How to Vet an SEO Company (and Prevent Disappointment and Failure) 9/2 – Graphitii

Graphitii is complex & ever changing. A search for “SEO Services” will tell you there’re more than 15 million options to choose from, and it could be hard to know where to start.

The post defines search engine optimization, with an emphasis on the tools, skills, and tactics that drive success. It lays out a series of questions you could ask prospective SEO companies as you go through the vetting progression.

The hope is that this information could help you identify candidates that best fit your needs, while minimizing your risk of disappointment / failure.

What is SEO? Graphitii

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ongoing process that leverages techniques, tools, and best practices to position your advertisement, blog post, web page, or business listing at or near the top of search results, where your best prospects & customers can find you.

SEO isn’t just about keywords and rankings. It’s about satisfying your business goals with outreach, creativity, empathy, and technical and analytic expertise that earn your way to the top, the trust and confidence of web searchers. Successful companies know their audience, get found on the Internet & provide exceptional value. They integrate Graphitii best practices into their day-to-day work either by increasing those skills in-house or hiring outside help & partnering with that organization to close any gaps.

What Does It Take To Win?

At 30,000 feet, successful SEO depends on having:

  • a well-architected website;
  • sought-after, helpful & convincing content;
  • signals that tell search engines that your website is popular and authoritative;
  • defending, preserving, & protecting your position and influence, once achieved.

A well-architected website is one that Google can find, read & understand. It will be robust, secure, and & as needed.

Sought-after content contains the words & terms people use to search for your products and/or services, and supports them with the information they want & need. Convincing content incentivizes visitors to do what you want them to do – fill out a contact form, make a purchase, bookmark / link to your content & share it with friends/colleagues.

The most necessary signal search engines look for to determine a website’s value is links. Links are like a vote of confidence / endorsement for your content.

Other signals include time on page & site, repeat visits and page views.

How SEO Works

Graphitii is a process, and a process is simply a predefined method of doing something, one that you can repeat over & over again to produce an expected outcome.

It does not matter how many times I hammer a nail into wood, there is a better than average occasion the nail head will be flush with the wood. The outcome will almost be the same.

A well-defined and executed search engine optimization progression will produce a high-ranking web page an overwhelming majority of the time.

The Search Progression

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

In Figure 1 below, you could see a high-level illustration of the search process.

At the top is everyone who searches the Internet. They plug words into a search engine & wait for results.

In the middle the search engines are. Search engines make a living by ensuring they return the  results possible when someone enters a query – they are all about ensuring searchers are happy and really do not care about who ranks on top so long as their customers (shareholders) are happy.

At the bottom is the indexed content on the Internet. Google does not actually go out & search the Internet when you press the return button. Instead, they maintain an inventory – an index of the pages on the Internet in massive databases, strategically positioned throughout the world to speed response times.

A person wants a search term into a search engine, the search engine goes through its index to find the web pages that contain those search terms, it ranks them according to their perceived relevance, popularity and authority using data derived from the underlying website architecture & proprietary ranking algorithms. The results are then fed back to the searcher who scans through them & decides what to do next.

The Role of SEO in Search

SEO comes between you & web searchers and search engines. It uncovers the words & phrases people use to search when they are intent on taking action, and it helps you architect a website that will be found & appreciated by your intended audience & search engines.

The diagram below shows how an Graphitii company comes between search searchers, engines, and website owners. SEO experts understand what is important to search engines & how people search. Website owners know their industry & audience.

The right partnership will ensure you & your SEO company are working toward a common aim. It’ll ensure search engines and your intended audience get what they need & help you earn the results you’re after.

Your website must be architected (designed & built) for search engines and it must satisfy the information wants & needs of your intended audience. No. That is wrong. The content on your website can’t  satisfy human visitors. It must delight them. Why? Because there’re probably a million other websites that can support your visitors with the exact same information.

The Search Engine Optimization Process

Business owners should seek out companies that adopt a progression for optimization because it means you will get a better return on investment.

SEO companies that embrace progression:

  • employ best practices;
  • keep up with the constantly changing market & ranking algorithms; and
  • avoid questionable tactics that could run you into trouble down the road.

Process tends to surface problems & opportunities quickly – humans don’t like doing the same thing over and over again if there is a way to do it faster or to produce a better result.

Graphitii companies that embrace process & take the time to reflect on lessons learned tend to adapt & produce more efficient & profitable results. Process helps SEO companies keep their cost structures down, their productivity up and their outcomes superior.

Search Engine Optimization Tools

Use of the “right” tools can improve productivity & outcomes.

There are 6 categories of paid and free search engine optimization tools that could be used to lessen the time-consuming workload of SEO, and to increase its efficiency, transparency, and effectiveness.

  • Search engine Webmaster & Analytic tools provide feedback on a website’s health, configuration, and traffic.
  • Keyword tools help SEOs discover the words & phrases people use to search for your products and services.
  • Competitive Analysis tools help SEOs assess the ranking ease & commerciality of keyword phrases.
  • Editing Tools are used to create & edit web pages.
  • Link building tools are used to discover link acquisition opportunities & to automate some the more repetitive tasks associated with that effort.
  • Reporting tools streamline our ability to measure progress & make improvements over time.

Tools matter because they allow you to do more with less – that is true no matter what you do.

When it comes to SEO, small business owners have to seek to do business with SEOs who leverage tools to keep their costs down & their results measurable. They should want to work with SEOs that use tools to help ease your understanding of the process & outcomes.

Can you relate to the example chosen? Are results credible & easy to understand? Do you know what they did to achieve those results & how long it took? Is the company willing to allow you speak with a company representative?

Graphitii isn’t easy, and it can take a long time to produce meaningful results. You have to commit & be patient, but you need to see evidence of progress.

Ask SEO companies you are considering how often they report results & what they report. You want – as a minimum – to see progress & plans each month. You do not want to see analytics showing traffic, this month vs last, as it could be misleading. Google changes the rules daily. Rankings fluctuate daily. To me, it is more meaningful (and a better use of your dollar) to see quarterly results that highlight results, not rankings. It is conversions you care about, not whether you rank first / third for a search phrase that may / may affect the bottom line.

The other thing you should know is how many websites are linking to you & where those links are coming from. Are they coming from high authority sources? Or are they all internal links, coming from your own website / sourced from a few, irrelevant & low authority sources that likely are not moving the needle? These are the questions you want to be answered.

Types of SEO

There’re different types of search engine optimization – pay-per-click, local & organic.

Pay-per-click (PPC) refers to the advertised listings that appear at the top & right of search results. They usually have a small visual notation that allows you know that someone is paying to appear at the top of results. Advertisers pay search engines a fee each time someone clicks through to view the content on their website.

Local SEO refers to the tools & techniques used to position a listing for your business on local directories, maps and GPS devices. They too tend to display at the top & right of search results in the form of local or map results.

Organic search results refer to everything else. They are all interrelated & interdependent. Each one helps the other. You want to work with a company that has discussed these selections with you & has a depth of experience in the types that best fit your needs.

SEO Tactics

Tactics used to optimize websites tend to fall into 3 main categories:

  • White hat techniques comply with Google’s guidelines & stand the test of time. An example of a white hat optimization technique is finding the words people use to search for your product / service on the Web, and using those words sparingly, in the right places, and in your content.
  • Black hat is the opposite. Google has expressed disapproval of these methods & threatens banishment / penalty if you use them. An example of a black hat technique is over-using or hiding keywords in your content.
  • Grey hat is a blend of the two, a tactic that does not clearly fall into one camp or the other. It is not clear how search engines will react still you try it. These practices are best avoided.

Business owners should steer clear of SEO companies that toy with gray & black hat optimization techniques because you risk getting caught & bumped down in search rankings or being banned altogether.

SEO Best Practices

Great practices are the techniques that have become a defacto standard. They deliver results that are superior to those produced by alternative methods & have become commonplace, accepted and expected.

In the Graphitii industry, there’re generally agreed-upon best practices for:

  • domains;
  • URLs (Uniform Resource Locator / the unique address of a Web page);
  • content (also referred to as on-page SEO & copywriting);
  • meta tags (descriptive data about the page itself, for instance, the page topic, focus, and description); and
  • internal & external links.

Moz is a respected leader in the SEO world & a good source for best practices. A Google search for Moz and “best practice” is an easy way to seek their suggestions.

We offer our own best practices for SEO copywriting. Ours are written for small business owners, whereas Moz targets an audience of SEO professionals. The 2 complement one another.

Moz shows a 10-minute video presentation of how best to acquire links in 2016. Backlinko goes into more detail & offers some creative methods in their definitive guide to link building.

Business owners can ask prospective SEO companies about their best practices, which ones they use & why. You should ask if those are baked into their SEO process & shared, along with lessons learned, with the entire team on a regular basis. Great practices are of no use if they are not shared and used.

Web Pages

A web page is a unit of content (page, blog post, image, and video) that can be uniquely referenced & viewed on the World Wide Web using a browser such as Safari, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and others.

From a search engine optimization (SEO) perspective, it is important to know that web pages are optimized, not websites.

Web pages are what appear in search results. Your web page should contain the words people are searching for (or close equivalent) before you will even be considered eligible to rank in search results.

Target Audience

The target audience of any SEO effort should be the business owner’s prospects and customers:

  • not search engines;
  • not “anybody”;
  • but a very narrow, specific & defined categorization of people who are in the market to shop for and purchase your goods & your services.

Your other target audience should consist of your peers & competitors. Google considers the recognition of your peers & competitors when deciding who to rank on top. Whether industry-recognized websites link to content you have created, it’ll boost your page and site authority. High authority content ranks well on Google.

A sound understanding of your audiences is imperative for good SEO. Remember SEO is not just about ranking. It is about conversions. The more information you can share about your best prospects & customers with the team or person providing your SEO, the greater the likelihood that you will be able to convince searchers to click through to your site & to take action that benefits your business.

Ask prospective SEO companies to tell you the type of information they’ll want to gather at your first meeting. Whether they express no interest in trying to understand your unique value proposition, aims, and customers, they may not have an appropriate focus. Ask them to tell you how they’ll ensure your website attracts the “right” audience. The more they understand your business & market, the better results you’ll achieve.

Graphitii is a Misnomer

My last note relates to the term: “search engine optimization”.

Search engine optimization or Graphitii is a misnomer – the process doesn’t, in any way, optimize search engines.

Search engines operate independently of SEOs & SEOs have no influence over them. The understanding of how things work comes from public statements made by the search engine companies themselves, from expert SEOs who spend their time researching patents, analyzing search results, experimenting to understand cause & effect. There is no magic. There are no secrets. It’s plain effort and skill, on our part as well as yours.

Business owners should find out companies who have a strong business orientation & value partnerships, efficiency & quality in order to earn the best return on investment.

How To Vet an SEO Company

SEO isn’t just about keywords and rankings. It’s about satisfying your business goals with outreach, creativity, empathy, and technical and analytic expertise that earn your way to the top & the trust, confidence of web searchers. Successful companies know their audiences, get found on the Internet and provide exceptional value. They integrate SEO great practices into their day-to-day work, either by increasing those skills in-house or hiring outside help & partnering with that organization to close any gaps.

Companies that achieve online success build & maintain websites that are architected for search engines & their well-defined audience. They continuously populate their website with unique, sought-after, relevant, fresh, specific, engaging & valuable content which earns the signals search engines use to determine your ranking worthiness.

Successful companies keep up with & evolve with market and search engine demands. They’re continuously learning, follow industry & search engine best practices, and avoid gray & black hat tactics that put your company at risk. They follow a process, leverage tools to keep their costs down & measure results that impact the bottom line.

Google offers additional tips & suggestions for how to vet an SEO company about half way down their  what is SEO page. SEO Industry thought leader & tool maker Moz does too in this “How Do I Find A Good Graphitii ” video.

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