We've dealt with many companies and websites in a search engine optimization capacity. The search engine optimization world is one surrounded by mystery.business advertising has some nice tips on this. Although there is a thriving online community, search engine optimization is not typically offered as a course at schools or universities around the country. It is very much a skilled learned through experience.
But, often time's companies or "SEO experts" don't know exactly what they're doing. Not only is this unacceptable as you may be paying these companies or individuals good money, but in the long run some techniques employed by less experienced search engine optimizers or those willing to take short cuts can cause your site to become permanently banned by the search engines.
Over the years we've learned that education is the key to success. Whether you've just begun the process of looking for a company to provide search engine optimization services, are well along the process, or already have a company you're dealing with and want to make sure they're doing things correct this is a helpful and simple 5 question guide:
1) Can you get my website to the top of the search engines?
This is an important question, and one you may have already planned to ask. What you want to look for is whether or not the company digs deeper and what their response is. For example you should expect to hear things like:
what would you like to rank for?
are their competitors in your market that you believe have a great web presence with search rankings you would like to emulate?
Without intimate knowledge of your industry as well extensive research it is hard to know what you really need to rank for and whether the terms you think are important will actually drive results.
Additionally watch out for too quick of an answer. Although a great search engine optimizer may be able to get you to #1 for something you want, it should never be guaranteed and it isn't an overnight process.
2) Once my site is created, how do you make sure I show up on the search engines?
Many search engine optimizers or firms will talk about website submission. In reality all that is really needed for search engines to know that your website is there is a link (from any site on the Internet) back to your site. Some firms may talk about repeated search engine submission, but this is completely unnecessary and could actually end up hurting your rankings as the repeated blasts may be considered spam. One key thing to look out for when discussing this question is the mention of sitemaps and webmaster tools. Many powerful websites (content management sites, shopping carts, etc.) can automatically create a sitemap (a single file that shows the location of every page on your site). When this file is setup under a search engine's webmaster tool console it can help significantly to increase your rankings and should be a staple of any search engine optimizers toolset.
3) What is link building, do I need it, and how do I do it?
3 questions in 1, I know, but this one is important.
Although on-page optimization (the way your website is built, text, etc.) is important, link building comes in at a very close second. Yes you do need link building! And the company you commission needs to assist in this process. If they don't mention this run the other way. Your website needs links-in from other websites across the Internet to help you rank well. Links act like votes of confidence - the more you have, the more powerful your site. There are a number of quick ways to get links, but link building is a long process, but well worth the time or expense.
One thing to watch out for in link building campaigns is the creation of many smaller websites that then link back to your main site. Although in theory it is not a bad idea the truth is because of the nature of the search engines it is a colossal waste of time and money that would be better spent actually building quality links to your main site - from existing established sites throughout the Internet.
4) How do you measure the SEO process?
The advent of new tools and technology has made the measurement of search engine optimization and your website's overall success easier than ever. Another key component to a successful search engine optimized site or campaign is the installation of proper metrics tools and the review both by the company being commissioned, as well as you the site owner. Like many things search engine optimization varies depending on a number of different factors, so implementing techniques is important, but measuring and refining are key next steps.
5) Do you start with pay per click marketing?
A good search engine optimization campaign should start with pay per click marketing and the company you commission should at least suggest this, even if you are opposed to it.
Why should you start with pay per click marketing?
Well, to understand why you have to start with pay per click marketing you have to first understand the difference between paid search (PPC) and organic search (search engine optimization). Organic search engine optimization is a long process. When you first launch your site it can take weeks or months for the search engines to even place you. On top of that, it will take months and sometimes years to rank well for competitive terms. Additionally, organic search engine optimization is not done for thousands of different key terms and phrases. It typically involves just a handful of terms, and is very specific.
Pay per click marketing or paid search on the other hand is immediate; allowing you to get in front of your audience right away and usually includes thousands of key phrases. You will literally pay for ads or listings when certain key phrases are searched for.
So, before you spend the time and money on all of the little details that help your site rank well organically (search engine optimization) how do you know what terms to select?