SEO: Do it myself or farm it out?
Should I take the time to learn how to do Search Engine Optimization myself or should I pay a service for this? If the latter, what is a reasonable amount to expect to spend and for how long? Also, what expectations can I reasonably have that this service will succeed in placing my business on the first page of a Google search, etc. assuming they know what they're doing?
Mark's advice is pretty good - if it's not your core area of expertise, hire it out. However, with SEO, you have to be extremely careful who you hire it out to. It's entirely possible to do it completely wrong, get temporary good results for a few months, even a year, and then get slammed by a penalty. Don't hire it out to India because they use SEO tactics from 2010 bound to get you penalized.
You want to hire a firm that focuses on building good content (if you don't have it already) and promoting it to other webmasters (which gets natural links).
Only go with very reputable, established, and proven companies. That might mean not hiring someone local. DigitalAptitude.com is a good one. PageOnePower.com is a good one too. TopRankMarketing.com is another leader. Portent.com is yet another. There's more, but those are some of the top companies.
Be very weary of anyone else doing SEO. They may even be very well-intentioned and honest people, but they may be so caught up in dated SEO tactics you shouldn't use that they end up getting you penalized.
The leaders may charge more to do good work, but if you get penalized, you can lose 80-100% of your business literally overnight. Well worth it to be cautious. Consider having an SEO company run both an organic rankings campaign and PPC campaign to diversify where your business comes from.
For a small company, unless you can comfortably carve out a few hours a day I suggest leaving it up to the experts with your constant oversight. SEO should be a percentage of your overall internet advertising and marketing budget. Devoting 25% is a reasonable budget. Keep in mind that you will not see immediate direct and quantifiable results as you would with display ads, PPC, banners, etc. Don’t believe anybody that guarantees search placement results. Too much is outside of their control. Rather you can and should expect month over month improvements with significant gains inside 12 months. Remember that SEO is far more than search results. It’s an investment in the company’s perceived reputation and credibility which pays enormous dividends for numerous segments of the business in addition to sales.
Just watch out with "guaranteed top page" offers. They are fine if they are offering money back as part of that guarantee but you'll usually have very strict conditions like not being able to target good keywords.
Anyway, to answer your question, yes you can and should do it yourself, the skills you learn will save you a lot of money in the long term - providing - you keep learning. Google makes minor daily changes to the search results. I've been doing it since search engines first came about and I can write off 95% of what I've learned as no longer relevant.
While the skills will help you, you've got to account for the time it's going to take to learn and the time it's going to take to implement the measures. Your time might be worth more than any potential savings. Good luck.
Generally the best approach in business is that if there is something that needs to be done that is not your core area of expertise, hire someone else to do it for you.
If you don't know SEO then don't waste your time trying to figure it out, even if you do figure it out you likely wont be that good at it.
All of the time that you have spend developing this skill (that you will likely not be good at) is time that you have taken away from running your business and doing things that earn you money.
It's sometimes hard to spend the money to pay someone else to do things like this, but it is the best money you could ever spend.
I'm not an expert on the specifics of SEO, so I will let others answer that.
You should evaluate how much you can save or lose. There are pros and cons to all outsourcing in everything business. Doing things in house may be better in the short run or long run. This means financial and marketing analysis of what you should outsource to other businesses either near or far. Run the number and evaluate the risk and options.
You will be able to find freelancers and businesses offering SEO that can be done in a week and charge a hundred bucks. This is generally a rip off and they can't show any improvement. They use bots or black hat technique that Google doesn't like.
Ask for analytics so they can show at least some results. No company can guarantee you will make a huge profit off of it because that isen't in there hands. It could be because of factors they have nothing to do with. But, they should be able to show higher ranking in search results for niche keywords.
Most professional companies pay per keyword. Expect to pay more than a few hundread dollars a month. Going for at least a few months to have significant results. SEO can't be done in a short time anymore. Anyone who says they can are fooling someone. If you have any other questions I would be happy to help.
You know yourself the best. Are you a quick learner? Moz and SearchEngineLand have excellent beginner guides. How much do you value your time? If you are high dollar earner, the least expensive route is to learn enough to recognize the con jobs and the bad advice, and then hire a small local firm starting out that will work with you. Always develop a relationship with whoever you hire - you must have a personal contact.
My very best advice is when anyone tells you something, Google it. Learn to recognize the authorities, and if you see something that conflicts with what you have been told, ask about it..
LinkedIn has a number of SEO groups - they are populated by people who don't really know what they are doing, but if you see a few people that are commended for their answers, ask them your questions. This forum too is good for that, but of course LinkedIn is more established.
The very basics of SEO are that you need to know the top ranking factors - they change, so every three to six month Google "top SEO ranking factors" - and Google the terms you don't know.
As far as getting to the first page of search engine results - totally depends on the competition. I've had webpages I created go to the first page immediately upon creation, because the on-page optimization was good and there was no competition. But if you go up against established, well-SEO'd sites, be prepared for an investment.
SEO is different for local vs. national vs. online-only business. When you ask a question like how much, be very very specific in what you have and what you are looking for. That is the only way to get a good price with few to no surprises.
This is long but very comprehensive : Golden "SEO" ;) that I recommend you implement:
1. What is your offer/brand story (your site must be action oriented with a compelling offer & brand story unique to you, your brand, your product etc...)
2. Focus on most pertinent key-words describing your offer/service/benefits/outcome or hiring you or buying your products, that offer better match the keywords and needs of the visitors.
3. Write compelling content (create editorial calendar so you can create consistency, update the site weekly, daily, biweekly...whatever as long as fresh content flows and consistency is there. Consistency trains viewers to expect the next release and search engines get fed fresh information.
4. Make sure Titles for articles, pages, call to actions (buttons, links) being the most important element users react to, match content and your intent. Tell users what they can expect to read through on-point titles and headlines.
5. Share it with the World through Social Media. Great content will share itself the moment you post it. The better and unique it is, the higher its longevity and sharability factor. Have fun with it, change lengths of articles, post interesting tips, how-2s, provocative points etc...surprise, engage...inspire.
6. Don't think of paying for SEO or Social Media Marketing, OR any marketing for that matter unless you have plenty of content on your site first (how much is good enough to launch with? 15-30 articles minimum about 500+words unless you want to change up style, length etc...actually more interesting that way, solid site copy that is humanized and focuses on your compelling brand story..ask yourself when you're done: "Would I care to read? would I come back" . Your offer and message is clear and your call to actions are solid. Users must know these things within seconds:
1. What it is (that you're offering), Why should I care (brand story)
2. How will it benefit me or What's in it for me (Benefits)
3. How much is it and what do I have to do to get it (Next steps)
Let me debunk few things, I think with 18 years in user experience and digital engagement strategy + content development I can simplify this:
1. SEO is not a set of code focused actions one can execute within a specific timeframe to achieve specific goals that will last forever. Search engines make sure that's not the case and all of their algorithms changes work to ensure nobody can con the system with tweaking code or dropping keywords.
They care if you share value. Ask yourself: Is what I'm about to share valuable to others.
Search Engine Optimization used to mean tweaking code, adding tags, keywords etc for engines to find your site and rank high. Today Optimization focuses on content more than anything else. Without content you will waste $$$$ and time so it only makes the most sense to focus fully on content creation and not any content creation. Evaluate what you like to read online, what you consider value and why, mimic similar.
2. Think of Search Engines as the broker. They are the messengers between advertisers (be it paid through ads or organic through let's say blog posts or social media), content creator / writers which sometimes is one and the same and users who are searching for that content.
Why are the top websites popular? they have loads and loads of content that gets updated frequently and if search engines feed on text and social activity, doesn't it make sense to feed it exactly that kind of diet?
Your job as the website owner is to ensure that you end up being found when a user searches for what you offer and know a lot about. Don't think "First Page" as that's a chasing game many lie they can achieve and if so, they achieve it for a very short period of time as you don't know what you're competition is doing, results vary based on many aspects too draining to deal with....focus on 1 aspect that will always trump it: HIGH QUALITY, VALUE-RICH CONTENT
Spend all of your time and money you want to invest on creating the BEST, most valuable, most worthy of read and share content you can possibly create. <---- nobody can be you, nobody has your brand story, focus on sharing that to create a relationship with your audience as people don't buy products or services, they buy relationships.
With the latest in search engine algorithm changes, social media has become a very important indicator of credibility, authority, authenticity. Depending on your niche I suggest focusing on Linkedin, Google + (remember this one will always matter as it's own by a search engine and your content here will come up on top for all of your contacts if relevant as Google will show them content developed by the peers they are connected to), Twitter, maybe Facebook (less and less), Pinterest and couple industry related.
Not only because it engages users to interact with your site, read the content but search engines know that it is harder to "Fake" a real human engagement, that social media is tedious and takes time to cultivate relationships YET...it requires that actual users are attached to their profiles which means if there is a lot of activity from social media linking to your site and vice versa that indicates to search engines you are real, legit and your content based on social media activity is of high or low quality which they use to decide in split second if you are "search result worthy" as I call it.
My overall point is:
Focus on creating awesome content - that's it. High quality, naturally sharable content will win over search engines. Use video - hottest media today (post on video sites and embed into your website.
I got one small client 1k users in under 1 month pretty passively by simply posting a 3 minute video of her talking about costs for material), This will live on for a long time driving traffic consistently.
Other ways: create downloadable, simple documents such as white papers, forms and other "tools" that help your users get their answers. Compare products or services, post testimonials, focus on case studies and then invest in making sure whoever is your audience, gets to see it be it through paid or organic advertising.
Don't invest $$$ into a 3rd party company tweaking your site's pages (I'm assuming the site is built well, code is clean and basics such as titles etc...are present). The money you pour into traditional SEO will be better spent creating lasting content that regardless of algorithm changes will drive continual traffic to your site. This will get you to the top of search engines and keep you there as long as you release lots of content and are consistent.
This is where your gold is. Video, audio (podcasts), solid, interesting, entertaining, empowering, informative or helpful articles, site copy that keeps users on your site, imagery that engages all of their senses, tells the compelling brand story etc...and you will naturally attract audience.
Think of the most popular sites on the web. What do they have? content, content, content.
Don't hire offshore for it either (my humble advice from years of trying to make that idea work and seeing loads of CRAP on the web with a very specific writing style from those who claim to be writers or blog writers....horrible, nobody reads that stuff, don't bother)...
Write it yourself if you're an expert in the industry AND either hire a great writer who knows your industry well if you have no time or invite other industry experts who want to contribute value, see if you can barter something in exchange, give them contributor credit and everyone wins as you will have fresh weekly content worth sharing, they will elevator their industry expert status and users will get the latest and greatest news/info for whatever they're looking for on your site.
That's it. Easy? ;) Good luck!
It depends on how much time you can dedicate to it if you decide to do it yourself. Udemy has plenty of courses on SEO and that's the route that I would recommend. Even if you do decide to farm it out, it would be better if you know a little about it yourself. Most SEO firms promise unrealistic results and I cant really recommend a good enough service provider at this time.
Also, if you decide to do it yourself, here are some free SEO tools to get you started: seo.viord.com/tools.php
Yes, anyone can learn SEO, but hiring someone who is dedicated to it, knows all the ins and outs, is alert to the changes that occur often and can move with them can be worth it. Also, time is ALWAYS a consideration - their knowledge and skills allow experts to do things promptly.
I often tell my clients who question when projects are turned over quickly, "You aren't just paying for how long it took me, you are also paying for how long it didn't take you"
Hi David, I think your decision should really come down to two questions:
1) Do you have time to devote to SEO development yourself? If you do, great! If not, then you should probably enlist help of a professional.
2) How will you measure your conversions from the web? Being first page on Google is all fine and good, but if you don't have conversion points on your website, nor are you inquiring over the phone or in-person about where your inquiries are being generated from, you won't be able to effectively measure your efforts.
Definitely ensure that if you're going to use an SEO professional that they are using White Hat SEO efforts and have an understanding of how search algorithms are working these days as SEO is really just one branch of an overall Content Marketing Strategy.
My two cents!