Perhaps you should actually ask, “What should an SEO agency do with your money and why?”
The image above gives an idea about everything that needs to be covered under the broad label of search engine optimisation (SEO).
As you can see it’s an extensive list!
Read on for more about the whole SEO process and what you should be expecting your SEO agency to deliver…
Sadly, many agencies don’t cover these items well enough (or sometimes, at all). Because of this, some 70% of businesses (Source: SearchEngineLand) are unhappy with the service and results they receive. That’s for another article. This one’s all about “What an SEO agency should be doing.”
What am I about to learn?
This document covers topics including these:
- Website audit and analysis – to see what’s broken.
- Fixing technical problems such as speed, crawlability and navigation.
- Keyword research and competitor analysis – finding out how people search for your products and services.
- Mapping Keywords to pages – what phrases should each page rank for?
- Content creation – optimising text so it meets Google and reader needs.
- Backlink creation – carefully creating inbound links from other relevant websites.
- Overall optimisation – ensuring that the required internal and external links are in place, that all headers and Alt tags are used correctly, that every page uses correct Schema code, and that other SEO techniques are used where appropriate.
- Tracking rankings – reporting on a site’s positions on Google for identified target phrases.
- Tracking traffic – reporting on what phrases actually bring traffic to the website.
- Analysis – using ranking and traffic data to make further site improvements to gain even better positions in Google and increase traffic.
Let’s start at the beginning
The whole reason for search engine optimisation is to gain more organic traffic from the search engines (in the UK, Google is ‘top dog’). If a site isn’t getting enough traffic, the first thing to do is find out why.
Of course, it’s possible that Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) is, or has been, used to drive traffic to a site. This methodology can be very effective. However, because of the continued costs, it’s not usually the best, most cost-effective, long-term course of action.
A full service digital marketing agency will probably use other channels to get visitors to a site. These typically include social media, banner advertising and press releases (which are used in any good white-hat SEO program). Short message service (SMS) marketing is also widely used.
However, this article only covers SEO, this being the sole methodology that Serendipity uses while working with other marketing companies to provide services such as social media marketing and advertising.
Many things could stop Google ranking a site highly enough to get the required visibility. The problem might be technical. Or the site could be too slow or unable to be crawled (‘understood’) by Google’s ‘spiders’.
Alternatively, the content may be thin and uninteresting. Or it simply doesn’t include enough of the ‘right’ words that search engines such as Google expect to find.
Lack of backlinks is another big cause of failure. Very often, Google simply doesn’t seem to ‘trust’ sites without enough high-quality inbound backlinks.
Whatever the reasons for Google’s inability to rank a site highly, they need to be found. That’s why the first thing an agency should do for a poorly performing site is to conduct a thorough SEO audit.
For new sites, the first stage is keyword research, although an SEO audit of a new website can also a good idea, as sites often contain errors that web designers are unaware of.
SEO strategy (and planning to get traffic)
The first things to correct are any technical issues. Why? Because it’s pointless trying to impress Google with a slow or uncrawlable site. This stage may require the services of a web designer or even a coding expert to make sure the site is fast enough in Google’s eyes and easy to navigate. In 2021 this becomes even more important because Google’s ‘Core Vital’ measurements are expected to have major impact on rankings.
The keyword research phase
With any technical issues resolved, the next thing for an SEO company to do is discover the key-phrases your potential customers are using. And the phrases that are driving traffic to your competitors. This is essential because you don’t want just ‘any old traffic’. The phrases that bring people into your site must be relevant if you want to produce enquiries or make sales.
Besides the search terms people use when looking for your products and services, you also need to know what questions they’re asking and understand the problems your product or service solves.
This is what keyword research is about. Years of experience show that it’s the most important phase of all. It does however require both time and money.
It’s an important investment though and any good SEO agency should give you a comprehensive detailed report.
But what should they do next?
It’s fine knowing what phrases you want to get rankings and traffic for, but how is this done?
Taking it right down to basics, SEO is about convincing Google that a page is one of the best to include in its listings for any given phrase. I say ‘page’ because Google rates pages not sites, although the standing of the domain the page sits in is also considered (more on this later).
The next step is to map the key-phrases found in the research phase onto the most suitable page on the site. This could be an existing or new page. Either way, it will be that page’s role to gain search engine rankings and traffic for these phrases.
How do you convince Google that a page is the best?
This is the next thing your SEO agency should help you with. They have two main ways of doing this: optimising content and increasing trust in the page.
Optimising the content and increasing the ‘trust’ factor
Content is the more important of the two. It takes a lot of work to get right, but the effort is worth the investment of time and money. No longer is it a simple matter of stuffing a page with target keywords. Nowadays, Google’s sophistication and ever-increasing analytical power means you have to try very hard indeed.
High-quality SEO copywriting
The words your SEO agency creates, or helps you create, must be tuned for the reader (your customer) as well as Google. Note the importance of copy being written primarily for human readers (they’re your potential customers after all). However, to get rankings you must also impress Google. A skilled, experienced SEO copywriter will be able to meet both requirements.
Google considers over 200 ‘signals’ when deciding whether to rank a page. The most important of these are undoubtedly to do with the words. Why is Google so concerned with words? It’s because this is how it decides whether pages are of suitable quality. Pages using many words that Google considers relevant are rated higher than pages that don’t.
All you have to do is to know what words to weave into the copy, while of course ensuring that the page is still tuned to your customers’ needs.
Your SEO agency should be able to help you by either writing copy for you or helping you optimise copy that you’ve written. Counter-intuitively, the best result often comes from writing copy from scratch rather than adjusting existing text.
Content isn’t just for today
SEO is not a one-off event. For maximum long-term benefit, it’s something that should continue throughout the life of your website. This means that you have to provide new ‘rich’ content all the time.
Again, your SEO agency should be helping you here. They should work with you to create a content marketing strategy that ensures that Google ‘believes’ in your site – and keeps customers coming back for help, information or education.
Backlinks and trust
Besides page content, the other big factor is backlinks. These are links from other websites to yours.
When Google started in the 1990s it ranked sites by backlinks alone, using something called PageRank. Things are different now, but Google still uses backlinks to tell whether pages are trusted by others – a kind of tiebreaker if you like. Provided the content is also of a sufficiently high-quality, this normally results in the pages with the most backlinks appearing at the top of the Google listings.
However, as with keywords, you don’t want just any old backlink. You need backlinks from powerful, relevant sites; from pages containing relevant copy that use the right anchor text. It’s also essential that the right balance of anchor text is used. Getting this wrong can result in a Google penalty!
This is all about increasing the power of your domain. Remember that, even though Google rates individual pages, it also takes the standing of the domain into account. Essentially, a website’s pages stand on the shoulders of the domain. The stronger the domain, the higher the pages rise in Google’s listings.
If they are doing their job properly, your SEO agency should be carefully monitoring all backlinks to your site and only building the right sort of links.
Overall on-page optimisation
There are many parts to the optimisation puzzle. Though important, the words on pages and backlinks are only two of the factors to consider. You also have to ensure the following:
- Titles and Meta Descriptions are correct.
- Page header tags are used to best effect.
- Images have good descriptive filenames.
- Alt tags (alternate text tags) associated with the images on the site explain what the image is.
- Internal links (from one page to another within the site) are in place and that they explain or indicate what the linked-to page is about.
- You use external links in moderation, pointing to relevant (and/or supportive) information.
- You use correct Schema code.
- Local SEO is taken into account (where appropriate).
Tracking your rankings
With all the work done, the next job for an SEO agency is to track improvements in the rankings. Please be patient and remember that rankings rarely improve overnight. Instead, it can take months, during which time it’s important to keep adding more high-quality content and links.
Your SEO agency should provide you with detailed ranking reports on (at least) a monthly basis.
Tracking the traffic
As explained earlier, the purpose of SEO is to bring the right traffic to a website from Google and other search engines. Tracking rankings for target keywords is important. However, the real measure of success is the number of visits and sales/enquiries to your website.
This stage uses data supplied by the Google Search Console to discover what phrases, besides the targeted ones, are bringing in traffic. This data will reveal valuable long tail keywords (a search phrase containing three or more words), how often they’re used and their position in Google listings.
Back to analysis
This brings us back to the start of the SEO process. That’s because it is now necessary to analyse the data collected from the ranking and traffic tracking operations.
Armed with this information, you or your SEO agency can change the site’s web pages to further improve traffic levels. This is typically done by subtly altering page content and links. Doing this should improve the likelihood of higher rankings for words that already bring in traffic. Like building a bigger net to catch more fish, it can also help you to get found for a wider range of relevant search phrases.
This analytical phase rewards professional attention but you need to ask how this important work is done. Some agencies use highly automated systems to produce any reports. While being good for the agency, such methods can lead to them missing important details.
It’s far better when the data is analysed by a skilled human SEO professional (not the office junior). Only then can you be sure everything has been considered and all’s going to plan. For this reason, every report that leaves Serendipity is manually compiled and checked by an SEO specialist with over 20 years’ experience.
Where your money is spent
As you can see there’s lots that an SEO agency should be doing. Hopefully you’ve now got a better idea where your money is going. And how it’s being used (or not).
There’s actually more to it than that. The main issue is the amount that SEO agencies spend on overheads. Big agencies often have large expensive offices, spend lots on advertising and promotion, and employ big teams. Then of course, they want to make a profit…
All of this has to be paid for, which means only a tiny percentage of your money actually goes on required SEO work. This highlights an important benefit of working with a small, experienced, trusted, agency like Serendipity. We have very low costs and don’t take huge profit. Because of this, our customers enjoy far better value for money.
There is still more to tell
Despite doing my best, I can’t hope to cover every SEO issue in a document of this size. So, if you would like to know more, please contact me for a no-obligation chat. I’ll be pleased to give you all the information you need and set you on the road to better, more profitable SEO for your website.