As search engine results have become the new highly effective advertising medium for businesses a search engine optimization (SEO) war has grown to immense proportions. This war includes the battle for the search engine results page (SERP) but also the battle for customers for companies that provide SEO services. Both battles are very real and knowing how to navigate the minefield can mean the difference between your companies’ survival and its slow lingering inevitable death.
Everyday a battle occurs for top three spots on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). This battle is very complex and the factors that affect the results are extremely complicated. The SERP can literally make or break your company. This is where everyone is looking for goods and services today and if you are not there, you do not get found. Trying to get the search engines to show your website for certain internet searches is known as search engine optimization (SEO).
The early days of internet marketing were very straight forward. The internet was awash with new customers and most companies were not taking advantage of digital marketing techniques. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Fast forward to today and it’s a literal battle ground where a fight occurs every second to match the best website source to exactly what the customer is looking for. Today if you want to gain ground in the SERP you have to take it from someone else. And when you do take it, they are coming to try to get it back. The battle is about revenue, survival, growth, market share and profitability for your business and its very real.
If you are not gaining market share with your internet marketing, then you are losing it. Plain and simple. This means that if you cannot directly contribute a rise in sales or phone calls through your internet marketing then you are losing. The only way to measure these results are through call tracking numbers and the use of them is so important that I can confidently say that if you are not using call tracking numbers then you are probably losing. Over 13 years and hundreds of SEO accounts and I can tell you that if you don’t know for a fact that you are winning, then you are losing. And losing is detrimental. The best analogy for this is think of your business as a 747-air plane at 30,000 feet. Internet marketing is the thrust coming out of the jet engines. If you lose all engines at 30,000 feet the plane will slowly lose altitude and glide to the ground. Hopefully at an airport with a runway. But either way it’s going to the ground. If your internet marketing is not providing verifiable market share growth through sales or phone calls, then you have lost both engines.
The entire SERP process is comprised of a limitless array of complex factors that includes the in-depth algorithm the search engine uses, the actual words the customer enters into the search bar and the millions of web pages that the search engine has to choose from to display to the customer.
The search algorithm is the formula that the search engine uses to determine if your website matches what the internet searcher is looking for. The search algorithms change a little everyday with large wholesale changes occurring every couple of weeks or months. If your SEO is professional and performed correctly there is absolutely nothing to fear about algorithm updates. In fact, every time the algorithm updates the search engine weeds out those websites that are trying to gain search engine results by bending the rules.
If your SEO is performed through a company that promised to “get results fast” or “we will get you to the top of Google” then eventually the algorithm will catch up and your website will plummet to the bottom of the SERP. This is called “black hat” SEO and it is surprisingly way more common than you think.
There is also “no hat” SEO. This is when a scrupulous digital marketing company uses a contract process to take money from your company every month and no actual SEO work is performed. This is also more common that you think.
There is also “off-shore hat” SEO. This is when a local US based digital marketing company primarily uses off-shore SEO labor which is much less expensive than on shore SEO labor. Off-shore hat SEO is also when a foreign company starts a state side SEO company and its primary purpose is to provide SEO work for its off-shore SEO labor force. Some of the off-shore SEO companies use black hat SEO techniques and the language barrier can be quite daunting when it comes to Key Word selection and promotion. I’m sure there are legitimate off shore SEO services that provide excellent SEO, but as an SEO professional my only exposure to this has been when companies contact me because it has gone horribly wrong and they need my help trying to get all the cats back in the box and the SEO on the right path. So needless to say, I’m not a big fan of off-shore and I think the risk of getting a bad company outweighs the small benefit of lower cost.
The best SEO process is known as “white hat” SEO. This is where the digital marketing company understands SEO, has experience in the space and chooses to invest the time and resources into the design and execution of a long-term SEO process that matches your website to the customers looking for your goods or service.
Knowing which process your SEO company is using is critical. And unfortunately, you can’t just ask them “hey which SEO process do you use?” because they are all going to tell you white hat. You only determine your SEO company used black hat techniques after Google delist your website and then it’s much much too late.
So, the next logical question is how can you tell the difference? How do you know which digital marketing company is using white hat SEO? The bad news is that you can’t just use your computer or cell phone to search for various key words to see how your website is showing up. Google and Bing use small snippets of code known as “cookies” to determine what websites you have visited in the past. So, you will get a different SERP that puts your website higher in the results than your customers will.
There are really only three ways to determine if an SEO company is using white hat SEO techniques that are effective long term:
- The phone is ringing. This means your customers are finding you
- They have current long-term customers that will give you a reference for their work.
- They did not call you on the phone and say they were “Google”.
There are really three types of internet marketing companies:
- Type 1 – Those that focus mostly on outbound sales and new customer acquisition. These companies utilize telemarketing and email to shotgun a sales message to anyone who will listen. They know if they call 100 people 7 will actually talk to them 3 will go through a webinar and 1 will sign up for SEO services. They take this formula and call thousands of people a day. Most people they call multiple times a day. The whole company is focused on new customer acquisition and SEO is just something they say in the sales pitch. The end goal is to separate you from your money or to use off shore SEO.
- Type 2- Those that focus mostly on SEO. These companies are true artisans of the trade. They attend conferences, network and constantly learn how to provide the best SEO value for the customer. These companies have a high customer retention rate and grow from referrals. They do not have to use outbound sales strategies and they will not cold call or email you. These companies are hidden gems that are worth finding. It takes some research but if you have more time than you have money then this is type of company to find.
- Type 3- Large SEO companies that employ true SEO artisans and that literally have thousands of customers. These companies do use outbound sales, but it is not pushy, and the message is more educational than “pushy sales” stuff. They do a great job at SEO and you get good results. These larger companies also tend to get a little higher ROI for the spend as they have the resources to focus on data analytics to continually improve the process. Many times, these companies will have a minimum spend that you will need to meet to use their services.
So how do you choose? Well avoid the type 1 company like the plague. Getting out of their money suck hole legal contract might be harder than curing the plague. Never choose a SEO company just because they called you. Take down the company name and do some research to make sure they are not a type 1 before you even agree to talk to them again.
Choosing between a type 2 and a type 3 is a matter of budget and personal choice. Usually the dividing line ends up being about the $25K line but not all companies will actually have a line. If you have less than $25K a year to spend on digital marketing, then you need to seek out a Type 2 company. A type 3 company at this spend level would not be cost effective. You need to seek out a type 2 company. Above $25 and really more like $100K a year in digital marketing means you need a type 3 company. The higher budgets at this level really take advantage of the data analytics to get the higher ROI. Think of it like a Ferrari. The SEO is the V12 super horsepower engine that makes the car go superfast. The rest of the car is the support mechanism to enable the SEO engine to do its job. At budgets below $25 a year the support mechanism cost so much than in the end you don’t have much money left for the engine.
The SEO war continues every second of every day. It does not rest, and it does not take a day off. The only way to survive the war and win is to choose the right type of SEO marketing company. Internet Marketing is a literal minefield but getting through to the side of growth is not that hard if you follow these recommendations.
But if you selected your internet marketing company just because they cold called you on the phone then start getting out before the plane hits the ground. The internet marketing world is full of hidden gems (type 2) and large companies (type 3) that can help you achieve your growth goals. You just have to make an educated decision.