Editor’s note: This post continues our weekly primer in SEO, touching on all of the foundational aspects. In the end, you’ll be able to practice SEO more confidently and converse about its challenges and opportunities.
Businesses put off search engine optimization because, frequently, they don’t know where to start. The planning phase — figuring out whom to trust your natural search performance with, and how to staff and manage it — is nearly as daunting as understanding SEO itself.
This is the third installment in my “SEO How-to” series. Previous installments are:
Setting SEO Goals
First, step back. Before you worry about how to run a successful SEO program, determine your SEO goals. Focus on what you need to accomplish before determining how to accomplish it. Don’t skip this step.
Smart goals are always specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-based. The worst goal, and the most common, is “drive more SEO traffic.” When? How much more? How will you know when you’ve accomplished the goal?
Focus on what you need to accomplish before determining how to accomplish it.
A well-constructed goal could be any of the following.
- “Ecommerce will drive 10 percent more sales via the natural search channel in 2017 than in 2016.”
- “The SEO team will partner with the customer support department to create at least 20 additional pieces of content by the second quarter of 2017 to answer specific customer questions and thus reduce calls to the support center.”
- “The SEO team will collaborate with the public relations and the social media teams to reduce the number of negative rankings for our company’s name to one on the first page of Google’s search results by end of September 2017, in preparation for the holiday selling season.”
When you know what your goals are, it’s easier to measure the impact that you want SEO to have in your overall marketing mix. If SEO is a large revenue driver, or you want it to be, assign more resources to it.
SEO isn’t pay-for-performance, such as paid search. But there’s a direct relationship between the time and money you spend on SEO and what you get out of it. If SEO is just a minor part of your other marketing initiatives and you’re not trying to grow its performance, a small budget with a consultant could be all you need.
Staffing for SEO
If SEO is more than a sideline, consider whether you want someone on staff to manage it. On the plus side, an employee can embed herself into the inner workings of your other marketing and development teams, where she can have more impact.
Modern SEO depends on influencing decisions of others — marketing strategy, user experience, design, copy writing, PR, social, development. An agency or consultant will have a harder time establishing these relationships and won’t otherwise be privy to the hallway conversations that someone in your own employ is.
On the minus side, an employee requires a salary and benefits. She is, theoretically, more permanent than agencies and consultants. You’re relying on the knowledge of a single person to drive all aspects of SEO and keep up on all of its news and changes.
Modern SEO depends on influencing decisions of others — marketing strategy, user experience, design, copy writing, PR, social, development.
An SEO employee, too, will need the support of other internal teams. Many of the elements that impact SEO performance are technical or related to design and user experience. To improve search rankings, the employee will need the cooperation of those teams.
Consultants and Agencies
Consultants don’t require benefits. But retaining a single consultant means you’re still relying on one person to understand and implement it all. Some consultants are certainly capable — it’s not uncommon for SEO experts to tire of an agency environment and hang out their own shingle. Regardless, finding the right consultant should be done by someone who is already experienced in SEO.
In addition, seasoned consultants are more expensive, at least on an hourly basis. But their work can result in far more sales and profits than a novice.
You can manage the cost of consultants by contracting for fewer hours. But always remember that your cost is proportional to their level of expertise and the amount of time they can spend with your program. You’ll want to ensure that you’re buying enough time and expertise to make a material difference to your SEO performance.
An SEO agency can draw on the expertise of multiple people with diverse skill sets. You may not interface with those resources directly, but they’re available to your agency team for consultation.
Hiring an agency also has the benefit of vetting. In a reputable SEO agency, someone with SEO expertise interviewed and hired the team you’ll be working with. That provides some assurance that you’ll receive meaningful expertise.
But the cost of an agency will almost assuredly be higher than a freelance consultant. Importantly, remember that the people pitching the work likely will not be the same people actually doing the work. Make sure to meet the consultants you’ll be working with, not just the sales team.
Importantly, remember that the people pitching the work likely will not be the same people actually doing the work.
Another option is to start with a consultant or agency that takes an educational approach to SEO. This can help you learn enough to eventually hire an employee, and also provide guidance for that employee during her transition, training, and beyond. This option combines the benefit of an in-house person and the expanded expertise of an agency.
When to Start SEO
Regardless of staffing — employee, consultant, or agency — during the hiring process ask about the candidate’s processes for making SEO recommendations and seeing them through to implementation. You’ll need someone who can speak equally well with creative, development, and strategic marketing personnel. Look for an SEO resource who can explain how search engines work and what she can do to influence those results. And you’ll need someone with intelligence, the ability to self-direct, and the burning desire to solve complex puzzles.
The best time to start is now if you want to see results soon. SEO takes time. It’s dependent on gaining relevance and authority, which is largely based on how other sites link to and mention your site. You can typically measure SEO performance six to 12 months after planning and implementing changes.
In many cases, the biggest SEO improvements will come from a large capital project like a redesign. If you’re planning a redesign or re-platform, get your SEO resource involved immediately.