You’ve probably heard countless times that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a vital digital marketing tool, but do you really know how SEO works? Even if you have a basic understanding of what it entails, you may still not have a solid grasp of this complex and multifaceted process. SEO is made up of multiple elements, and knowing what they are and how they work is key to understanding why SEO is so important. In this feature Ben Foster, Managing Director of The SEO Works explains how SEO is crucial in making your website more visible, meaning more traffic and more opportunities to maximise your online potential.
Please give us a bit of background to The SEO Works and the solutions you provide to customers?
We are The SEO Works, certified Digital Growth Experts. As an award-winning provider of digital marketing and websites to leading brands and prospering SMEs, we’ve worked for 15 years with one key goal in mind – to get businesses more customers online.
Our mission is to measure, understand, and maximise our client’s online potential. Digital is now essential for ANY business and as a team of digital natives at the top of our game, we help our clients achieve this.
This focus on providing a real return on investment is the foundation of our agency, and it’s what motivates us. But this focus on ROI has also caught the attention of awards panels, earning us dozens of prestigious accolades… like being named SEO Agency of the Year three times!
So whether it’s SEO, PPC, digital PR, paid social, or web… we’re here to help businesses grow.
What are the key factors in ranking pages better?
SEO works through a combination of scientific and creative techniques that position your site as the most relevant result for an end users’ search query. Google is always looking to answer the user’s query the best, and their algorithm determines that the top results do just that.
There are hundreds of factors that are considered when ranking a website. But at the top level, there are three core pillars to a great SEO campaign: content, technical factors and links.
Many websites already have lots of unique content, just not being optimised to its full potential. A big part of SEO is auditing all of that content, ensuring it adds great value to the end user, yet is also optimised for common queries used in a search. Then layering on top of that a content strategy, crafting new content that lets you speak to your target audience at their various stages of the purchase funnel.
Having content is not enough, unless the key technical elements for SEO are right. Think of this as the ‘foundation’ of your site – if you don’t have a good platform to build on, you have no chance. Reviewing and improving technical aspects of your website such as site speed, user experience and internal link structure will be crucial for success online.
Developing inbound links will also be a key part of growing your site’s authority. But remember that link quality is more important than quantity, so it’s also important to analyse your link profile to remove low quality links that are harming your site. To gain links you need to produce content that is interesting or useful – driven by your content strategy. Engaging relevant sites through journalists or outreach is a common method, something called Digital PR, which we also work with our clients on.
Clients want results and if it’s quicker, better for them. How long does SEO work typically take to start seeing results?
Getting SEO results can depend on many factors, not least the competitiveness of the market and the inherent strength of the website. For example, a relatively new website without any authority is likely to take longer to get results than an established site that has been around for years. Also if you are selling a niche product that not many others are offering, it may be quicker to gain results than if you are competing in a mass market with huge brands that have been around for decades.
You need to set your expectations for it to be a medium term investment, where it’ll take anywhere from 6-12 months to see progress (if the market is competitive). Generally, you should expect the 1st year to be an investment, and in the second year it starts to become sustainable.
For quicker results, paid search (PPC) or paid social media ads can start to generate data immediately. Again, there is a timescale to analyse and optimise your campaign to ensure that it is driving the right conversion actions. It’s important to make sure you’re tracking your paid search campaigns, because it will be a waste if the clicks are not converting to leads or sales. The performance of a paid advertising campaign is likely to improve once you have a good few months of data from which you can start making optimisation decisions.
Although SEO is generally longer term for results, it is important to note that it remains one of the most cost-effective ways to market to your user base. It’s a medium term investment and shouldn’t be relied on solely – but the rewards are huge if you put an effective strategy in place that delivers results. In many cases we see a ROI that is over ten times the equivalent of a paid media campaign.
What is the #1 SEO mistake you see people making?
The biggest mistake we see is when people attempt to start SEO without a strategy. As there are so many areas you can focus on, it’s tempting to just jump straight in – but soon you won’t be able to see the wood for the trees.
Without a full understanding of your current site’s strengths and weaknesses, the competitive landscape, and the way people are searching (at different intent levels) for your product or service, you won’t be able to formulate a roadmap to move you in a positive direction. That’s why we place a big emphasis at the start of any campaign on benchmarking and research in order to develop a strategy for success.
What questions should a website owner be asking when looking to hire for SEO work?
There are lots of considerations when seeking an SEO services provider, here are some key areas to focus on.
- Do they have a track record? You can’t predict if something will work in digital marketing, but seeing that it’s worked before is a good indication. Take a look at case studies or ask for references from previous clients, to see if they have a strong and a relevant track record.
- Do they ‘get’ my business? When outsourcing it’s crucial that they understand your business fully – taking the time to get to know the goals of your business and the way your customers interact with you. Whatever service you’re looking for, a good agency will always do their homework before setting up a campaign, including getting to know your services, your products, your competitors, your priority revenue streams and your market trends.
- Is ROI important to them? Again, nothing is guaranteed. But it’s crucial that your agency are driven by delivering a good return on your investment. This means they should want to know about your KPI’s (key performance indicators), like revenue, leads, specific regional visibility, or whatever matters most to you.
- Do they practice what they preach? A good indicator of the quality of an agency’s approach, is how well it is working for them. After all, if they can get you better visibility and more enquiries, surely they’d want this for themselves too? Whether your goal is ranking well in Google search, or reaching your audience on social media, see how they are performing in this area.
- How’s their communication? With all campaigns, good communication is crucial to ensuring things stay on track and achieve their goals. A good digital partner should be flexible to your communication needs, and reachable when required. No one wants to be bombarded with emails, but if regular scheduled communication is thorough and informative this won’t be necessary.
- Do we share values? When working closely with another business, it’s important that values align – so find out theirs. Here at The SEO Works, we have five core values that underpin everything we do: Drive, Adaptability, Passion, Integrity, and Loyalty.
- What do the experts think? Winning awards shows that an agency’s output has been deemed successful by industry experts. These, combined with online reviews on platforms such as Google or Clutch, can provide an impartial indication of the quality of an agency’s output. Do some desktop research ahead of picking up the phone to shortlist potentials based on their quality and quantity of reviews.
What are SEO content marketing trends to which we should pay attention in 2022?
Page experience signals will continue to be meaningful throughout 2022 and there have already been updates and tweaks aplenty in this area. The most recent being the ‘helpful content’ update in August 2022. The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.
Google is getting more and more intelligent, and the way this extends to things like complex search intent can provide opportunities in SEO. Better understanding of the wider search journey, a stronger appreciation of semantics, and more sophisticated search tasks, are all areas where Google is expanding and should be considered heavily. It also puts an even stronger emphasis on combining content ideas with detailed data.
Remember to think about SEO within the wider context of where your target audience interacts. Are they discussing your brand on Reddit, Discord, Facebook? What are they talking about? What are common pain points you can identify? Being smart about the wider marketing ecosystem can help improve your SEO strategy.
Finally, remember that the SERPs change and new/tweaked features may arise that try and draw attention from traditional organic results. Keep on top of these and try to take advantage where possible. But in general, retain consistent brand messaging across all channels and platforms, and this will help you cut through the noise.