5 Key Search Engine Optimization Services and Why They Work
The essentials of SEO.
A lot of companies will only ever tell you about the benefits of search engine optimization services. We all know it’s not the whole story!
The companies selling the services — it’s not their fault. We’re all taught to avoid talking about the highly involved features and technical specifications of search engine optimization. Those influencers that shape opinions in the SEO industry will impart this wisdom as if it were law, writ in stone. The assumption, of course, is that our prospective client will get bored, lose interest and drift away to another agency, or feel frustrated that he or she doesn’t understand what we’re talking about. Sorry, but I don’t buy it.
Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
If you’ve already read about our company culture, you will know that we believe in sharing knowledge with our clients. And that’s what this post is all about! However, I’m going to be honest… This may not be an easy read. When I first started looking seriously at SEO a few years ago, the learning curve looked something like this:
Search Engine Optimization Services
While the history of search engine optimization is interesting, we’re going to leave it to the historians for now. Lets focus on the present. Why? Because unlike other disciplines, search engine optimization services are rooted firmly in the “here and now.” In the last month alone there have been several significant shifts, including Google’s long awaited release of Penguin 4.0. If you’re still using SEO best practices from 2014 (or even 2015), your overall search engine performance is likely to suffer.If it works, it's obsolete. - Marshall McLuhan Click To Tweet
I’m going to break search engine optimization services down into the five major types that most companies will offer you:
- Keyword Discovery
- Content Creation
- On-Site SEO
- Off-Site SEO
- SEO Audit
We’ll go through this list in order and talk about the technical features of each service, the overall cost in terms of both time and money, and the benefits to your business.
Keyword discovery should always start with getting to know your business. Basic information such as products and services, physical locations, and service areas will be the starting point. From there, brand messaging and company values make up a powerful secondary dimension and can really round out a keyword strategy. Your search engine optimization company will take this information and use a tool such as Google Keyword Planner to assess which keywords will drive the right traffic to your website.
Your SEO consultant should give you reports that show indexed keywords and variants, targeted keyword search history over time, and targeted keyword searches by content area. Why are these specific reports important?
- Indexed Keywords and Variants – In a nutshell, these are individual words that Google will use to index — or list in search results — your page. Your search engine optimization company should show you only relevant keywords (i.e. the keywords should all be related to your business in some way) and the number of occurrences for each keyword and its variants. An example of a keyword variant would be “companies” instead of “company”.
- Targeted Keyword Search History Over Time – Again, these keywords should be relevant to your business in some way — whether it is products and services, service areas, brand messaging, or physical locations. The important takeaway here is the “over time” piece. Knowing what time of year people are searching for certain terms is absolutely critical. Here’s an example:
There are around 480,000 searches per year for Thanksgiving Recipes. That’s a monthly average of 40,000 searches, which makes this keyword good, but not great. However, if we look at search history over time, we find out that 450,000 of those searches occur just in the month of November.
- Targeted Keyword Searches by Content Area – If you’re a business that offers multiple product or service categories (e.g. Road Warrior Creative focuses on six different services), each of those will need to become a content category, sometimes referred to as a “content bucket”. It is important to know what the most relevant keywords are and how often they are searched for every single one of your products and/or services. Here is an over-simplified, but fun example:
Your business sells forks and spoons. You make a $10 / unit profit margin on cases of forks, but just $5 / unit profit margin on cases of spoons. We should optimize our website for selling forks because we make a better margin, right? Hold on a second! Average monthly search volume for “fork” is up to 100K. Average monthly search volume for “spoon” is up to 1 Million. If you chose the forks, you might have missed out on a big chunk of revenue!
This research is detailed to a granular level and takes many, many hours to put together. In addition to the raw data, your SEO consultant should be providing you with a written report that provides their interpretation of the data, professional recommendations for both a short-term SEO strategy and long-term SEO strategy, and an assessment of your website’s current search engine performance.
RED ALERT: If a company offers you other search engine optimization services without doing the above keyword research first, then they aren’t going to know enough to really be able to help you.
Effective content creation is difficult and time consuming. For example, by the time this blog post is over I’ll have written about 3000 words of useful, relevant information. Between researching keywords, finding references, and coming up with the content, ideas, and examples laid out here, I will have spent between three and four hours. Of course, a person that writes content for a living might be a bit faster than me, but you get the idea!
Ultimately, it is the depth of the content and the amount of research it takes to craft it that will ultimately determine the cost of this service. The biggest risk factor in content creation is that you might end up with duplicate content. It pains me to say this, but some SEO companies will post the same content to multiple websites in order to save money. The results?
All of those websites’ search rankings will be penalized.
When you’re asking for search engine optimization services, make sure that they guarantee unique and relevant content. Additionally, we recommend the following as the basic components for quality content that will perform well in search engines:
- I’m going to say it again: The content needs to be unique.
- The content length needs to be at least 750 words. 1500 words is more ideal.
- Write something that is valuable and interesting to your target audience.
- Don’t nest a lot of pages. Try to have everything close to your domain’s root.
- Make sure your blog is not generating numeric or date-based URLs.
- e.g. This post URL is /search-engine-optimization-services-and-how-they-work/ NOT /blog-9-28-16/ AND NOT /post-1234/
- Focus on longer keywords (known as long-tail keywords), because they tend to be less competitive. It is good to only focus on 1-2 keywords per page.
- Go into incognito mode or launch a browser you don’t use and search for keywords you want to rank for. This is a good way to find out what your competitors are doing.
- Check your content thoroughly for typos and other errors. Low-quality content will harm your search rankings.
On-site SEO is exactly what it sounds like. Companies that offer search engine optimization services will go in to your existing website content and ensure that it meets current standards and best practices. This will include checking for a lot of the same things that we talked about in the content creation section and in this post about blogging for business. Here are some of the major things we’ll be looking for and why they’re important:
- Page’s Focus Keyword Makes Sense – The focus keyword has to make sense and drive the right traffic to the business, or there’s no point. Some quick critical thinking usually tells us if a particular keyword is going to get us the traffic we want. For example:
A national restaurant group website is weighing whether they should blog about “Try Our 10 New Fish Taco Recipes” versus “Our Fort Collins Location is Opening on March 20!” While they may get some good traction for their new location by targeting Fort Collins SEO and it is certainly important to share when a new location is opening, ultimately that traffic may not be as valuable to their business. Since this is a national restaurant group with many locations, they are likely to benefit more from traffic that is searching for New Fish Taco Recipes.
- Title Tags and Meta Tags – The title tag is what will show up as text in the “tab” at the top of all mainstream web browsers. The meta tag is a 1-2 sentence description that will show up beneath your page title in search results. This text should contain your focus keyword and uses clear language that tells the searcher what that page is about.
- Focus Keyword in the Primary Headline – Commonly referred to as the “H1”, the primary headline of each page should ideally contain the primary focus keyword. This is usually the same as your page title. Since the page title will show in search results, it is important to use language that compels searchers to click on you instead of someone else. We sometimes like to play around with the Hubspot blog topic generator for inspiration.
- At Least One Secondary Headline with Focus Keyword – If the primary headline is the most important, then the secondary headline is, you guessed it — second most important! Ensure at least one secondary headline or “H2” contains your focus keyword in a way that makes sense. The other nice thing about secondary headlines is that they can break up long-form content and make it more readable.
- Content Meets Quality Standards – When you pay for this and other search engine optimization services, be prepared to have your writing edited and critiqued. Your SEO consultant isn’t being mean or spiteful. Having high quality content can mean the difference between page 2 and page 10 of Google. If your content sucks or isn’t engaging, page visitors will often leave quickly. Ultimately, this harms your bounce rate, which can drop your search ranking substantially.
- Quality Images with Appropriate Alt Text – Your images on every page should be high quality, preferably unique (using some stock photos is okay), and the file names and alt-text contain your focus keyword(s) where relevant and appropriate. Keep in mind that alt-text is intended to be the alternative source of information for those who have disabled images in their browsers and those that are visually impaired.
- Your Page Tells Them to Do Something – Whether that is signing up for a newsletter, buying a product on your ecommerce website, or becoming a lead by filling out your contact form, your on-page content needs to in some way convince your inbound traffic to take an action. This is called a “Call To Action” and it is all about getting your website’s visitors to do something. If you don’t do this, the visitor may bounce and harm your overall page rank.
I promised no history earlier, but for off-site SEO we do need to discuss it briefly:
There was a time when all you had to do to rank well in search engines was optimize for keywords. This effectively meant that all of SEO used to be on-site. Once companies figured this out, they began tagging a single page with dozens (sometimes hundreds) of keywords. The problem is, they were tagging pages for non-relevant keywords. This presented a problem for search engines because their entire purpose is to direct users to the content they want to see, based upon the search strings that are entered.
Instead of ranking solely on keywords, inbound links to a particular webpage suddenly became an important factor in search ranking. This was the turning point that eventually led to what search engine optimization is today.
Off-site SEO is exactly what it sounds like: It is all the SEO that takes place outside of your actual website. There are a number of strategies that companies offering search engine optimization services will deploy in order to improve off-site SEO:
- Building Backlinks – We could write a post as long as this one about building backlinks. When your SEO consultant talks about this, they’re talking about getting other websites to link back to yours. Research shows that pages with at least one quality backlink perform substantially better in search results.
- Monitor and Update Social Media – Create relevant and high-quality content on your website and regularly push it out to social media. Linking back to your website on social media creates some good link juice, which can in turn improve your rankings. Note that this only works if people on social media actually click on your link. Make sure your content is compelling!
- Pay for Professional Listings – Having backlinks on reputable websites, such as industry-specific organizations, your local chamber of commerce, or as a sponsor/donor on nonprofit websites can all be helpful. Sometimes these links will cost money, either in the form of membership dues or as a one-time donation. This is the 10% exception to our general rule of never buying backlinks.
- Write Guest Blog Posts – Is there a really popular blog or news organization that writes about your industry? Ask them if you can post as a guest on their blog, in exchange for them linking back to your website. This is the hardest to do out of all your options, but is usually the most rewarding!
RED ALERT: Google now looks at the backlink source and assesses its QUALITY. If the source page does not have similar content or is a known backlink seller, you won’t see any gains and will sometimes get your ranking penalized. In 90% of cases, it is a bad idea to pay for backlinks.
Think of off-site SEO as business networking, but for your website. Just like we all know we need to get out there and meet other professionals in order to grow, it is equally important to do the same thing with our online presence in this digital world.
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Full SEO Audit
Depending upon the size of your website, a full SEO audit could take hours or days. When doing an audit with an agency that offers search engine optimization services, it is important to set forth the goals and expectations very early in the process. Since there are so many variances from one website to another, the price and timeline are a little different each time. That being said, make sure that your SEO audit covers at least the following:
- A simulated crawl of your entire domain with a search engine crawl-simulator. This is like walking down the aisles of your store and taking stock of what you have. The crawl will find and identify all of the images, scripts, URLs, and other components of your website.
- Setup of tools to assess and monitor your overall SEO. At a bare minimum, this means setting up Google Search Console, Google Analytics and Yoast SEO (if you're on WordPress).
- Removal of duplicate and irrelevant pages/content. As previously discussed, a website having duplicate content or multiple pages trying to rank for the exact same keyword can cause issues. Your SEO consultant should also be looking at how you're using redirects.
- Removal of common crawling and indexing problems. Sometimes a website's back-end structure can make it challenging for a search engine crawler to find and index all of its pages. Part of these search engine optimization services should be to identify and recommend fixes for issues that may be preventing crawlers from indexing all or part of your website.
- Audit debriefing and professional recommendations. At the conclusion of your audit, you should be presented with all of the raw information that was uncovered, as well as a written synopsis of the audit results and future considerations.
RED ALERT: If you did not have this software set up prior to your audit, your search engine optimization company will only be able to provide you their assessment of new traffic data. There is no way to go back and get old data if the software was not there to capture it.If you retain even 25% of the information in this post, you will know more than most about SEO. Click To Tweet
Are you still there?
Congratulations on making it to the end! If you retained even 25% of the above information, you know more than most people and are better equipped to collaborate with an agency that offers search engine optimization services. Is your head still spinning? Don't feel bad!
Search engines are always evolving and it's the job of Road Warrior Creative (and others like us) to keep with the times. Reading through long lists of technical terms can be intimidating, but we think that's better than assuming our clients aren't interested in being informed consumers. After all, we are the digital marketing and search engine optimization specialists for both national companies and small businesses located from coast to coast. If you'd like us to help assess your website's search engine performance, please contact us to schedule a consultation.