When companies consider search engine optimization as a service, it’s important to understand that this kind of consulting comes in a variety of forms with the most popular being: phone consultations, site audits/reviews and ongoing SEO consulting.
Businesses that are very early in their stages of search marketing and not entirely “sold” on SEO as a channel seem to gravitate towards short term engagements. “Can we test SEO for a few months?”, they’ll say. Also, companies that perceive SEO as a set of IT and web development focused tactics also tend to see the promotion of a web site via search as a one-time set of recommendations.
There are serious flaws in the thinking that improving on-page content optimization as a single exercise is going to deliver the ongoing competitive advantage possible of improving bottom line sales that most companies have in mind when they hire an outside resource.
I see examples either personally or hear from our account teams every week, of how having a SEO consultant either saved the client considerable expense or provided insight for creating significant competitive advantage. Such a topic would make for a very good Reader Poll, but for now, I think we’ll start with five good reasons for ongoing SEO consulting:
- Oversight of implementation – Most companies do not implement SEO recommendations they’ve paid to receive most of the time, correctly or at all. SEO implementation isn’t just the first pass at content optimization and making the site more spider friendly. It’s an ongoing process of adding new, search engine friendly content, making sure that content stays search engine friendly, promoting and monitoring. Not implementing SEO recommendations properly can mean the wasted investment in SEO in the first place.Ongoing SEO oversight gives another pair of eyes, focused expertise and resources for the completion of tasks that overworked, multiple-hat wearing company webmasters are expected to perform. With multiple people responsible for web site content creation and maintenance come the opportunity for error like overwriting all the SEO title and meta data recommendations. Oversight also provides a site SEO quality control element that if left unchecked, can undo months or years of previous SEO investment. Over the past 2 years we’ve noticed that while many organizations are bringing SEO as well as PPC in-house, they continue to retain an outside agency for both strategic direction as well as a helping hand on production.
- Link acquisition – Links drive traffic, they promote brands and search engines recognize links in their various forms as signals in determining the best search results for a given query. TopRank’s opinion is that you can never have enough links. A vibrant, relevant and popular web site is in part characterized by the quantity and quality of links pointing to it. With many web sites, this is a chicken/egg situation where there might be useful content being created, but because the site is new, there is limited distribution. If no one is aware of the great content, then there’s no one to link to it.Therefore, active and ongoing promotion of a web site is necessary in the form of link acquisition.Very few companies persist at any kind of proactive link building (directories, content promotion, profiles, press releases, link bait, social media) or even bother with creating passive link acquisition efforts (bookmarks, widgets, RSS, etc). Ongoing outside consulting services provide the resources for persistent best practices link acquisition, content promotion, analysis and measurement. This is where the notions that “search marketing is a form of PR” and “PR is the future of SEO” come into play in a very big way.
- Professional consulting – The search marketing industry moves fast, changes often and can consume an incredible amount of a company’s IT and marketing department’s time. Many search engine optimization companies will provide up front consulting offering keyword research, content optimization, code and/or template optimization, inclusion assistance, paid links (TopRank doesn’t do paid links), directory submissions and monthly ranking (or similarly automated) reports. To some that might seem like a lot, but it’s just a start. Getting the most out of search engines as a marketing channel is a process, not an event.Professional SEO consulting includes strategic direction as well as ongoing education for the client side staff responsible for content creation, web site administration, marketing, public relations, business development and even customer service. Providing clients with technical as well as creative expertise along with the processes that can bring measurable accountability to the search marketing investment are all key components to proper ongoing consulting. Not only does the SEO consultant need to justify the return on their own efforts, but provide the advice, processes and reporting that makes the client side contact look like a rock star to their management team and the company the most relevant resource to online prospects.
- More hands on deck – Most companies have IT and marketing departments, or at least individuals filling those roles. Some even have dedicated in-house search marketing professionals. However, for anyone with client side experience, you know how thinly spread technical and creative staff can be. Search engine optimization is just another check mark on their long list of tasks to complete.SEO agencies provide the additional expertise for implementation of certain tasks so that in-house web teams can focus on their internal customers and keep the web site running properly.
- Pipeline and search marketing analytics – “The devil is in the details”, they say and analytics for search marketing is no different. After 10 plus years in the search marketing business, many companies still report they do not actively use web analytics information for marketing or that they do not have a clear understanding of the conversion process for online lead generation.In direct marketing, knowing cost per lead and cost per acquisition is fundamental. Why not for natural search or PPC? Monitoring keyword traffic trends, referral trends, time spent on site, visitor interaction with calls to action, conversions and many other metrics provide invaluable insight into a successful search marketing program. The ability to attribute (correctly) revenue or lead generation outcomes to search marketing expenditures provides the fundamental feedback loop that should be an expected component of just about any search marketing program.Search marketing analytics consultants bring years of “been there, done that” experience to organizations still making sense out of search as a channel. It’s not all about lead generation either, since “brand” is still one of the leading reasons companies invest in search. The importance of branding brings into play the need to understand how the search experience, from query to conversion, impacts the consumers brand experience.
I expect a counter to listing these five of many reasons for ongoing SEO help would be that you can hire and train staff for these responsibilities. I suppose that’s possible, but good luck in today’s marketplace with “real” search marketing experts in very high demand by top agencies of all kinds as well as companies brining search in-house.
The other issue is that it takes a pretty strong commitment by an organization to be able to justify the expense of expertise and time it would take to stay on top of what’s working as well as implementation. There are only so many conferences you can send your employees to and only so much time in the day to read blogs, forums, newsletters, publications and web sites on top of internal testing and measurement.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to do all SEO in house with the desired long term results, but like any specialized knowledge area, an ongoing relationship with a trusted expert offers clear and distinct quality of work and process advantages over doing everything yourself.
What are some of the most important reasons you’ve experienced for ongoing SEO consulting?