We are asked this often and our short answer is “They help companies get business from Google.” Often there is a follow up question “How do they do that?” At this point to it is our turn to ask the question: “How long do you have?”
SEO consists primarily of three activities:
- Creating content
- Building high quality links
- Analyzing results and adjusting accordingly
Telling someone that SEO is made up mostly of these three activities will usually satisfy their curiosity if it’s a casual conversation, but not a potential client shopping for SEO services. If you’re looking to hire an SEO firm you will want to know the real details before you shell out several thousand Pounds per month, but it’s not easy to get those details from an SEO firm. Nevertheless, we will try to explain in this post what an SEO firm does.
Initial Research, Audit and Analysis
SEO always starts with research, audit and analysis.
Every client is different, every website is different and every industry is different. This is why the best SEO firms are hesitant to make predictions or give guarantees–there are so many variables, and what worked very well for one client may not work nearly as well for the next. Good SEO firms don’t have a set formula for producing results, but rather are expert at solving problems and overcoming challenges. Like early explorers, they may not know exactly where they are going, but they know they’ll be able to figure it out. In much the same way that an explorer prepares well for his successful expedition to remote parts of the world, a good SEO firm also prepares well so as to avoid doing a lot of work with out ever reaching the intended destination. Standard activities centred on initial SEO research, audit and analysis include:
Identifying and researching keywords to discover those which will produce the best results for the client once good rankings are achieved. The ideal keyword is searched for a lot, is relevant to the client’s business and is not being heavily targeted by competition.
Google Analytics analysis
Reviewing past performance through Google Analytics will reveal positive or negative trends and opportunities for improvement.
Google Webmaster Tools analysis
Likewise, the ability to review a client’s history and current status in Google Webmaster Tools will bring opportunities to light, as well as potential technical issues with a website, such as a penalty that could be negatively affecting rankings.
Link profile analysis
Many companies over the past several years hired SEO firms that promised to build hundreds, even thousands, of inbound links at low prices. This practice is now penalized by Google and for many companies the path to SEO success starts with cleaning up the spammy links pointing to their websites. Whether this link clean-up is necessary or not should be identified early on, because fighting against these negatives effects reduces the value of all other SEO services until the link profile is refined.
Sometimes after the above research and analysis is complete, but often in parallel, an SEO firm will perform a thorough audit of a client’s website. This audit will include various SEO factors:
- Website and webpage load speed
- URL structure
- Internal linking
- Title tags
- Meta description tags
Many SEO firms will also extend this audit to include factors that influence not just rankings but the metrics that ultimately matter like conversions and profits. These factors include usability, design and messaging.
The results of all the above research, audit and analysis work will lead to both one-time and ongoing SEO activities. Some of the one-time, initial optimization activities may include:
In many cases a complete website redesign is needed before beginning SEO services. A redesign is in order when the website is outdated, converts visitors poorly, has poor code and the cost of fixing everything is greater than starting over from scratch.
Even if a complete redesign isn’t needed, it may be necessary to overhaul the code of a website to make it more SEO friendly. The extent of this overhaul depends on the details, but it can range from light cleanup of the existing code to a complete replacement of the code while maintaining the existing design.
Link removal and disavowal
If the link profile analysis reveals a large number of low quality, harmful inbound links, or worse yet, a manual penalty, it will be necessary to remove as many links as possible by contacting webmasters or to disavow backlinks that cannot be removed.
While some aspects of SEO are one-time services that rarely or never need to be repeated, the bulk of SEO activities are ongoing in nature. Like your lawn, without maintenance, it will get out of control. Link building is one of those activities that never ends because Google likes to be fed a constant stream of new, fresh links to know that your website is still relevant and should continue to be featured prominently in its search results. There are many ways to build links and many activities related to link building, some of which include:
Although rare, it’s important to keep an eye on links to ensure one doesn’t become the victim of a negative SEO attack. More to the point, it’s important to monitor links in case inbound links are created that could provide more value if the text of the link or the specific part of the website where the link is pointing were modified.
By monitoring competitors your SEO firm can see what links they have built and replicate their activities or get inspiration for other links that could be built.
Any mention of your company should include a link to your website, but when that’s not the case your SEO firm should find these instances, track down the person who has control of that mention of your company and seek to get an appropriate link.
There may be hundreds of websites that are relevant to what you do. Your SEO firm will reach out to these targets in order to promote content and generate links. Part of this service may include guest blog posting.
The worlds of public relations and SEO have merged. SEO firms should seek to build links on top tier news and information websites that will never be mistaken by Google as the kind of low quality link the search engine should ignore or penalize. SEO firms perform this kind of online PR by reaching out to journalists, seeding infographics, video and other content and managing social media campaigns designed to attract attention and links.
There can be substantial overlap between link building and content creation as in many instances the way one builds links is by creating content that attracts links. Your website will receive many SEO benefits by creating content even without the inbound links that may follow and creating content, even if you don’t receive direct SEO benefits, can bring traffic to your site that will generate leads or sales just as well as the traffic that comes from SEO.
All content creation could be called content marketing, but blogging deserves to be highlighted in it’s own right. If you don’t have a blog for your website your SEO firm should help you create one and then either create content for you, or coach you on how to create content for it yourself.
Your SEO firm will help you to expand or refine the existing content on your website. This becomes a critical function for ecommerce websites, but is important even on smaller corporate sites. New content can be added to a site such as a FAQ section, or pages can be extended to include more long form content. There are many ways in which the content on your website can be built upon to provide more value and your SEO firm should be walking you through this process or managing it entirely.
As your SEO firm provides the above services they will also be analyzing the results to make sure they are working. SEO firms use various tools to measure their activities and gain insights into where they can improve efforts for their clients.
Other analysis may come from A/B testing or split testing, in which your SEO firm creates two versions of a certain page on your website and drives 50% of traffic to one and 50% to another and then measures the results to see which performs better.
Although many SEO firms produce good results, the hallmark of a great SEO firm is their process for communicating with clients. Most firms provide a full set of reports once each month, although special circumstances may require more frequent communication, especially at the beginning of a client engagement when lots of different tasks are being worked on. At a bare minimum these reports should include details on:
- How many visits, when, from where and why?
- The good, the bad and the ugly, along with explanations about why some have gone up and others have gone down.
- Inbound links. What’s new and if you’re in the process of link removal, what’s gone?
A good set of reports is not generated solely through an automated tool, but includes analysis and commentary from the SEO firm. You should not only be able to see that plenty of work is going on, but you should be able to understand the work that is performed. If that is not the case, let your SEO firm know that you need reports that offer more clarity. Your SEO firm may be staffed by geniuses who are pros at SEO, but lacking when it comes to interpersonal communication. If you help them understand what you need you’ll be able to improve results together and develop a great working relationship.
This is not a detailed list of everything an SEO firm can or will do. Different situations require different strategies, tactics and services. Your SEO firm should modify its approach depending on what is best for your specific situation.
Now that you have a better idea of what goes on behind the scenes, you can work with your SEO firm to get the results that will help both of you to grow your businesses.