7 things best SEOs do
When you are to invest your money on any technology or digital service for your business, you want to make sure that you get the 'state of the art' of whatever you are after and can afford. If you don't do this you take the risk that your recently purchased technology will be redundant sooner rather than later. This is also very important when investing in your digital marketing and SEO. With Google constantly evolving as an information hub, new SEO services need to be at the forefront of the latest industry trends, and rather than providing specific techniques, any modern SEO work needs to be based on a set of evergreen principles.
The good news is that because it all comes down to principles, state-of-the-art SEO services do not need to be more expensive than older practices that no longer work anymore.
This article will help you make sure that whoever you hire for your SEO and digital marketing follows the principles that will make your project a success.
So what gives me authority to talk about these principles?
I have worked both as client and employee of various agencies. I must say each one is a whole new world, and it all comes down to what they stand for; is it short-term wins or a long-term relationship with the client? At the end of the day, the main question is whether your SEO provider is passionate about deliveringinnovative, high quality, transparent and long-term SEO or not.
State-of-the-art SEO providers invariably do the following:
1. They strive to understand your business well.
SEO is not for psychopaths.
Have you ever considered purchasing an SEO tool instead of hiring someone? For a reasonable price you can purchase an SEM Rush or Searchmetrics plan that will give you competitive data and some SEO recommendations.
But this is analogue to buying a train without hiring a driver: apparently easy to drive but way too risky to do it without expert advice. You will be wasting your money and just getting loads of data without knowing what it means. The tools don't understand your business.
Search engines are increasingly understanding how human relationships work. A brand or website satisfies a customer, who is a human being with specific goals and motivations. As you already know, humans are complicated, and even if two people type the same keyword into Google, they might unveil totally different intentions.
For marketers, this means they need to stop thinking about keywords first and start thinking about search intent and motivations first. It is particularly important to differentiate between a searcher, who is after information about a product, and a customer, who has pretty much decided to actually buy that product.
For a state-of-the-art SEO service it is essential to understand the motivations and pain points of the specific customer niche your business targets, which means they need to understand your business goals well. As much as possible, your marketers need to be ready to gain empathy with your target audience, and this might mean engaging in the consumer process or talking personally with one of your customers.
In addition, they should be data savvy in order to make sense of the user behaviour on your website, and this can in turn inform you of your target audience.
It has always surprised me how commonly both marketers and business owners neglect the reality of the user and forget what a pleasant experience it is to find what you need quickly and painlessly. And we forget how positively these experiences change our perceptions of brands, perhaps because we are not even conscious of it?
What to stay away from: agencies that use the same methods for all their clients, e.g. irrelevant link building, article directories and pages stuffed with non-conversational on-page optimisation.
2. They offer an SEO strategy
The typical SEO or digital marketing project is like Pandora's Box: the opportunities are endless and you also need to be prepared to capture and critically analyse all the ideas. Otherwise they can overwhelm you.
David Allen describes the relationship between having ideas and having control over them.
It is, therefore, crucial to understand what the priorities are and when it is appropriate to implement them. Only someone who has seen how different activities impact the rankings of a website can judge what should be a priority.
This can be done with a strategy and a timeline for all these elements, and a system that gives full visibility of what is going on and allows for the nature of ideas.
I love this point because it reflects how important it is for an SEO to have business acumen and understand the big picture of marketing. Modern SEO has at last become actual marketing, which is what it was set out to be in the first place. As it was discussed in SMX London, which I attended last May, new SEO is moving further towards a more integrated marketing approach, in which you can no longer neglect what your customer is doing online and even offline.
I am glad to see how people that made a lot of money in the past using seedy SEO techniques and called themselves marketers, are no longer able to offer a competitive marketing service.
State of the art SEO should include a plan that includes at least the following elements, clearly outlined:
- Keyword and market research
- Technical SEO: making sure the site is fast and Google can read it
- On Page SEO: optimisation of your website to suit that need
- Off page SEO: creation and promotion of content to reach your audience and build relationships
3. They communicate constantly
Every work-hour is golden in SEO today, and as a project owner you should have a clear understanding of what is the purpose of every task that is being worked on. Your digital marketer should therefore be able to explain and justify the priorities based on their past experience and learnings.
This is typically achieved through monthly calls and activity reporting. Beware though, because some activity reports can easily become way too overloaded and do not really considered what the client's information needs are. At worst, they are patronising collections of jargon designed to deter the client from trying to understand what is going on and hence ‘buy time’.
Reports should be clear and concise, and they should give you understandable information of what is happening and how it is impacting your bottom line. The insights should ideally highlight areas of opportunity and threat, and this requires solid analytics skills.
But what I found works much better than regular reporting is constant updates. This can be achieved with a project management system where both client and consultant can log task updates. This is incredibly important because it can save you time writing and making sense of long emails. I personally use Trello with my clients and they absolutely love it; it's simply glorious, and the color coding makes it a lot of fun too.
Trello is glorious
4. They use data in a clever way
The conversation about big data and analytics never ends, it seems you should feel bad if you are not collecting every single byte of data the internet of things gives you. Yes, people in the industry obsess with the collection of data, but they definitely should obsess more about how to make sense of that data. Data is like charity, just the idea of collecting it gives you the illusion that something good is happening, although the real value comes in how the heck you apply what you collected.
Nowadays state of the art SEO and digital marketers are trained in Google Analytics and are comfortable using statistical tools to help them understand phenomena in your website to take decisions that will ultimately bring you more traffic and more business. They are good at simplifying complicated things.
My personal approach to data is invariably the 80 20 or Pareto principle; the distribution of success is always uneven. Not every page of your site has the same value, and not every visitor contributes to the same amount of profit or conversions, so you will be much better off focusing on the segments that work for you rather than fixing all the problems at once. I've used this approach to enlighten clients on what is actually going on in their website.
Pareto charts show you where is the interesting stuff
5. They 'earn' and do not just ‘build' Backlinks
Google's notorious Penguin update was a way to turn around years of spam as the default SEO technique. This had been perpetuated by SEOs paying for links and participating in automated link schemes. Even though the ordeal of cleaning up backlink profiles seems distant, Google has announced an imminent Penguin update, which will penalise (or lift penalties) straight away, and not just when Penguin is updated.
The only way of being free from penalties is by earning backlink; making sure that your backlinks are relevant and are generated naturally, which in turn happens when your website is good enough for other people to link to it.
Now, it is important to understand that linkers are not necessarily sharers. Your content can be shared in social media but if it does not reach someone who has a website and finds value in linking to your website, your popular content will not generate backlinks.
So Google is looking at the authority of your website as a source of useful content for users in their intention to get something done online. For example, the webmaster of Brighton Bloggers linked to me because I am blogger in Brighton, and the users of their website might find a link to a blogger in Brighton useful.
Trust me, it has taken the SEO community many years to understand this. But as I already ranted, there are lots of SEO people don’t have business acumen or marketing expertise.
6. They are technical SEO experts
With the advent of mobile phones, the technical emphasis is shifting towards page speed. This is the time your website takes to load every time a user requests it.
Faster websites mean a happier Google and definitely a happier user, which might read or buy more from you just because he has a good experience on your site. This was one the key learning I got from SMX London in May 2016.
7. They talk about mobile SEO and the future of search
2014 was the year where mobile traffic was estimated to outperform desktop traffic. Smartphones have participated in a silent revolution. The modern SEO and digital marketing community have been forced to break the habit of thinking only about how users interact with desktops and start putting mobile interactions at the forefront of their strategies. This is one of the reasons why new SEO has really started broadening and touching with other marketing disciplines, like UX (user interface) design and conversion optimisation. And mobile search is particularly important when considering local search, which is a world in itself.
But Google is traveling yet further, and now they are investing a lot of resources in developing their AI powered Google assistants and bots, which will serve you as your personal assistants from all your devices. Gary Illyes from Google highlighted that SEOs need to start optimising content around these technologies.
The key to state of the art SEO is more about attitudes or principles and less about SEO tools, technologies or budget. The best SEOs are passionate professionals that are always ahead of the game, trying to understand the impact of what is coming next. We actually don’t have other choice if we want to ensure the best services and the best results to our customers.
At the core of it all is transparency and trust to your SEO professional, so do not be afraid to probe them and try to ‘measure’ whether they are trying to patronise you or are passionate about helping you in the game. After reading this article, you will hopefully have the criteria necessary to vet them!