Over the last seven years that I've been agency side and selling SEO (define) services, the requests have been mostly the same..."Can you optimize my Web site so that we can get top rankings for XYZ keyword?"
Yes, some people (prospects) are becoming more sophisticated and beginning to better understand SEO - which is a great thing - but by and large, the requests today are a lot like the requests from long ago.
Today's SEO requires us to think a little bigger about its process. Why are we doing this? Is the end game really "rankings"? Or, is it more likely that traffic and growing your business is the "end" that we're targeting in our efforts? Perhaps, it's not even traffic.
Today's SEO is about optimizing your Web presence using all of your assets, and not just focusing on what you may have done in 2003, which is to say a) write title tags, b) write copy, and c) get links. Now SEO requires you to think bigger than that, because the search engines - and the searchers - are thinking bigger than that.
Another question that comes to mind...how do you take credit for what can't be seen in analytics, or otherwise?
Here are some things that we should be considering:
If your business has a storefront/office in a particular city, are you listed in the various channels afforded you? Such as Google Local, Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Yellow Pages, Yelp, and others. Are you optimizing these channels? Going forward, "success" may not be measured by Web traffic. You may be scratching your head here saying, "OK, then what? How do you define success?" At the end of the day, I define success by ROI (define) (keeping in mind that time is absolutely an investment). And, you can get strong returns from marketing through other channels that may not end up being traffic to your Web site. Ken Shafer's post on Rich Snippets got me to thinking about this a bit more. Perhaps your Rich Snippets are providing such great information within the SERPS (define) that searchers don't need to click through to your Web site to get the information that they needed; it was already delivered within the SERPS. Depending on your business model, this could be a good thing (getting people to call you rather than even visiting your Web site, which was the conversion you were looking for in the first place) or perhaps this could be a bad thing (you're a publishing Web site and need the page views so that you can sell advertising). I digress...
More often than not, a solid SEO effort for someone with local targeting as a requirement is going to include inclusion in many of the aforementioned locations. This is about developing your local footprint. You'll most likely get calls from these listings, and it will help with rankings/traffic from organic search for local keywords, but there will be some value here that you may find difficult to measure and you may not give SEO credit for the business coming from these. For example, what about the person searching from their iPhone while they're out and about. They do the search, they find your location on Google Maps, and they drive to your store and "convert." Where does that show up in your Web analytics? Does the SEO get any credit for this?
It's this kind of stuff that makes my job difficult. For the average person trying to buy SEO services, you try and tell them "our goal should be increased visits to your Web site for traffic that will hopefully convert into a desired action." Then, for the more sophisticated clients, we will implement call-tracking so that we can learn which keywords are driving conversions through phone calls and whether or not these calls are coming from organic search, paid search, etc. One thing that is often not considered is how we can take credit for other positive outcomes from our SEO efforts.
Here are some other things that you might want to consider when you're developing your report for your clients:
Many of my clients happen to have a blog. When they don't, more often than not I recommend they add one. We are typically involved in helping to brainstorm on content ideas, best practices for development of the blog and post, and promotion of the posts through our networks.
Why a blog? First and foremost it's an opportunity to use human language on your Web site and write content that has a chance to actually gain natural links. Most of the other stuff on your Web site is just not the kind of thing that people want to link to - corporate talk. When you have a great blog that provides wonderful content, there is a chance that you'll earn some natural link love. The other thing that can happen with a blog is that you can grow a following, gain subscribers, and become a thought leader. Of course, none of this can happen if you don't have a blog. So, if your SEO has recommended the blog, helped you with strategy on content, promotes your blog so that it gets readership, and you earn the distinction of "thought leader" in your industry, how do you assign value to that? Again, this isn't going to show up in your analytics.
Don't underestimate the power of becoming a thought leader. There are many times when I receive a call from a prospect and I proceed to ask them: How did you hear about my agency? Sometimes the answer is "I saw you on a Web site that said that you were a top SEO firm." For those of you who have read my work in the past, my company does not participate in Web sites/advertising schemes that claim to rank the top SEO firms. So, what then? Since my company spends basically $0.00 on marketing, I have to believe that business like this comes from this column or the various speaking engagements.
As far as digital marketing has come, it's still an imperfect science to measure precise results that come from marketing efforts. I can't imagine a time when the measurements will be perfect. So, while our industry has come a long way since 2003, I think we can work harder on reporting ROI on SEO efforts and try our level best to give credit where it's due, and otherwise at least share the credit on aspects that are difficult or impossible to measure.
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Mark Jackson is the president and CEO of Vizion Interactive, Inc., a leading SEO company headquartered in Dallas, TX, with offices in Overland Park, KS and Clearwater Beach, FL. Mark joined the interactive marketing fray in early 2000 in business development with Lycos/Wired Digital and then AOL Time Warner. After having witnessed the bubble burst and its lingering effects on stability on the job front, Mark established an interactive marketing agency and has cultivated it into one of the most respected search engine optimization firms in the United States.
Vizion Interactive was founded on the premise that honesty, integrity, and transparency forge the pillars that strong partnerships should be based upon. Vizion Interactive is a full-service interactive marketing agency, specializing in search engine optimization, search engine marketing/PPC management, social media marketing, SEO friendly Web design/development, analytics installations/analysis, and other leading edge interactive marketing services, including being one of the first 50 beta testers of Google TV.
Mark is a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association (DFWSEM), the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association (DFWIMA) and is a regular speaker at the Search Engine Strategies and Pubcon conferences.
Mark received a B.A. in journalism/advertising from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1993 and spent several years in traditional marketing (radio, television, and print) prior to venturing into all things "Web."
His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.