It's a hotly debated question among the Business.com community. We found answers.
People are more likely to click the first, second or third result in a Google search than any other, and if you're not on the first page, you're lost.
According to a study by Ignite Visibility, the first search result gets nearly 45 percent of all clicks. The first three results combined get 60 percent of clicks, and results on the first page get 89 percent of clicks. How does one get on that first page? Through good search engine optimization (SEO) practices.
The rudiments of good SEO are relatively easy to grasp, but it takes a lot of experience and expertise to be a master. There are plenty of resources to support your SEO efforts, though, including courses and tools, many of them free. Or you can hire a outside expert.
It's a question that has plagued those like Andrew Neuman from the Business.com community. An SEO expert may not seem quite as essential to the ongoing operations of your business as, for example, an accountant or a lawyer, and the consequences of SEO mistakes are not quite as serious as tax or legal mistakes. After all, no one goes to jail for bad SEO practices. Still, plenty of businesses lose revenue because of them. If your SEO needs are beyond what you can teach yourself or manage with beginner-level SEO tools, you may want to tap into outside help.
Can you truly do it yourself?
Budgeting often requires tough decisions. Many of these decisions begin with asking, "Do we really need this?" SEO may be one of the first places you'd think to cut corners. Given enough time, depending on their marketing chops, a business owner can learn to conduct their own SEO at a functional if not expert level. Of course, the time you dedicate has to come from somewhere.
Learning good SEO practices will cost you in time, even if it's not a line item in your marketing budget. The field is constantly shifting, as Google regularly releases new algorithmic shifts that can affect generally accepted best practices. So there can be much more to it than you thought. As search engines have become more nuanced, they've also become harder to fool or "game." That means good SEO requires far more than the clever use of keywords.
Plus, if you've already deprioritized SEO within your budget, you may not make it a high priority as a personal education project either. Thus, deciding to handle SEO yourself can easily morph into not handling it at all.
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Some businesses don't necessarily have to worry about SEO. However, if you are exclusively web-based or generate the majority of your sales and leads online, you should focus on SEO. Or, if you're in a crowded field in a populous area, you should consider best SEO practices to help people find you. A better ranking in search results is essentially free advertising.
What to know when hiring an SEO expert (or "expert")
You may be wary of hiring an SEO expert because of the dubious claims some make. You're right to be wary if a purported SEO expert "guarantees" your business's website will end up on the first page of Google results. Many unethical SEO professionals use spammy techniques to bolster page rankings that violate search engine policies, which can result in a permanent ban, meaning the search engine will no longer index the website. Even when undetected, these black-hat techniques are usually only effective in the short term anyway. So, not only are their claims too good to be true, but such unscrupulous practices can have the opposite of the intended effect – so don't be tempted.
On the other hand, you would like to increase your online visibility to drive more business, and you recognize that a well-executed SEO strategy has the potential to accomplish that. So, how do you separate impossible promises from the results you're looking for? It helps to know what exactly you hope to gain from bolstering your business's SEO practices, and to understand what exactly an SEO expert does. This will allow you to conduct informed research.
A credible SEO expert will be transparent about the services they actually offer and focus on that, rather than claiming they'll boost your ranking or revenues by X amount as long as you pay them X dollars. Look for an SEO expert who offers these services:
- Review of your website's content and structure (a cross between an audit of your web presence and a diagnostic test)
- Research on keywords that will help consumers find your business
- Support for reputation management on external sites, including directories and review boards
- Advice on technical development and content strategy
- Traffic analysis and monitoring, specific to your industry and region
If all goes as planned with the SEO specialist you select, these should be the results:
- A stronger, wider-reaching web presence
- An improved search engine ranking (but again, no credible SEO expert will quantify exactly how much of a boost they can give you)
- Increased traffic from targeted consumers
- The ability to manage your online reputation
- Increased sales and revenue
If you've determined that your business would benefit from improved SEO, consider hiring an expert. Your bottom line will thank you.