Hiring an SEO services firm to help your small business rank in Google can be overwhelming. It feels like taking an old car into the mechanic and hearing them rattle off a dozen repairs you need. They are describing problems with parts you have never even heard of. So how do you ensure your SEO services provider is doing a good job for your small business?
First of all, you should consider engaging a firm for one of these 5 common SEO services. You can use this guide to ensure they are on the right track. Not all SEO agencies are created equal and, as a small business, you can’t afford a costly mistake.
#1 – Keyword Research
Keyword research is the most important part of an SEO project. Before a small business can put together a plan to improve its rankings and traffic from Google, it has to know which keywords to target. In general, each page on your domain should target one or two unique keywords. You should have enough pages, targeting enough keywords, to cover the key aspects of your business. If you’re a roofing company that offers roof repairs, replacement, and inspections, you’re going to be looking for keywords that cover these three areas. Remember to look for synonyms too. For example, “repairing” a roof is the same thing as “fixing” a roof. You might look for adjectives and prefixes like ‘home roof repair,’ ‘ residential roof repair,’ or ‘metal roof repair.’
Picking the right keywords comes down to three factors:
- How relevant is the keyword to the business and does it have commercial intent?
- Keywords with commercial intent are more desirable — ‘roof replacement companies’ is better than ‘how to replace a roof’ because the prior has commercial (not informational) intent
- A keyword like ‘roof replacement insurance’ might contain some relevant words but the intent of that query is not likely relevant to a roofing company
- How many people search for that keyword in my serviced geography?
- The more the better — your ranking is irrelevant if very few people perform the search each month
- If you service the US and Canada, make sure to exclude the rest of the world in your research
- How competitive is the keyword?
- Lower competition is preferred because it will require less time and money to be successful
- 95% of the clicks go to the top 5 rankings in this ‘winner takes most’ medium — make sure you target a keyword that you can win on
- Look at the number of other pages with the targeted keyword in the page <title> or at Domain Authority to evaluate its competitiveness
I recommend Wordtracker for performing keyword research. It’s accurate, easy to use, and inexpensive. Almost anyone can perform keyword research with a Wordtracker account and some understanding of the factors discussed above.
Here is a screenshot of Wordtracker in action:
Remember, select no more than two keywords to target for each of your pages. If you discover relevant keywords for your business that don’t have pages, consider adding them to put yourself in front of those people. Try organizing the keywords you’ve targeted into a ‘semantic map’ or hierarchy and get all of their volume and competitiveness data into one spreadsheet. Search behavior doesn’t change that rapidly so an in-depth keyword research project can be an asset for many years. It can help to inform more than just your SEO. Keyword research provides insight into market demand and allows small businesses address their customers’ needs directly. I highly recommend hiring an expert to provide you with comprehensive keyword research. As I said earlier, keyword research is absolutely the most important part of any SEO project because it serves as the foundation for all optimization.
#2 – Page Creation
Once you’ve got comprehensive keyword research, the job of an SEO is to help you create new pages to rank for those keywords. After all, If you don’t have a relevant page on your site, you have no chance of ranking. When I was a newbie SEO and faced with complex SEO challenges, I used to return to a very simple phrase to keep me on the right track. I’d say “…just get the keywords on the page.” If you don’t have the keywords you’re targeting on a page on your domain, you simply can’t rank. You’ll want to work with your SEO consultant or agency to produce new pages that target new search terms.
When creating pages, look to achieve the following:
- Make them long enough to be comprehensive
- Every page needs to have unique content — avoid the temptation to produce templated or copy/paste pages
- Try to produce a page that people will find valuable and interesting to ensure you have a low bounce rate and a better chance of ranking in Google
- Keep the URLs simple and close to the root of the domain (don’t nest the pages in deep directory paths)
- Resist the urge to target more than two keywords per page
- Map each of your keywords to a page ensuring you’ve covered all of the relevant keywords discovered during the keyword research project
- I shouldn’t have to say this, but, please ensure your SEO agency or consultant does a high quality job
- No writing mistakes
- High quality images
- Format the pages for legibility and cleanliness
- Google the queries you’re looking to rank on for each page and check to see what types of pages are ranking — try to follow suit
- If you see a lot of long blog posts, write a blog post
- If you see e-commerce pages with products, go in that direction
- If you see home pages of companies, try optimizing your home page for the keyword
- Google understands ‘document type’ and uses it to rank pages
#3 – Page Optimization
In cases where you’ve already got a page dedicated to a topic that you’ve discovered during your keyword research, you simply need to optimize it for search engines. Search engines are just computers, after all, and so they require some hand holding to ensure they can understand the subject matter of a page. A good SEO consultant or agency will be able to make modifications to the content and technical underpinnings of your pages to ensure that Google can understand them as well as your visitors can. This type of SEO service is perfect for small businesses and tends to be more affordable than creating pages from scratch. An agency will charge you on a per-page or per-hour basis. The ROI tends to be good on page optimization as well. Many times, a page only needs minor adjustment to be better understood by Google, Bing or Yahoo.
Here are some of the things that your SEO services provider will do for you:
- Create a keyword-relevant and attractive (begs to be clicked) <title> tag for your listings in search results
- Include the keywords and common variations and synonyms in the body copy of the page
- Optimize the anchor text of links on the page and to the page
- Add notation to the images so that Google can understand them — after all, computers don’t have eyes so it’s up to the SEOs to tell them about the content of images
- If the page is extremely short, your SEO will be lengthening it to encourage longer page visits and a better reception from search engines
- Off-topic content will be pulled off the page and moved into other areas of the site to ensure the page targets no more than 2 keywords and is tightly themed to those terms
#4 – Link Building
‘Getting the keywords on the page’ isn’t the only thing you need to do to earn rankings on Google. After all, there are likely hundreds or thousands of other pages on the Internet that also contain those same terms. So how does Google figure out which ones to rank in which positions? It figures it out by counting the quantity and quality of links pointing to that page. It considers both internal links coming from other pages on your domain and external links coming from other domains. External links are much more important than internal links and should be the focus of your SEO service provider’s link building effort. Remember — the key to link building is a focus on quantity and quality.. Not just quantity. A high quality link is one that comes from a relevant page containing shared subject matter. A high quality link comes from a page that has high quality internal and external links itself. When your SEO agency talks to you about link building, make sure they are focused on quality. The best link building projects are done manually, with attention to quality and detail, and result in your domain receiving relevant links from other domains. That’s your benchmark for success. How important is this? Have a look at this study performed by SEOMoz in 2015:
The .30 correlation they’re talking about is a Pearson’s Correlation and .30 is plenty high to be meaningful and important.
#5 – Technical Audit
Because Google and other search engines are simply computers, they require some hand holding when it comes to crawling and understanding your site. Google has created quite a few tools and standards that allow SEO professional to provide further details about a site’s content and subject matter. A skilled SEO service provider will be familiar with these standards and have the needed software tools and experts to employ them on your site. Technical audits can vary dramatically in their size, scope, and cost. If you have a simple “brochure-ware” website, your technical SEO needs will be less than a dynamic or software-heavy site. Typically, e-commerce sites require the most technical SEO due to their complex navigation and large number of pages. News sites and blogs with a lot of content may also require more technical optimization because they have a large number of pages, categories, tags, content types (video, audio, podcast, etc.). It’s likely that a technical audit will be one of the more expensive SEO services you purchase because it requires more expertise from the provider and can take a lot of time. The good news is that these auditing costs are not recurring and are only necessary once every 1-2 years if done thoroughly.
Here’s what your agency or consultant should be talking to you about when it comes to a small business technical audit:
- A crawl of your entire domain using crawl-simulator software to inventory all of the URLs, images, scripts, CSS files, and assets
- Setup of Google Webmaster Tools console including the creation and submission of an XML sitemap to help Google discover all of your pages
- Recommendations designed to consolidate duplicate pages or remove irrelevant pages from Google’s index
- This step of the audit will discuss the use of 301 redirects, rel=canonical tags, robots.txt and robots META tags
- It’s OK if you don’t understand the details of these technical tools — that’s your agent’s job
- An analysis of the load times of important pages on your site with an emphasis on your homepage and top-navigation pages
- These days, Google prefers to serve up fast pages in their rankings so it’s important that your pages respond and load as quickly as your Google-page competition
- Make sure you get some concrete recommendations on how to improve
- A scan for common crawling and indexing problems to ensure that Google isn’t getting hung up trying to access your pages
Hiring an SEO firm to have a look at your domain is a good idea. Being ranked in Google is a 1-way ticket to market leadership in your area and can often be the difference between your business thriving and stalling out. Despite its importance, it can be intimidating. Much like taking an old car into the shop and hearing a mechanic rattle off a dozen problems with parts you’ve never heard of. Studying this guide will keep you on the right track and ensure you’re not getting taken for a ride.
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