.
- Link. Any SEO package should include at least a preliminary discussion about linking. Many SEO Companies will spend more time and effort on your linking structure and popularity than anything else. The reason for this is the importance (especially in Google) of relevant link popularity. Text links (links with keywords underlined and able to lead you directly to the linked-website) are very effective. The only good links are to and from sites that are somehow relevant to your industry (more information on this topic is found under the letter "P”).
Bottom Line: Avoid "link farms.” These are sites that seemingly exist only to provide links to other sites. These are bad and can actually hurt your link popularity.
- META Information. META information is found within the source code of many websites. This used to be highly important in order to rank well, and still plays a major factor in some older search engines rankings. The content is provided for the search engine specifically, in order to give each page a Title (also used at the top of your browser), Description, and relevant Keywords. Although META is not as important as it once was, the Title certainly remains an important factor in search engine positioning.
Bottom Line: A SEO Company should create META content that is unique to each of your pages to be optimized.
- Navigation. One of the most powerful forces in increasing your website’s search engine positioning is through proper navigational structure within the website. Although this subject may seem similar to linking, it deals directly with the linking occurring within your own website. An effective SEO Company will ensure that as many useful text links and other links are available to your users.
Bottom Line: All of your main theme pages should be easy to navigate-to from any other main page within the site. You should have a Site Map.
- Organic Listings. This may seem obvious to many, but organic listings are the name of the game. SEO Companies specialize in providing methods for websites to improve their organic rankings. These are also known as free listings or "merit” listings. These listings can be achieved by keeping one simple thing in mind when redesigning content and structure of a website: focus on providing search engine users with relevant data and linking.
Bottom Line: Provide the proper relevant content, improve your traffic and linking, and you will appear within the organic listings.
- PageRank. A big factor in Google’s secret algorithm. Contrary to a common and easy misconception, this is not what rank your site appears on a certain page of the listings. The PageRank developed by Google is a way for them to rank your site based on the number of industry-relevant inbound links, among other things. You can see any site’s PageRank by downloading the Google Toolbar. Almost as a rule, sites with a higher PageRank will rank better within the Google’s search results.
Bottom Line: Note that PageRank is only one part of the overall algorithm used by Google to rank sites: content and popularity make up the other parts.
- Quality. In order to measure the quality of the work done by a SEO Company in the past, simply ask to see some references. Make sure that you research further than what is provided to you, however. If the company claims that it has gotten top-three rankings for a particular site for a particular keyword phrase, double check them by searching another obvious phrase that the site should appear highly in the rankings for. A good example would be the name of the company or their "flagship” product.
Bottom Line: Attempt to make sure that the money that you are investing in outsourcing SEO will provide predictable results.
- Reporting. Once you have chosen a SEO Company, there must be a way to measure success. Simply feeling like you are getting more sales or leads does not cut it. A good SEO Company will provide you with a benchmark report of your rankings within the top search engines for keyword terms that you covet. How else can you measure the success? Since linking is also an important part of a SEO campaign, ensure that you are tracking inbound links compared to a benchmark report as well.
Bottom Line: Hold your SEO Company accountable by regularly requesting updated ranking reports after the first month.
- SPAM. Spam when defined in SEO terms means ways to try and trick the search engines into ranking your site for particular keyword phrases. There are a variety of methods used to spam search engines, but the most common are cloaking and excessive use of keywords (sometimes hidden) within content. These actually work together: cloaking involves providing different content for the search engine spider than is actually seen by the visitor, thus "cloaking” the true content from the spider. The content that is shown to the spider often looks garbled if read by human eyes. Keyword repetition is the norm, to the point of seeming like a punished student was forced to write the same thing over and over again.
Bottom Line: Ensure that your chosen SEO Company does not use these methods, unless you don’t care that your site may eventually be penalized after initial success.
- Time. Good SEO results take time. If you go into a SEO Campaign with the intentions of immediate rankings, you are heading the wrong way. The only way to get instant rankings for relevant search phrases is to use Search Advertising to appear within the sponsored listings, which is another subject entirely. You should be prepared to wait for weeks if not months for the SEO project to begin to show results. The good news is that once you are ranking-well, with continual monitoring and SEO updates, you should continue to rank well.
Bottom Line: If you are in a hurry, buy listings through methods other than SEO.
- User. It has been mentioned a couple times in this alphabet, but the most important focus of the SEO Company that is performing the work for you should be the user of your site, not the search engines. The horse must pull the cart, the driver must command the horse. The SEO Company should have a clear understanding of your target market as well as your product, in order to effectively provide information to relevant searchers.
Bottom Line: Don’t lose focus: your website is for the searcher not the search engine.
- Vision. Think outside of the box. You are an expert in your industry, so you probably see things differently than the average searcher. When optimizing, the SEO Company will suggest keyword phrases to you that you may feel are not often searched. You may also feel that a particular term is very important. If you are not a surgeon, would you tell one how to perform surgery on your child? Let the SEO Company do the research and educate you about searches for your product or service. Do not use blinders and pick all of the keyword phrases yourself. Some SEO Companies will be happy to do this for you, because they know that there are few competing sites for those terms. They will then deliver the results that you wanted as well as very little traffic.
Bottom Line: Let the SEO Company consult you as to the best keyword phrases to optimize-for. SEO is an iterative process.
- WYSIWYG. "What you see is what you get” is very applicable to the process of choosing a good SEO Company. There are many companies out there that claim to be experts in the field of SEO, but that have made no efforts to achieve higher rankings for their own website. These companies should not be ignored, however, providing that they can give you an explanation of why this is the case. In some instances, SEO Companies do not want to spend the time and effort to achieve high rankings simply because they dedicate their time to their clients. If that is the case, ask for references and see "Q” above when researching them.
Bottom Line: If you cannot find anything about a company on the Internet and they provide no solid references: buyer beware.
- X-Factor. There are a variety of X factors that you can use to make your final choice of a SEO Company. You may prefer a local company or at least one within your own country. Some people will chose based on price, provided that all other aspects of the proposed plan are equal. Others will base their decision purely on personal references from business associates that have had a good experience with the company. No matter which X-Factor is chosen, you will have to live with the decision.
Bottom Line: use your common sense and analysis as opposed to emotions when making a choice of which SEO Company to outsource-to.
- Yahoo! Yahoo is a directory before a search engine. These types of search platforms rank sites within categories, getting as specific as possible. If there is no specific category, then Yahoo will rank websites based on its own natural search technology algorithm. The directory listings are reviewed by a human editor before being ranked. This is a free service but you can pay for "express inclusion” in order to be looked-at in a time frame that is quicker than the months it takes for the free submission to be reviewed. Paying does not guarantee inclusion within the listings. Many SEO Companies will include directory submission as a part of the SEO process.
Bottom Line: Perform SEO first, and then submit your website for inclusion within the directory. Many SEO Companies will do this for you and build the cost into their SEO price.
- "Z END” As our French friends would say: au-revoir!