A couple of weeks ago, I posted the first part of a Q & A with brummie SEO expert Marcus Miller. In what was hopefully a useful post, we covered the different types of SEO, what SEO activities you should prioritise, and how SEO fits into the digital marketing mix.
In part 2, we talk about the practicalities of doing SEO as a small business - the kind of mistakes people tend to make, how much it costs to outsource, and what working with an SEO specialist is like.
So, if you want to do better at SEO but want to avoid some of the pitfalls, this one's for you.
Sam: Can a small business do SEO themselves?
Marcus: Sometimes. We try to provide lots of advice on our website. From the absolute SEO basics to a more comprehensive set of SEO tips. But how far a business can get depends very much on the time available, technical expertise and competition in that sector.
Let’s imagine you are a plumber in a small village. The only plumber. Then you can likely do SEO yourself. We are simply helping Google understand who you are, what you do and where you do it. This is SEO - ensuring Google understands your business.
If you are a plumbing firm serving a major city like Birmingham or London - then you are going to find yourself up against much firmer competition. In this instance, working with an agency or consultant makes a lot of sense.
For most businesses, it makes sense to at least get some professional guidance. Whether that is in the form of an SEO audit or to simply outsource the work. Professionals will do the job more quickly and you can focus on what you do best!
What mistakes do most small businesses make when it comes to SEO?
Gosh. Where to start. Being too aggressive with on-page optimisation. Focusing on links before getting the basics dialled in. A more the merrier mentality for links and citations. Not using WordPress, which just gets you so much of the way there for free. Letting your mate from down the pub do your SEO, because he has read a few articles and thinks he is now a guru.
I guess the biggest mistake is not using a credible expert. Most small businesses waste time and money and get nowhere fast.
Does there come a point when a business needs to outsource to a specialist? When is that typically?
I am pretty much of the opinion most businesses would benefit from getting an SEO expert from day one. We see botched website redesign projects that kill 80% of organic traffic. We also speak to companies that have spent years chasing unattainable SEO goals.
If you are serious about making organic search part of your marketing then talking to an expert as soon as possible is the smart choice.
What should you expect to pay for specialist SEO services, and how does pricing work?
Again, very hard to answer this in a general way. Typically, you are paying for hours. But, some hours cost less than others. High-end strategy is going to be expensive. Low-level jobs like citation cleanups - not so much.
There are also many tools that help agencies do their jobs which are typically part of what you are paying for. Certain elements of SEO also come with fees like editorial fees on websites where you may publish a post.
A good way to look at this is that if you are in a big-money industry with paid search clicks at £10 and above this is going to be expensive. If you are a tiny local business it will often be relatively affordable. We have services at Bowler Hat from £100 per month - this is just all governed by competition and scale.
I cover how to calculate SEO costs in some more detail over on the Bowler Hat blog.
If you work with an SEO specialist, what should the process of working with them be like?
Generally, the first step in any project is an audit. We tend to do this from the perspective of your SEO objectives. But anyone worth their salt will want to get a good handle on the current situation and history.
Next step would be to outline a plan and some KPIs. We tend to chunk things up based on the priority of the work. So, if you are a local business but your local SEO is weak we would identify this as an opportunity (an SEO SWOT analysis can be helpful here).
We tend to work in 3-month blocks. So we work towards the objective and review after three months. If you have SMART goals in place this works well to benchmark the impact of the work being undertaken.
If the budget supports it, we may have several threads running: technical optimisation, on-page, local SEO, content building, link building etc. I have to confess though, I prefer to do things in a more measured way though so it’s easier to understand what is having a positive effect.
A lot of SEO activity is unseen, and a small business owner might have no experience of the work being undertaken. How should a good SEO professional or company feedback and demonstrate the work they’ve done?
The thing is, that if the SEO work is 100% legit and above board it should not be unseen. Sure, it may be a little technical but you should be able to detail what you are working on and why. Again, this is why an audit and clear goals are just so important.
Reporting should then be used to outline what was done, why, what the expected outcome was and the results.
The kind of work that is done under the counter is generally not the kind of work that you want to have done. Ultimately, if your SEO provider can’t explain what they are doing and why they are doing it in a way you would be happy to tell your mother, then run a mile.
Are there cowboys in the industry? Any warning signs to look out for?
Oh yeah. Always has been, always will be. Same as anything else I guess. But a little different in that there is this kind of secret-sauce mentality to SEO so it is easier for the snake oil peddlers to get a foothold.
There is a range of things to watch out for from the typical cowboy who is just not really very good at the job to those that purposely use tactics that are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (and may actually hurt you long term).
The big issue in SEO is and always has been links. Links are the votes of the SEO world and good links are hard to find (earn/win etc). So, the street level SEO companies generally look to manufacture links. There are a few ways this happens but it generally involves low-quality content creation or the websites built purely for a link - usually with a domain name that has some relevance or authority.
The big thing here is to ask any company what tactics they will use and to provide examples of links. You should also be looking to see the links built in your reports. Read Google’s guidelines and in particular read the sections on link schemes so you are an educated consumer.
Finally, are there any books, websites or e-learning resources you can recommend?
It’s pretty tough. This is a big subject, and most folks don’t need to know everything. The following are some recommendations that go from beginner level to those who want a really deep dive.
If you can plough your way through those you will have a solid SEO philosophy and be miles ahead of the competition!
Thanks so much to Marcus for his time. If you think you need help from an SEO specialist, check out Marcus's agency, Bowler Hat.