Best Practice

SEO; Buyer Beware!

If an SEO agency, consultant or other all-in-one-solutions provider guarantees your ranking on Google, ask them two questions;

1) Do you have other local customers in my industry, or am I the only one? Many times their answer will be “yes, we have many just like you,” attempting to instill confidence in their solutions.
2) Did you promise them the same as you promised me – a spot in the top 3 local listing or first page ranking?

It’s obvious that everyone who hires an SEO agency can’t be number one – or in the top 10 for that matter. No one can guarantee a Google ranking. Don’t believe me? Google it!
Keeping this in mind, should you have an SEO plan and execute it? Absolutely! What should you expect? Increased website traffic from search engines. How much traffic? To be determined over time. SEO does work, it’s just not immediate.
A quick brush up to ensure that we’re all on the same page – Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is how your website will rank when a person searches for a word or phrase. For example, if you own a used car dealership, you might want your dealership to show up in the top three results when a user searches for “used cars.”

Google’s mission statement is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Additionally, their vision statement is to “provide an important service to the world, instantly delivering relevant information on virtually any topic.”
What exactly does that mean for you? It means that Google will “crawl” your website, and will take notes or “index” all of the content on your page – text, photos, videos, etc. Whenever a user searches for a specific topic, Google knows which relevant websites to display.. So, if I type “used cars”, into Google, the results would return 1) used car dealerships within a close proximity, 2) the highest rated dealerships, 3) ones that would match the type of vehicles I am looking for, or some combination of these options. This is where things get a little complicated.
There are two factors that play into what results you get when you search on Google. The first factor is what Google already knows about the person searching – such as current location, residence, gender, marital status, income bracket, and your personal interests.
The second factor that Google considers is the information that it already knows about each website. This is where optimizing your website becomes important. By optimizing your website, Google’s crawlers can accurately index and grade your website. This accurate indexing validates that your website is a great source of information for the searched-for topic. The more optimized your website becomes, and the closer the relation to the search, the higher your website will rank on Google.

“SEO” is an umbrella term that encompasses all the things you can do to make your website rank better than other websites for a specific search.
Remember, Google is trying to make the best results match with your particular search background. So if you and I are searching for the same thing, there is a high probability we will get different search results.
For local businesses, there are two places to optimize your website for search results; the Local Pack and Organic Results. Shown in Figure 1 are results for a search of the phrase “used cars”.

Understanding exactly how Google arrives at the results is not definitively understood by any one agency or consultant. Google’s algorithms are written by some of the best programmers in the world. As such, these complex algorithms consider over 200 ranking signals. Those signals include your My Google Business Listing, Google Reviews, relevant content on your website, and more.

Taking a closer look, Google uses a form of AI (artificial intelligence) to continuously refine its ability to make the most accurate website matches to user searches. AI allows Google to automatically learn and improve it’s algorithm, without engineers having to continuously update it. The more people that successfully search and find what they are looking for, the more accurate Google actually becomes.

Fun Fact: Google receives over 63,000 searches per second on any given day. That translates to 3.8 million searches per minute, 228 million searches per hour, and 5.6 billion searches per day, and 2 trillion searches per year. ( All of these searches help Google’s algorithm become more accurate, i.e. change every day.

Hard to imagine that an agency or consultant can predict the Google algorithms and guarantee your website will end up on the Local Pack or in the top 10 Organic results in any specific amount of time.

So – should you still perform SEO? YES!

What specifically should you do? Well, let’s Google it to get some ideas, see Figure 2.

As you can see in Figure 2, I received 113 million results in 0.79 seconds. Read any number of articles from the experts and you will see there are quite a few items to address, from a long list of backend web optimizations, content edits, key words, to obtaining a trusted domain, backlink strategy, and more.

It’s a safe bet that many small businesses owners are already really busy, and aren’t expert web technologists. Most small businesses will need professional help.

What should you look for in an SEO agency? Make sure their process is well-defined. It should include an initial assessment that produces a thorough list of action items, clear identification of highest priorities, a proposed schedule of implementation, and an implementation plan. Their pricing should be completely transparent and directly correlated to the prioritized tasks and schedule identified. Lastly, be sure to understand how results will be measured.

Make sure the agencies or consultants have experience with businesses similar to yours. Not all businesses’ SEO goals are the same. Some companies main objectives are to have their content appear in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), which may prioritize a professionally developed and executed content plan, while others are seeking to optimize local SEO that will place more emphasis on business listings, reviews and mobile optimization. Certain business areas are more competitive than others for keywords, such as “Financial Planner” and “Bail Bonds.” For local businesses a search like “tacos near me” would be more competitive in San Francisco, California than Jerome, Idaho. No one agency has a “one-size-that-fits-all” formula that works or can guarantee specific search results.

Some companies may opt-in to use SEO analytics tools. There are dozens of these tools available, many of them offering some level of free use. If you have expertise and time, you can definitely improve your SEO. Some of these tools can be used over time to measure improvements and stimulate insightful conversations with your agency or consultant.

No one can guarantee a specific ranking result, and no one has a one size fits all that is entirely effective. It takes large amounts of time and sustained effort with continuously improving and maintaining your SEO.

Fortunately, there are many talented agencies and consultants that provide cost effective SEO services for the busy small business owner. There are a number of free to low cost SEO analysis tools for the DIY small business owner, or as a first step to starting your conversation with a partner agency or consultant.

Preston Derrick