As an SEO specialist, I am acutely aware that people devalue our services sometimes. Unlike traditional university education, the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) industry has no universally accepted official qualification. SEO consultants and SEO specialists are sometimes seen as wizards that sell dreams. Sometimes seen as charlatans, other times as the savour of a business, a search engine optimization consultant's job is to improve a website's ranking in Google and other search engines. Getting the first position in Google search for a target keyword is not easy but that's often the promise being sold. The question is, what is an SEO specialist and do you need one?
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of improving the ranking or visibility of your website for organic results. While SEO fits in the digital marketing category, it does not refer to paid search or Cost-per-click advertising. A well-optimized website that delivers the best answers to users will rank highly on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). An unoptimized website might rank by accident but it's unlikely to have a lasting presence on the first page of Google. Some sites are not “search engine friendly” and do just fine in search engine rankings, but these are the exceptions. And who knows how long they will remain there? As more and more businesses apply better tactics to get leads and traffic on their websites, there’s always the possibility that the old guard will get knocked off the top spots.
Google and the other search engines tweak their algorithms constantly and in some cases implement sweeping changes that destroy businesses. One change in Google’s algorithm could see your website fall off the front page and, in some cases, disappear from the search results. Understanding what to do next and acting fast are crucial elements in maintaining a strong presence on the internet.
SEO is a $65 bn industry but it sometimes gets a bad reputation, partly because of shady practices by so-called SEO experts. Is SEO all just smoke and mirrors? It's true that there exists an entire sub-industry of snake-oil SEO sellers but just in any industry (e.g., auto-mechanic, stock brokerage, real estate) there are those that like to act as if they have the magic formula and then there are real professionals.
How an SEO consultant can help your business
So let’s say you want to increase sales through your website but nothing is working so far. You’ve tried different email campaigns, promotions, and even A/B testing. Nothing works. Let's presume that your business makes $50,000 a month directly through online sales and that’s with 500 new visits per day (15,000 visits per month). Your site ranks on Google’s first page for several keywords but not your top ten targeted words.
There are many reasons (hundreds of reasons, in fact) why Google doesn’t pay attention to your site. Some of these reasons include:
- Your website or specific pages do not have quality backlinks.
- The quality of backlinks is low
- The site has a high bounce rate, meaning people land on your website and leave again quickly.
- Your website is slow and offers poor user experience.
- Blog post quality is low – it doesn't satisfy user intent, is poorly researched, and poorly formatted.
- The website's content is not relevant
- Content is filled with bad grammar and spelling
Let’s say that an SEO consultant analyses all the data extracted from their website audit, makes informed changes, and as a result, adds an extra 1% traffic to your site. That’s an increase of 5 visits per day, which is 150 extra visits per month. If we put a monetary value on visitors (to this particular example website) we can say that each visitor is worth $3.33 dollars so an increase of 1% is worth fractionally under $500 a month. If the site traffic is increased by 10% that’s an extra $5000 a month or $60,000 a year. Even a modest 3% increase in traffic for a site like this would bring in an extra $18,000 a year.
Now we must remember that not all traffic is equal. Traffic from irrelevant sources and SPAM sites is not only bad for sales but can harm your site's ranking. Anyone that uses irrelevant and spammy links to link to your website puts your business in jeopardy.
SEO is simple but not easy
Good SEO comes from discipline and your ability to be rigorous with optimizing website structure and content. Can you perform SEO without the help of a professional? Certainly.
It’s not rocket science but let me give you an example of a typical SEO workflow. Here’s a top-20 shortlist of typical SEO tasks.
What does an SEO specialist do?
- Keyword Research – Finding the right keywords to get the most relevant and quality traffic.
- Page optimization – Check pages for broken links, image tags (so Google can ‘read’ images), proper heading structure.
- Keyword strategy – optimizing pages for particular keywords to ensure that traffic is directed to that particular page based on search queries.
- Competitor analysis – Discovery of competitor keywords, paid ads, SEO strategy, social media reach.
- Internal linking – Create a proper internal linking structure for better technical SEO
- Google Analytics – Study and implement learnings from Google Analytics reports.
- Optimize for speed – This is a specialized technical SEO skill. Factors affecting speed include the hosting company, the web server, the platform, and content and images.
- Navigation and Menu structure optimization – make sure that users can navigate the site efficiently.
- Grammar and spelling correction – bad grammar and spelling is a sign of low-quality content.
- Reporting – Creating easy-to-understand reports which show improvements (and non-improvements)
- Backlink management – Monitoring for new backlinks, spam backlinks, and competitor backlinks. Spam backlinks should be disavowed while competitor backlinks should be investigated for opportunities.
- Website diagnostics and troubleshooting – Monitoring for errors, spam, hacking, and uptime. Checking for 404 errors, crawl errors, duplicate content, and implement correct XML sitemaps, 301/302 redirects, and robots.txt files.
- URL and tag optimization – Create URL, heading, and title conventions and optimize for maximum impact.
- Off-page SEO – Outreach and link-building relationship advice or direct implementation.
- Strategy planning – Advising on marketing strategy, brand management, domain names, alternative domain names, social media reach, email marketing.
- 3rd party tool integration – Understand and implement third-party tools for marketing to provide the client with a better solution.
- Optimize the customer experience – Minimise bounce rate, improve click-through-rates, improve conversion, and (in the case of eCommerce sites) reduce cart abandonment.
- Search analysis – Analyze traffic from Search Engines for patterns, keywords, and determine where changes to landing pages or content can be implemented. Create a marketing and SEO strategy based on the findings
- A/B testing – Testing variations of pages and redirections for improved user experience.
- Local SEO services – optimizing for local businesses with Google My Business and directories.
The most important digital marketing skills
Possibly the most important skill is helping the customer understand how these procedures affect their business and how they benefit their business. Putting SEO into plain English in a direct and concise form is essential. Many business owners do not care how their SEO is implemented, they simply want results, but I think it’s important to show how progress is made and how changes are affecting the results.
A good SEO professional can read any HTML or CSS and build a website from scratch. They should be familiar with PHP if they work on WordPress, and should understand the backend of any website, from the server to the DNS implementation.
SEO consultants should not guarantee ranking positions as that is something they cannot control. Being optimistic about potential results and setting realistic goals should be a given, but an SEO consultant that guarantees 1st place ranking on the search engines results pages should be avoided.
A lot of work goes into improving a website and it should start with an SEO friendly website, theme, or technology. Internet marketing teams can only improve so much on a website with shaky foundations before hitting a wall. It’s essential to build websites that are functional and not flashy. Remember, functional NOT flashy. Nice if you can get both but that might be an expensive option.
Do you need an SEO expert?
I’ve outlined everything you need to know in order to improve your site. If you are meticulous in your SEO plans and follow the established guidelines that are freely available on Google’s Search Console as well as many other search engine optimization websites you will help boost your website's presence without the need for outside help.
Now, you might be looking at the list above and are saying to yourself, “that’s a lot of work, and I’m bound to make mistakes. There must be a tool that will do all of this!”. Luckily, there is a service you can use. It’s called an SEO Consultant. Hire an expert SEO today and the investment will pay for itself in the long term many times over.
Get started today with an experienced SEO agency and see your organic traffic skyrocket in the long term.
Keith is the founder of Fat Frog Media. He has worked in the tech, fitness, food, and hospitality industries. Keith helps businesses improve their marketing and conversion rates.