As a business coach, whenever I discuss outsourcing search engine optimisation (SEO) with my clients, I always find myself equating it with sending your car off to the mechanic; you may be left wondering “did they really do anything?”.
(At least with your mechanic, you’ll know the problem’s fixed when that mysterious banging noise stops!)
The objective for SEO should be to get your website in the top 3 of organic search results. Why? Because 61% of clicks are from those top 3 results:
- First position: 35%
- Second position: 15%
- Third position: 11%
Why does that matter?
Just say you appear at 6th place on the first page of Google’s search results and you’re getting 10 enquiries a week. And say you convert half of those enquiries into sales, so that’s 5 sales a week.
According to research from ranking expert Optify, 6th place gets around 4% of clicks. Good SEO tactics can elevate you to 3rd place and that would mean 3.5x more clicks. That’s 35 enquiries per week. Keep your conversion rate stable at 50% and you’ve just won 17 new sales a week.
If you can keep climbing up to first place on Google’s search results, you’d be looking at 90 enquiries and 45 new sales.
(A note on conversion rates: In my role as business coach, I work with business owners and their sales team to get conversion rates up around 70% – 80%. Any higher than that means you’re not being selective enough.)
Warning: not all SEO companies are created equal
Raise the topic of SEO with any group of business owners and you’ll quickly get the impression that there is a lot of snake oil being sold in the industry. Unfortunately, many people seem to have had a bad experience. That said, there are still plenty of reputable and expert SEO service providers who are helping clients drive relevant, quality traffic to their websites.
But how can you spot the difference?
How to avoid getting burnt by so-called SEO gurus
Apart from avoiding suppliers that refer to themselves as gurus, ninjas, wizards or Jedi Knights, there are a few other warning signs to look out for:
- Beware unrealistic guarantees – it’s virtually impossible to achieve and maintain a top of the SERP ranking on Google using organic search tactics alone (Google Ads is now the only way to claim that top spot). If an SEO service guarantees rankings, offers free trials or extremely low rates, or (my personal favourite) claims that they know someone at Google, it’s most likely too good to be true.
- Step back from secret SEO strategies – SEO suppliers who want to completely take over your website or content may well be seeking to limit visibility. Remember that your website is your asset. You should be offered regular check-ins, total transparency and be consulted on all key planning and strategy decisions.
- Don’t be seduced by black hat SEO practices – if they’re pedalling keyword stuffing, buying links, invisible text and page swapping as magic shortcuts to Google greatness, be warned: it will turn out to be an expensive mistake. You’ll wind up with a penalty (ie Google will tank your site for trying to trick the system). That means you’ll end up paying double for your SEO – once getting into that mess and again to have someone else pull you out of it. Stick to reputable suppliers who offer above-board strategies.
Steering away from these red flags will put you in good stead, but as a business coach I advise business owners to closely manage their SEO themselves – even when outsourcing. By keeping your hands on the wheel, you’ll have a much better chance of SEO success.
Seven tips for taking the wheel on your SEO
Tip #1: Shop by social proof
When looking to outsource to an SEO company, we mentor our coaching clients to:
- ask for recommendations
- look for businesses that have plenty of positive reviews
- ask potential suppliers for case studies that demonstrate the results they’ve achieved for their customers
You can’t go too far wrong with someone who has ongoing relationships with happy clients.
Tip #2: Don’t let them set the ground rules
Educating yourself about SEO will give you the confidence to take a more active role in developing your SEO strategy. However, even if you haven’t had the time to do this, it’s important not to let your supplier drive the bus. Left to their own devices, some suppliers will have a cookie-cutter approach to SEO service delivery. Don’t settle; insist upon structuring the plan so that the focus is on your business and what you are hoping to achieve.
Tip #3: Give them the opportunity to shine
In my time as a business coach I’ve seen a lot of offers of free SEO trials. This is a common tactic used by less-experienced suppliers trying to build their business; I advise business owners to avoid these offers. Instead, you can audition an SEO company by trying out a short-term, lower cost service, such as an SEO audit. You’ll be able to see how they work (processes, company knowledge etc) and get a feel for their skill-level before making any larger, long-term commitments.
Tip #4: Have a clear plan and budget
SEO is a significant investment (expect to pay from around $1,000 per month). It is important to work out your goals and budget and ask suppliers what they can realistically achieve for that amount. Before signing anything, make sure you completely understand exactly what services they are providing and what deliverables you are agreeing to. This avoids nasty surprises and disappointments.
Tip #5: Set up your own reporting tool
The best way to keep tabs on your SEO is to measure it yourself. You can track how your website is performing (based on several metrics) using tools such as:
No more mountains of meaningless data; you will have access to insights on things like top performing content, which keywords are driving the most traffic to your site, bounce-rate and even visitor demographics.
Pro tip: Just remember that data doesn’t mean anything until you turn it into insights. Look for the story those numbers are trying to tell you.
Tip #6: Bake accountability into your agreement
Don’t sign any agreement unless it clearly outlines regular reporting and set periods for achieving milestones. While you must be prepared for a long-term money and time investment (it can take months before you see results from SEO), you’ll want to make sure that your supplier isn’t using that time lag to string you along.
Pro tip: Once a quarter, check your SEO progress against the agreed targets. If your current supplier isn’t performing as promised, be prepared to move them on.
Tip #7 Get yourself an SEO education
There are many paid and free courses you can take that will get you up to speed on SEO basics. This offers a couple of advantages: it puts you in a position where you can do it yourself, but (even better) you’ll also know what to look for in a quality SEO service (and be practically scam-proof).
Kate Toon’s (paid) course, The recipe for SEO Success, is the gold standard in Australia, but you could also check out these freebies:
- Kate Toon’s SEO Nibbles is a free DIY course (plus free Facebook group). She also has a great podcast you can listen to quickly absorb some SEO knowledge.
- MOZ SEO 101: Beginner’s Guide to SEO – as the name suggests, this course is a great place to start out, giving you a good overview of the basics.
- Quick Sprout – titled ‘Everything you need to know about SEO’, this page is basically a series of linked articles that give you Neil Patel and co’s playbook for all things SEO. (This is one you will want to bookmark for ongoing self-guided education.)
- HubSpot Academy – simple and easy to follow, HubSpot’s guides, courses and certifications offer business owners a wealth of knowledge that can take you from big picture down to the nitty-gritty.
- Yoast – few people know SEO like the team at Yoast (of the WordPress plugin fame), so you know that their training is going to be great.
10 Questions you should ask every potential SEO supplier:
- What strategies will you use to improve our search ranking?
- Do you adhere to search engines’ webmaster guidelines?
- How will you report on changes you make to our website?
- What metrics do you track? How? (Look for businesses that mention ROI and conversions, rather than just keyword rankings and traffic)
- What types of SEO work will you do (ie technical, on-page, off-page etc)?
- What is your payment structure (hourly, by project, monthly retainer etc)?
- What happens if we need to end the contract? (Watch out for early termination fees!)
- Have you worked on penalised sites (and how did you fix them)?
- How do you measure the success of your plans? (ie increase in traffic by x months, ranking for a certain keyword etc, % increase in lead conversion)
- How are you different from other SEO companies?
By taking control, you’ll steer your SEO strategy in the right direction
Outsourcing SEO doesn’t have to be a gamble. Through self-education and insisting upon solid planning, accountability and realistic goal setting, you’ll be able to hire with confidence, knowing that you’ve chosen a reputable SEO team that will deliver good return on your investment.