As Google continues to unhinge marketing models everywhere, companies are increasing spending on digital marketing services. If you are considering investing in search engine optimization (SEO), it may be hard to decide where to spend money, especially when marketing budgets are always tight.
- Keyword research and optimization: Keyword research and optimization is about defining the audiences you want to reach online. People search a specific term, and your company shows up in the search results. Then the searchers click on your link — and you meet a new prospect!
- Technical work on websites: If you want to meet folks searching for keywords relevant to your offerings, your website needs to be a well-oiled machine that communicates quickly and clearly with Google, at all times.
- Link building: Links from other websites to your website, are what Google counts, and cares about more than anything else. If your website is associated with other important and popular websites, Google will automatically like you more — and display your company much higher in search results.
Still, SEO firms can potentially bring a lot of value to your business, and many marketers are taking the plunge. According to media analysts at Borrell, SEO spending will reach $80 billion annually by 2020.
If you are considering hiring an SEO agency for your company, it’s important to understand what you’re buying. In general, SEO work falls into three main buckets:
- Keyword research and optimization
This is what most people think of when they think of SEO. “Keyword research and optimization is about defining the audiences you want to reach online, then communicating to Google where you want to meet those people,” explains Andy Kerns, Content Strategist with Digital Third Coast, a Chicago-based digital marketing agency. Kerns continues, “The where in this equation is represented by specific keyword phrases, like “’running shoes’ or ‘payroll software. People search a specific term, and your company shows up in the search results. Then the searchers click on your link — and you meet a new prospect!”
- Technical work on websites
This is work you might not associate with SEO, but it is often essential. “The algorithm Google uses to assess and rate all websites is very sophisticated and very picky,” Kerns says. “It has to work extremely fast, in nanoseconds. If you want to meet folks searching for keywords relevant to your offerings, your website needs to be a well-oiled machine that communicates quickly and clearly with Google, at all times. This is not as simple as it sounds. There are literally hundreds of technical considerations when optimizing a website for SEO purposes.”
- Link building campaigns
This is an aspect of SEO that might surprise you if you are new to the game — and it’s a game changer. “Consider the hundreds of technical tweaks that need to be made when optimizing a website.There’s a single consideration for Google’s algorithm that rises above all others — we call it links.” Kerns says. “Links from other websites to your website, are what Google counts, and cares about more than anything else. If your website is associated with other important and popular websites, Google will automatically like you more — and display your company much higher (closer to the top of Page 1) in search results.”
The hard part is getting those links in a legitimate way using keywords you care about – and that is where an SEO firm can be invaluable. “If you develop first-class content that is educational, entertaining, or both, and you make a concerted effort to share that content with the world, the world will link back to you”, Kerns notes.
While often at least some of the work can be done yourself or with in-house staff, the truth is that letting experts do it for you more than pays for itself, and here are several reasons why:
- True SEO work is systemic. “If you don’t address everything—technical issues, keyword optimization, link building—it’s highly unlikely you’ll get the results you want,” Kerns warns. “This work is systemic, it’s on-going, and it requires a broad range of skills that would be very tough and costly to add to your existing team.” Hiring an expert or, better yet, a firm of experts, can streamline the process and maximize the ROI —Return on Investment.
- Fresh perspective is your friend. “A common challenge we have is helping clients understand when their keyword strategy needs to shift to meet prospects where they are. We also need to clarify the kinds of link building content that will attract attention from journalists without seeming promotional.” Kerns says. “It’s extremely difficult for most people to see beyond the boundaries of their business, to understand where they need to fit in to the larger picture, We can do that for them.”
- There are no guarantees. You can spend a great deal of time getting educated about SEO and setting yourself up to give it a go on your own, using internal resources. And you may well be successful. But it’s a long shot. SEO is relatively new and it’s a delicate, esoteric trade. Finding a dedicated team with a proven track record and good recommendations is usually the smarter play here.
- Get access to the coolest toolbox. “Think of someone trying to build a house with an old school toolbox versus the tools professional contractors bring to the job. A great SEO team comes with a remarkable array of software tools,” Kerns notes. “These are the essential tools of the SEO trade. Even if you knew just what to source, they’d cost you tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, much less use.”