Every company with an online presence knows that increasing its virtual visibility is key to its success. Hiring an SEO consultant is the perfect way to outsource this vital task, but how do you know who is the best resource for your company? There are a lot of SEO "experts" out there who use shady tactics to drive traffic. You don't want to invest your money in people who won't get you results, and you don't want bad search karma. Here are four questions you need to ask any potential consultant before hiring, and the answers you should hear back.
How do you select the keywords you'll target?
SEO experts shouldn't shoot blindly when selecting keywords. The best ones will use Google's keyword tool and pull your site's historical keyword searches to determine which words have the highest potential to convert visitors. These words should then be embedded in your titles, the content of your pages, and in your meta tags. Don't overcook it -- keyword stuffing is a thing of the past, and you could pay the price with a ranking penalty.
"Long tail" keywords can also be more helpful than a single word or phrase. Mixing words can assist in enhancing your ranking as there may be less competition. Search engines may have a high number of matches for "mortgage lender" or "VA," but "VA mortgage lender" may be less competitive. Therefore, having a page targeted to "VA mortgage lender" would be a smart move. Trying to think like your customers is essential, which translates into utilizing local phrases when you can. These are also less competitive, and many consumers will look for "Chinese restaurant Cleveland OH" rather than a Chinese restaurant. A Kelsey Group study revealed that 97 percent of consumers go online to search for local services.
How do you obtain links?
Two phrases you'll want to know about are "black hat" and "white hat." SEO consultants who follow Google's guidelines don't buy links. On the other hand, "Black hat" experts will purchase links and use other shady link-building tactics. While these stolen goods may produce some short-term gains, they're not worth the risk: your site can be penalized, or even banned, if the abuse is noted. Besides, most search engines look at the quality of the links connected to your website in order to rate your relevance and authority, and you can get quality links for free with a little hard work.
True experts will seek out sites that have content that's complementary to yours. From there, they will get you added to directories or attached to partners or vendors who similarly meet your clientele's needs. Better yet, they'll obtain guest blogging opportunities for you -- these are great ways to demonstrate your expertise and build trust with potential customers. Some readers also find badges and other widgets to be convincing, so your SEO consultant will keep an eye out for those that are most relevant to you.
External links are essential to SEO, as they can drive up to 80 percent of your business. These simple guidelines demonstrate what a safe bet is, and what's less secure:
- Content links = high rank
- Header links = high rank
- Side (margin) links = medium rank
- Comments = medium to low (spam hurts this ranking)
- Footer = low
What kinds of reports do you provide?
Be suspicious of an expert who won't let you view a sample report. A qualified SEO expert will typically provide you with a variety of data on a monthly basis. Most will be happy to show you the applicable keyword research they've done, as well as the search volume connected to the keywords they've selected. They'll also review your current site offerings and make suggestions for upfront tweaks you can make -- alterations to your URL, titles, number of clicks it takes to reach important pages, etc. They will place a benchmark on your site at the start so your ranking and visitors can be monitored.
After these initial reports have been analyzed and you've launched a marketing plan, your SEO expert will report completed projects and the results that were achieved. They will also outline their upcoming plans for your site, report where all your links have originated from, and (most importantly!) provide you with insights regarding what new opportunities you could pursue. This is where outsourcing this expertise is valuable -- don't be short-changed on future opportunities.
How much will my traffic increase?
Nobody can promise you a No. 1 ranking. Google's keyword tool helps SEO experts estimate the current traffic a keyword is generating. By assuming a No. 1 ranking, a consultant can predict your future traffic. Although this seems illogical, it's not -- the No. 1 site can receive more than a third of the traffic on the internet for the keyword. While your expert cannot guarantee top rank, they will shoot to get you in the top five -- right in the center of traffic.
Remember that it's not all about traffic. Good content and information that your audience can use is better. Long-term growth generated by content can have a better overall impact on your company than a short-term page ranking.
SEO is an essential strategy for businesses today. It's important to be an informed consumer and ask the right questions. When hiring a consultant, you want to find the best. Your company deserves nothing less.
Louis Rix is the marketing director for NetCars.com and director of Car Finance 247.
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