7 Questions to Ask an SEO Provider

Businesses understand the value in having prominent search engine rankings for keyword phrases that drive business. This makes hiring an agency or professional who can help boost a company’s search engine optimization valuable. But many don’t always know what they’re getting from an SEO provider beyond that aspirational goal.

For many businesses, rankings is their focus from the Web but talking about what’s involved with search engine optimization can seem like speaking another language. Sure, you may not understand everything you’re getting when you look to buy a new furnace but at least you know you’ll be getting a furnace that works. Nowadays that’s not always the case with SEO.

Below are questions to ask an SEO provider so that you can better understand the services offered and develop a plan for a more successful SEO campaign.

1. Do You Guarantee First Page Google Results?

Even though it may not appear this way, this is more of a filtering question that sheds light on the SEO provider’s approach. To the layman, this seems like a logical question. If you’re paying for a service, the provider should be able to commit to a guaranteed outcome. But SEO is unlike any other business service.

Since Google has a more than 65% market share of search engine traffic and they have their own algorithm, any quality SEO provider should never guarantee first page rankings. They don’t control how Google outputs the rankings. In light of Google’s ever-changing algorithm and SEO practices that used to work no longer working, any company or individual that guarantees first page rankings should be viewed suspiciously.

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2. What Do Your Services Include?

Design, content, technical factors on a website, and links are all aspects of SEO. It’s important to understand what services your website needs and what your SEO provider will deliver.

SEO providers should offer best practices and strategies and services that improve your search engine visibility and volume and quality of Web traffic.

3. What Is Your Process for Getting Links?

Gaining quality links from other sites to your website is an important component of improving your search engine rankings. If you’re paying for SEO, it’s important to understand your SEO provider’s process for obtaining new links and the tactics involved with that.

Link building strategies such as obtaining low quality directories or guest posts on non-authoritative, not-industry related sites aren’t likely to be very beneficial for your search engine rankings in the long-run nor provide referral traffic.

4. What is Your Content Creation Process, Can You Provide Examples and Who Writes/Creates the Content?

Unique, targeted, high quality website content can be a good way to market your brand and gain a larger audience, get more social shares, and more links. But creating content just for the hope of high search engine rankings can have diminishing returns from a marketing standpoint.

Having quality writing and creative skills can allow your content to stand out from the crowd. What you don’t want is content prepared by a writer with poor skills or even worse, a machine. Low value content can really tarnish a website and even adversely affect your search engine rankings.

5. How do You Promote New Content?

Hitting publish on your blog doesn’t automatically mean your content work box is checked and it will successfully garner search rankings, traffic and links. A significant amount of time and energy should be spent to effectively promote the content. This is where having a strong following for your business and effective PR capability come into play.

Will it be promoted on social media, used in email marketing, paid content promotion, or even better is there an outreach plan and established contacts that can help get the content on high authority websites or news sites in the businesses niche? The importance of effective content promotion and PR aspects of SEO and content marketing are underrated.

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6. What Are The Monthly Deliverables and How do You Measure Success?

For local businesses that get SEO services, too many just ask is my phone ringing or are more people coming through the door? This is the simplest way to measure SEO but it’s less than scientific.

In the past, SEO services for businesses were largely based on targeted keyword rankings, Web traffic//Web sales, and the number of links built. It was easier to get rankings and show more immediate returns on investment. While these metrics may still be important, overly focusing on keywords and quantity of links can hurt your site in the long run.

Other metrics or goals that are important factors and should be considered would include: increased website page speed, bounce rate, new sources of referral traffic, new pages garnering traffic, or more online reviews. Data on social media follows, likes, and shares may also be part of more meaningful, measurable reporting.

Be wary of monthly SEO reports that provide information that is not very specific or measurable, or provide rankings reports on keywords that are low volume or of little value.

7. What’s the Cost?

There’s nothing worse than paying for something and not knowing what you’re getting. While the costs for online marketing services can vary considerably, understanding the type and level/quality of services included and the expected monthly deliverables, you can better comprehend and identify the SEO services your business needs and get better value.


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What SEO Services Does Your Website Really Need?

Because SEO can be an ever-changing, multi-faceted marketing strategy and penalty risks loom, it’s more important than ever to understand the components of SEO, the deliverable you’re getting from an SEO provider, and where and how your businesses could benefit from SEO services.

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Design and Conversion Rate Optimization

A website should be viewed as much more than a resource for people to find and learn about your business. It can be a powerful marketing tool but you don’t want to advertise something that doesn’t adequately represent your brand.

In the more than 200 factors that make up the Google search algorithm, there are several where design plays a role such as the amount of time user spend on a page and it’s usability on mobile devices.

The page layout, navigation, use of images, and colors all affect the user experience on the website. In addition to visual appeal, leading users to and increasing click rates on the places on the website where a business wants them is important. Whether it’s strong calls to action for a buy now button , a phone call, a contact form, an email subscription or a download, design plays a significant role in a website’s effective as a marketing vehicle.

The Technical Aspects of a Website

Website structure, clean programming, HTML tags, meta data, server speed, mobile capability, a consistent URL naming convention, page titles and other on-site aspects affect a website’s performance. Improper site set up can also block search engine crawlers which can adversely affect or prevent a site from ranking.

Page speed is a Google ranking factor so having minimized files with condensed code to increase load times not only aids SEO, it also helps visitors better interact and use your site. For larger websites or ecommerce sites, technical aspects have an even bigger impact on a site’s performance. Amazon increased revenue by millions of dollars by decreasing load times by one second.

Having the ability to implement schema markup language, can also help search engines better interpret the content of websites and can boost search engine visibility.

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Content

Without content, it’s difficult to rank in the search engines for many keywords. But don’t just do content for the sake of content. It’s needs to be high quality, highly consumable, and targeted to a business goal such as promoting the product or service, providing valuable, useful information for customers or prospective customers, or promoting the brand.

Content is much more than written pages or articles. Videos, graphics, images, presentations, and audio are all different forms of content. Content creation can have many added benefits beyond SEO, including building a community of brand enthusiasts.

In addition, your website description, headlines, testimonials, and calls to action are also places where having good content matters. After all, you want your content to convert website visitors to become engaged with your business and become customers.

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Guest Posting

In addition to content on the website, content on other websites that reference or link to your business’ website can also be very useful for SEO. Many SEO providers do ‘guest posting’ as part of their off-site services. But if you are doing guest posting primarily to get links, this can be dangerous. Google has cracked down on guest posting for this purpose with penalties.

Guest posting should be done with the view to gain brand mentions and website referral traffic on relevant, authoritative or industry related websites, in addition to gaining new external links. If you’re SEO provider is guest posting for the primarily for the purposes of gaining links, your site could be at risk.

While link building used to be widely used term in SEO to gain links, in light of the changes in SEO over the past few years, link earning is now a more apt term. If you are building or constructing links artificially, you are likely violating Google guidelines and your site is at risk for a penalty

Other tactics to gain new external links that SEO providers may use include: obtaining links on industry related websites and relevant online directories, broken link building, content creation, and outreach.

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Outreach/PR

It’s been said content is king in SEO but really outreach is king. It’s the chicken and the egg. While it’d be nice to just hit the publish button and have links come into your website, it isn’t usually that easy. You need content to promote but in order for great content to have it’s largest impact, it needs to be effectively disseminated and pitched in advanced to influencers and targeted, high authority sites that have large social media followings. This is where having a strong, active community and social media following can really provide a boost. Let them go to work for you and help you promote and spread your creative work.

For companies wanting to gain maximum visibility only for their businesses, agencies that have the contacts and can deliver professional outreach that gets results can provide a big boost. These PR efforts can drive brand exposure, social media gains, website referral traffic, and links. But this level of services comes with a cost with some agencies charging tens of thousands a month.

PR outreach doesn’t have to be expensive. With persistence, creativity, and determination even smaller companies can get big PR.

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External Links

The quality of links pointing to your website is a critical factor in a site’s ability to rank valuable keyword phrases. A few years ago, it was easier to get Google rankings and make them stick. With targeted content and anchor text links, it was pretty easy to gain prominent search rankings for valuable keyword phrases. This made providing SEO services highly profitable.

As Google has updated it’s algorithm and more strictly enforced its
Quality Guidelines, this has changed. Google has more aggressively penalized websites with links deemed to be manipulative to their search engine. This includes use of anchor text links and low quality links, which are patterns Google can This has made getting valuable, effective SEO services more difficult to find.

SEO services that tie into link acquisition are keyword research, competitor link and website analysis.

Evaluate Your Needs

This post does not include all SEO services. There are many others including the most unfortunate event of when a website needs Google penalty recovery services or local SEO for specific business locations.

Regardless of the current state of your website, understanding the different components of SEO can help more easily identify the needs for your website and what types of services may be most beneficial for your business. It can also help bring clarity in a confusing and evolving online landscape.


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Google’s New Tool For Business Owners: Google My Business

Google has launched a new tool for small business owners called “Google My Business”. Google My Business is simply a new platform interface for users to help them update and manage their business information in Google all in one place.

You can login to Google My Business with your existing Google login or if you don’t already have one, register for a Google account. This new interface does not replace, Google+ Business Pages, Google Local pages, or any other Google product. And while the focus is on local business owners, anyone with a Google+ page for their brand or non-profit gets access as well.

While of the goal is to make it easier for businesses to get on Google and keep using Google products, the interface unifies access to a business’ Google pages and drops the Google+ name association.

Manage your pages Google My Business Googles New Tool For Business Owners:  Google My Business

Features in “Google My Business”

Once logged in at Google.com/business, you can easily view all your Google business
pages from the dashboard and make edits, additions, or deletions. This is especially helpful when you have duplicate entries. It will also show you which of your pages are Google verified and you can review and update your business’ Google map location(s).

Within the page edit tool, the interface will walk you through what is needed to complete your business profile such as photos, your hours of operation, address, URL, phone number, and business description/category. The pages also contain the Google reviews for a business. The platform is also a convenient place to access the Google tools available to business owners such as AdWords, Analytics, Google Plus, and Hangouts.

For mobile users, there is a version of ‘My Business’ on the Android platform and an iOS version should be coming soon.

google my business dashboard Googles New Tool For Business Owners:  Google My Business

Getting Help With Your Google Listings

Navigating Google pages can be confusing as businesses can have multiple pages such as a Google+ Local page, which features the business’ map location and Google reviews and Google+ Business page as their social sharing page. It is also possible to merge or delete pages to avoid duplication (use these features with great caution).

Having duplicate pages or the wrong address or phone number listed for your business is disconcerting for business owners. Having accurate pages can aid your Google map rankings and having inaccurate information can mean lost calls and lost customers

Google currently offers phone support for “Google My Business”. This can be helpful if you’re having trouble with an incorrect listing or want help using the new platform. There are also Google support forums. If you’re having trouble with your business appears in the Google organic or map listings, you may also want to consider a consult with an SEO professional.


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How to Identify a Google Penalty and Recover From It

A manual penalty from Google is the worst type of penalty a website can receive for organic search rankings. Based on data from Comscore, as of December 2013, Google had a dominant 67.3% share of U.S. search activity. Many websites receive more than 50% of their traffic from Google organic search.

With it’s dominant position in search and the tens of millions it rakes in daily from advertisers, Google has taken recent steps to clean up the results it’s search engine. New algorithm updates and manual penalties it applies to websites in violation of their guidelines have had a significant impact on the Web.

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When a site receives a manual penalty from Google, it is de-indexed from the Google search engine. So that means in addition to the loss of keyword rankings, the site won’t even rank for it’s own brand name. This is a devastating blow for a website.

But a manual penalty doesn’t have to be the kiss of death for a site’s organic search traffic. There are several ways a manual penalty can be lifted by Google. We’ll look at different ways to identify a Google penalty, how to overcome from a penalty, and outcomes.

Use Google Webmaster Tools

If you seek Google organic search traffic to your website, one of the first things you should do, if you haven’t already, is register your website in Google Webmaster Tools. It’s a simple process and Webmaster Tools provides a wealth of information on your site. The information provided includes: messages from Google about your website which could include a penalty or issues crawling your website, your use of structured data, search query data, crawl data, links to your site, and much more.

Webmaster Tools Site Dashboard How to Identify a Google Penalty and Recover From It
If Google detects violations to their “Quality Guidelines”, Google may impose a manual penalty on a website and send you a message via webmaster tools to notify you of the action.

Identifying the Type of Penalty

Without Webmaster Tools, it can be more difficult to diagnose the cause of the manual penalty. In addition to manual penalties, Google’s algorithm updates can also adversely (or positively) impact a website’s rankings.

The Google Panda updates have largely affected websites with poor/low quality content. The Google Penguin updates target link spam; websites that have links pointing to their website for the manipulative purposes of boosting search engine rankings, which is in violation of Google guidelines.

In addition to Google penalties and algorithm updates, other factors could be affecting a website’s ability to rank in Google such as changes to your website structure, internal link changes, lost backlinks from other websites, or competition surpassing your website in the rankings. Being able to identify the cause of the issue(s) is an important step in recovering rankings.

Google has also taken action against private blog networks, guest blog networks, and other schemes sites use to gain links for Google ranking purposes. Websites using these networks can also be penalized.

What to Do If You Have a Penalty

Different problems have different solutions so it’s important to have the expertise of a professional who specializes in SEO to remedy the problem. Google does not provide direct support to help your website overcome penalties but it does provide tools such as the link disavow tool, which when used properly in conjunction with a reconsideration can help a website recover.

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In addition to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, there are other third party tools that can help analyze your Web traffic and the timing of penalties to help diagnose potential causes.

Another step you can take to help recover from Google penalties is to develop high quality, interesting content that other websites and social networkers want to share and link to. These new links build and diversify your link profile and can also lead to new sources of website traffic such as direct, social, or other referral sources.

Outcomes

If being indexed in Google, ranking for your brand and having the ability to get keyword and map rankings is valuable Web traffic, then devoting the time and resources for a recovery is essential.

Webmaster Tools Reconsideration Request3 How to Identify a Google Penalty and Recover From It

Recovery from a Google penalty usually takes some time. While there are purports of recovery in a matter of days, a couple months is really needed for the outreach, documentation, submission to Google, and other work that may be involved in a penalty.

One thing that’s important to understand is that even if a Google penalty is lifted, it does not mean your website will regain the same rankings it had prior to the changes. This is due to factors such as the loss of links during the recovery process, competitors gaining new links, or other Google algorithmic updates that affect search engine rankings.


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10 Ways to Boost Your Social Media Following

Getting traction in social media can be a challenge for businesses, but having a strong social presence can really boost a brand and drive sales for the short and long term and
reduce customer churn. Having as social media strategy and benchmarking special events and holidays on the calendar is vital to strong social engagement. Below are ten tips to help build your social following.

1. Share Compelling Content.

Interesting, engaging articles and content are an important part of a social media strategy. They can drive traffic to your website, promote your brand, and keep people coming back for more. But think beyond articles. Graphics, pictures, quotes, video, audio clips, and presentations can all be beneficial and often more easily digested and shared by your users.

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2. Promote Your Offers and Products or Services.

Self-promotion shouldn’t be the core of your social media strategy, but promoting your products and services or special offers should certainly be a component. Display your products and services in a fun and visually appealing way to make them stand out and be noticed, liked, and shared.

3. Throw a Fun Contest.

People love to win free stuff, especially when it is from a company with a product or service they like. By holding contests and giveaways, you can give your followers a reason to tune in, stay tuned in, and share with their friends and family. Contests and giveaways can also be opportunities to build relationships and partnerships with complimentary companies and do cross-promotion.

4. Create a Company Dropbox, Ask Your Happy Customers to Share Photos.

This can be a tie in to a contest, but having a place where your followers can easily share fun pictures or images that promote your brand is a great way to get more fun, sharable content.

5. Respond to Comments and Recognize Others.

Posting on social media is only a small portion of social engagement. Increasingly social media is about customer service. Promptly and pleasingly responding to questions and comments, liking comments, and liking and sharing the post of others, is a great way to build your customer base and show your commitment to service.

6. Provide Incentives For Active Fans.

In additions to contests and giveaways, recognizing your most active followers is a nice gesture to keep them happy and engaged. Facebook offers a variety of apps that show the most active users, encourage more activity, and ways to reward them.

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7. Ask For Likes and Shares.

Sometimes people need a nudge and asking likes and shares is still a powerful tool in garnering more fans.

8. Pay for Promotion.

Facebook has changed their algorithm making it difficult for your organic posts to reach fans. Some studies have shown 10% of posts or less reaching fans. By paying for promotion, you can guarantee wider distribution and visibility for your posts.

9. Use a URL Shortener.

On social media, there are space constraints and users can have short attention spans. Using a URL shortener such as Bitly or TinyURL is a start, but having your own custom URL shortener is better. For example, in the case of Victoria Secrets, instead of linking to their full path URL such as www.victoriasecrets.com/verylongurlthatdoesntfitwellonsocialmedia, they use a URL shortener like i.victoria.com/social. It’s easier for users to share the URL, they may even remember it, it still represents the brand. This is also beneficial when doing promoted posts as there are a limited amount of characters that can be seen.

10. Make it Easy to Share.

Having a URL shortener is a good first step but it’s also important to make it easy for your website visitors to share your content via social media. Having high quality, visually interesting content and prominently displayed social share buttons is important in growing your social following.


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