Howarths Stores, Middleton 19th Century

How SEO Works (or should work) and what it costs

Hitting high ranking positions on Google Search for relevant keywords can be an absolute gold-mine for many businesses. I have several clients in this fortunate situation who can now pick and choose the enquiries they deal with. Jobs too small, too unprofitable or involving potentially awkward clients are swerved. A great holistic marketing machine (involving SEO, Pay-per-click, Social Media & offline advertising) leaves them free to concentrate on the top jobs, leaving their competition scrambling around for the scraps.

Many of my new clients have spent fortunes on ‘SEO’ in the past and have seen no benefit. Quite rightly they are very sceptical of SEO Consultants and have only contacted me because of a referral from one of my other clients.

Common Misconceptions

There is a widely spread rumour that SEO work takes 6-12 months to kick in. This misconception allows the con men to take money off small businesses for months without actually doing any work. Amazing, but sadly true. I speak to victims almost every week who have fallen for this. A good SEO will first decide whether or not they can help you and will then produce a documented plan. Work performed should be detailed and evidence provided on at least a monthly basis.

SEO is NOT Black Magic

Good SEO is simply common sense and should be geared towards giving your visitors the best possible experience. 3 major factors govern your rankings in Google. 1) Original and useful content relevant to the search terms your customers are using; 2) Authority and trustworthiness of your website (incoming links, SSL etc.); and 3) Technical capability of your website (PageSpeed, Meta Data, Internal Links etc.)

Should a good SEO Consultant take you on?

A good SEO Consultant should only work with you if he or she can see a benefit to you in doing so. If your product or service is poor or your business plan is nonsense, then they will not be interested in risking their reputation on a potential failure. This outlook works for me but unfortunately there are people out there still trying to build a reputation (or who are just after your money). These misguided souls or snake-oil-salesmen will take on any SEO project regardless of how impossible it is. If you are really unlucky, they will use some well-known ‘black-hat’ seo techniques to give you some quick gains before Google penalises your site.

A good SEO Consultant will also be wary of possible conflicts of interest and advise accordingly. I have a policy of not taking on SEO work for any serious competitor of any of my ongoing clients.

The Preliminary SEO Report

If a good SEO Consultant agrees to take you on, first to follow should be a Preliminary SEO Report. This will include an analysis of where your site is at now in terms of ranking positions, credibility and value – along with a technical evaluation. It will also include detailed information on the websites of those competitors who currently rank above you. This report will help the SEO to determine the course of action required both initially and ongoing to improve your rankings. The Consultant’s success can then be measured against this as things progress.

The Preliminary Report will also contain a recommendation for initial and ongoing budgets. Some or even all of the items below in the table may be proposed.

 

 INITIAL BUDGET ITEMS  ONGOING BUDGET ITEMS
Fixing the site SEO infrastructure OR building a new site.

Moving the site hosting to a faster, more reliable, more suitable host or a server less filled with spam websites.

Competitor analysis.

Keyword research.

Rewriting content or producing new content.

Adding features to the site to improve user engagement.

Replacing site images with ones more suitable and engaging.

Evaluating the site’s Backlink profile and fixing if necessary.

Installation and setup of Analytical tools.

Setup and management of Pay-per-Click and/or Social Media Campaigns.

Backlink acquisition and strategy.

Adding regular new content and promoting it.

Email Marketing to existing and potential customers.

Social Media marketing and promotion.

Online marketplaces setup and management.

Offline marketing.

Competitor analysis.

 

The Initial Course of Action

The actions to be taken immediately will depend on the contents of the Preliminary Report. By now, costings will have been agreed so you will know how much you will be spending both upfront and ongoing.

Technical Fix or Replace

Invariably there will be a number of technical errors to fix on your site. Worst case, if the site appears unfixable, the SEO will have recommended a brand new website. The last two SEO contracts I have taken on have included building brand new sites as the existing ones were beyond help! (TIP: If you currently have a ‘Build Your Own’ website from the likes of Wix or GoDaddy then please don’t approach any reputable SEO Consultant!)

Technical fixes and especially site rebuilds can have dramatic effects on rankings, so there could be some early and significant gains here. Full site rebuilds can often be built into a monthly SEO payment plan to help you spread the cost.

Backlink Audit & Fix

If a client has employed a dubious SEO Consultant previously, especially ones from overseas, their website backlink profile may be shaky at best. Ranking highly is no longer a simple matter of obtaining thousands of links from other sites – Google now looks at the relevance and trust score of the domains linking to you.

Many UK-based ‘SEO Consultants’ depend on using ‘PBN’ (Private Blog Networks) to improve website rankings. A PBN is typically a group of websites existing solely to provide links to client sites. A PBN site is often of very low value and is usually a single page with 4 or 5 articles, with each article linking to a different target website. In the past this ‘black-hat’ method did work, but increasingly Google is getting wise to it. More info on PBN’s here…

On a recent new contract I found thousands upon thousands of backlinks from diet pill, viagra and gambling websites coming in from hundreds of domains and worthlss directories. Negative backlinks will be identified by the SEO and ‘disavowed’ pretty quickly through Google and Bing. Again, this can have an effect within weeks.

Existing positive backlinks may be improved by altering the quality and context of text or image links where possible.

Sometimes a website will have been so severely spammed by negative backlinks that it has been downgraded by Google. In this case, a new domain name is often the only option.

Website Upgrades

Your SEO may want to move your site to a better server environment, add HTTPS or build in new features. As a good SEO will be concerned about the look and feel of your website from a user perspective, they will certainly want to improve the content. New images, plugins and/or extensions may need to be purchased. More quick fixes and early gains are to be had here.

Keyword Research

Your SEO by now should have a great big list of all the search queries used by your potential customers. Existing content on your site may well be rewritten or tweaked to make your pages more attractive to these queries. Again, there can be quick fixes here which will improve rankings.

Images

Existing images used on your site should be checked for copyright infringements. May web designers will simply copy images from Google without checking whether or not they are allowed to. This could leave you open to lawsuits from the image copyright holders. It is best to only have original images on your site, or at least ones you have purchased from a reputable stock photo library.

Analytics

Professional analytics software will be installed and set up in order to track visitors to your site, their intentions and their actions. Goals can be set – eg. no. of pages visited, time spent on the site, enquiries made, value of purchases. You should see a steady progression week by week.


Ongoing Strategy

Pay-per-Click

Whilst the initial work is underway, a sensible option to bring in enquiries would be to set up a Google Adwords, Bing Ads or Facebook Boost Campaign. Sometimes all 3. Keywords and demographics can be carefully selected and a daily budget can be set. As the SEO Campaign progresses and the site starts ranking highly, some of these keywords in the PPC Campaign or Demographic Tags in Facebook can be dropped. Again, a budget will have been agreed for both the initial set-up and ongoing spend. When done correctly, a PPC Campaign is something you will probably want to continue ad infinitum.

A good PPC or Facebook Boost Campaign will take a few days or weeks to establish itself, as much testing and measuring needs to be done.

Backlinks

A strategy to obtain ethical and relevant backlinks will normally be undertaken – often in conjunction with a content marketing plan. There are always some early cheap hits for backlinks and your SEO should be confident in obtaining these within the first few weeks. Moving on, they should be looking to add a good mix of reputable backlinks month by month whilst checking for low value and potentially negative ones.

Competitor Analysis

A keen eye will need to be kept on your competition. Some competitors may notice your site climbing the rankings, most will not until you overtake them and the level of enquiries or sales they receive begins to drop. Competitors may engage their own SEO at some point or launch a new website in an attempt to regain ranking positions.

Content

By far the biggest factor in search rankings is in having original content on your website which is highly relevant to a given search query. Once written, this content can be broadcast through Social Media and/or Press Release platforms. Some SEO’s will employ specialist copywriters for this and again, they will be budgeted in.

Keyword Research will have identified topics for new content and your SEO will have suggested a plan. On occasion, I have identified keywords and introduced new content which have had a dramatic effect on sales.

Email Marketing

An Email Marketing strategy should be built in from the off, targeting existing customers and potential customers. A plan should be in place to grow an opted-in list month on month and to deliver effective and interesting content to your audience.

Social Media

Never underestimate the power of Social Media for a business. A good SEO will identify those Social Media platforms with the best potential for your business and will come up with an ongoing content plan.

Online Marketplaces

Whilst your website may be practically invisible to potential customers, the likes of Amazon and eBay are always right in their faces. Your SEO may have identified opportunities on these platforms which can help to support sales in the early months of an SEO campaign.

Offline Advertising

Often overlooked by SEO’s, offline marketing can be a huge support to the launch or re-launch of an online business. This can take many forms – from local media ads, to leafleting, posters, billboards or a sound referral strategy. Be prepared to test and measure any offline promotional opportunity.

The Cost of a Good SEO

GOOD SEO work takes time and lots of hard, intensive work. Expect to pay for it. Your SEO will have either an hourly or a day rate and will be able to recommend the amount of time required per month to hit your goals. For a good, experienced SEO with a track record of success you should be expecting to pay a minimum of £40 per hour. As the results come in, you should also look at offering them gifts – bottles of wine and meals out go down particularly well.

If you are made fully aware of what your SEO will be doing as described above, there should be no surprises. A good SEO Campaign partnered with a complimentary advertising budget for PPC, Online Marketplaces and/or Offline Advertising should be cost-negative. It will continue to pay for itself as your sales grow.

I typically charge between £100 and £250 per month (one client pays £1000+ per month). For this pittance you will receive documented audits including ranking positions, competitor analysis, backlink acquisition and infrastructure fixes – and optional extras including a new website build, regular new content, social media management, AdWords Campaigns and more.

How Long Should SEO Take?

I do not agree with the statement that SEO is a long-term investment and that you should be prepared to wait 6 months or so to see any results. A good plan, including a robust mix of strategy, will show tangible results within weeks. That’s if the likes of me decide to take you on!!

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