TrafficSource’s founder and CEO Simon Cowan is a marketing and SEO insider, but he’s also a small business owner. He understands small, ambitious operations and where they need to put their time and energy. Here’s his inside perspective on what to look for in an SEO firm – and what you deserve to get out of one.
Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of a social or search campaign? You shouldn’t have to. A company should be able to tell you precisely what they’re going to do for your business and report what they’re working on at any given time.
“This business is full of companies operating in a black box,” says Simon, “who aren’t telling their clients what’s going on or what their strategies are. Why shouldn’t a company map all that out for you at the start and keep on doing that along the way so you have as much information as possible?”
Before you sign up, you should have a clear understanding of what your responsibilities will be. The technical part of SEO represents work on the client’s part too. “When a client comes on board, they know they’re gonna get served technical reports, pretty much off the back of signing the contract, within a week or two at the absolute most, so they know they’ve got to implement these things. The success of their project, within the time frame we discuss, depends on us working together. Otherwise they won’t get the same value from this process.”
The Human Touch
This means that there are actual humans working on your campaign who do more than fog a mirror. They should demonstrate an interest in understanding your company and your market even before you sign the contract. You deserve to have people invested in what you do, and also to have regular communication and availability from a company you’re paying.
Simon is “a little old-fashioned about that, I guess. I make a point of visiting as many of our clients as possible, normally at least three times a year. Most of them are owner-managers and they want to deal with another owner. Plus, you learn a lot about a business by just visiting them, seeing what the office is like, seeing the warehouse or product in person. It’s good to get a sense of who’s on the other end.”
Good content also goes hand in hand with the human touch in SEO. Articles need to be well written and well researched, not just blocks of text used as an excuse for keyword stuffing. So ask potential SEO agencies to provide writing samples, and read them with a critical eye. Remember that this content, once published, will be your company voice. Simon notes that content creators should invest emotional energy in the work. “Did they just tick off the boxes for topics and keywords or did they write something that you actually enjoy reading?”
Sustained Results by Fair Play
A lot of SEO companies will send you rah-rah reports after 30 days to toot their horn about how many places you’ve moved up. Sorry to burst bubbles, but don’t get too excited just yet. That work needs to be replicated over months, not weeks, in order to help your site gain authority in the market. The SEO agency you choose should be clear with you about the results you can expect within a certain time frame.
Should you be wary if someone promises you the moon – number 1 on Google! – within 60 days and for a flat fee? -“It’ll often take around six months for a particular set of keywords on organic search to get on the front page of Google, so yes.”
The reality is that SEO is no longer a case of making technical fixes to your site and waiting for the world to find you. Nor is it a matter of the aforementioned keyword stuffing or building tons of links using grey or black-hat link building practices. “Lots of businesses come to us from other SEO firms that have given them instant results, quickly followed by penalties from Google for not following the Webmaster guidelines.”
ROI is the Bottom Line
“Why would you get involved with some marketing agency if it’s not going to get you good ROI?” Simon asks. “When you drill down with prospective clients, you sometimes find that they’re not sure why they want to do SEO. Then in the end, they’ll say that their goal is more leads or revenue. And that’s the answer – that and the best ROI possible.”
So, yes, increased revenue is an important benchmark: it’s the only true measure of success in a campaign and an SEO company should be willing to be judged by it.