How you will know if it’s real SEO

For the majority of small businesses, and most mid-size businesses, an effective SEO program is not cheap to develop. Here’s why.

Nearly every day there’s a query on one of writers’ lists I follow asking for the name of someone who can “do” search engine optimization (SEO) for websites. It’s apparent that the person thinks that “doing SEO” involves producing a list of keywords so the web producer can stick the keywords on the client’s website.

Soon thereafter, I hear that the writers and producers were rather miffed when the better SEO practitioners quoted them a stiff price. C’mon, how expensive can a list of keywords be?

Admittedly, there are a number of small business websites for which a fairly simple list of keywords will suffice. (I’ll be talking about this in a small-business SEO seminar I’m developing.)

But for the majority of small businesses, and most mid-size businesses, an effective SEO program is not cheap to develop. Here’s why:

  1. You’ve got to start with good data analyses. You need data analyses of not just the client’s site, but the competitors’ sites as well. Knowing what keyword searches are taking customers to competing websites is crucial to deciding what keywords to put on your own site.
  2. You need an expert to recommend how to use the keywords on your site. Some sites need keyworded blog posts, while others merely need keyword-rich content. Others (based on their names and their industries) can’t be helped much by keyworded site elements. These folks will  need to buckle down and buy some Google ads. A good SEO practitioner can provide valuable guidance on creating and testing a Google ad campaign.
  3. You need to set up a web analytics program  — before any SEO work is done. It’s critical that you know the baseline of your site’s web traffic. That way, after you fix the site, or buy ads, you can immediately see and quantify the differences, and measure the effectiveness of the SEO program.

There are a wide variety of SEO firms out there, some good, and some bad. How do you find the right one?

  • Go into it with a budget. You’ll drive away the better SEO folks by expecting their solutions to be cheap.
  • Start by asking: Can my business be helped by SEO, and, if so, how much? Listen carefully to the answers. Some businesses can get enormous benefits from SEO; for others, SEO is nowhere near as cost-effective as improvements to print advertising, signage, word of mouth, product quality, or customer service.
  • Be wary of one-size-fits-all SEO solutions. An SEO solution needs to be customized to match your business needs and your capacity and willingness to spend resources on a social media or SEO program.
  • Don’t be intimidated by SEO practitioners who say their analyses and strategies are too complex for you to understand. If they can’t explain SEO to a client, they have competitors who can.

Author: Karen Anderson

To paraphrase Mark Morris, "I'm a writer; I write!"

6 thoughts on “How you will know if it’s real SEO”

  1. Karen, thank you for a well written article on choosing an SEO firm. There are lots of things to consider when producing an SEO report and you hit so many of those right on the money!

    As you stated, it’s more than just a list of keywords. Keyword density, placement, keyword phrases, competitive analysis, and that’s just for “on-site” work. 75% of the “magic” of SEO is off-site work, so it’s great to see a writer cover some of the points to look for.

    I’ll have to see if I can afford your writing services! 🙂

    all the best,


  2. Hi,
    regarding businesses that can or can’t be helped, is there a general rule of thumb on this – or somewhere that has done analysis on different industries?
    I’m in the wedding photography business, and just wondering if it;s work putting in a lot of effort (time and/or money) on SEO.

    1. I don’t know if there’s a rule of thumb, per se, but I can give you some clues to think about.

      If the keywords in a search to find your business are shared with several other local businesses, it’s difficult to “win” with keywording. For instance, with 50+ massage therapists in Ballard, keywording won’t help one of them. But if you are the only fine art dealer, or horse trainer in Ballard — or the only person practicing some special version of massage, keywording could be very powerful.

      Another factor in keyword effectiveness is the business name. If your business has a highly distinctive name — “Even Your Mother-in-Law Looks Great Wedding Photography” rather than “Special Event Wedding Photography” — it would be more likely to benefit from keywords.

  3. Cheers Karen,
    I’ve set up google analytics as per your suggestions.
    I’m inclined to feel that for my industry, work of mouth trumps any SEO attempts, but that’s not to say they are not worthwhile. However, it seems that many of the local wedding photographers are successfully targeting “wedding photography Melbourne” (and coming up much higher than me in the results)
    At the moment, it’s the quiet season here in Melbourne, so I’m using the time on my hands to look into some self SEO in more detail again.
    Perhaps I need to find a slight variant that can be a bit more of a niche for me.
    Thanks for the feedback,

    1. Sean,
      Two suggestions:
      1. Have partner sites (caterers, wedding planners, etc.) link to your website from theirs. Google generally “gives credit” for such links, unless the code has “nofollow” in it.
      2. Could you easily put fresh content on your homepage once or twice a week? A photo from a recent shoot, with a line or two of text, lets Google know your site (and business) are alive and moves you up in the rankings. That’s why so many businesses put blog posts on their homepages (another option).
      Let me know if these make a difference.

  4. Hi Karen, thanks again for your feedback,
    I think your right about front page – I had actually just included a piece of code showing todays date for this reason, but I think thats kinda lame… and probably something google can detect and give less weight to? I think I will include a small snippet on the frontpage about my latest blog (I plan to update the blog at least once a week now that I have wordpress working)
    Regarding links, I think I havent been proactive enough in doing this kind of thing – I need to be I think if I am going to survive!

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