How to choose a good SEO company that you can trust with your business and hard earned money?
There is a lot of confusion about search engine marketing and SEO among small business owners and there are many snake oil salesman out there selling all kinds of stuff under the name of SEO.
I put together this little guide based on the questions I usually get from small business owners. If you think I missed something, or if you still have unanswered questions, then please feel free to comment below – or email me or send me a tweet – and I’ll try to do my best to update this guide.
I hope it will help you make the best decision on how to select someone to do search engine optimization for you. So let’s get to it…
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing consists of two disciplines:
- SEO (Search Engine Optimisation, aka “organic” or “natural” search)
- PPC (Pay Per Click, aka “paid search” or “sponsored links”)
The two disciplines are strategically related, but in this guide we will focus on SEO.
Important facts about SEO
- It has nothing to do with “sponsored links”. The aim of SEO is to achieve the highest position possible in the “organic” listings on the search engine results pages, not in the “paid” listings.
- There is no charge for being displayed in the organic listings, and there is no charge when someone clicks on your website (unlike pay-per-click ads).
- Search Engine Optimization is much more complex than paid search.
- SEO is a longer-term play, it takes time to rank your website on the first page of Google, it doesn’t happen overnight.
- Search engines like Google, Bing (former MSN) or Yahoo do not reveal how their algorithms work, so SEO is a combination of reverse-engineering, experiments and educated guesswork.
- There is no guarantee that you will achieve a #1 or #2, etc. ranking (see previous bullet point).
- Google has more than 200 secret ranking factors, and some of those factors are more important than others.
- People love to search and when they do search they are about twice as likely to click on an organic result than on a paid advertising (pay-per-click ad).
- When people search using Google, they are in an “active” rather than “passive” state, which means that when they are looking for your products or services they are likely in a buying mode, they are researching their options, and they look for information to make the best possible buying decision.
- You don’t have to be number one in Google to do well (though a #1 position will definitely send you a great many people interested in your products and services).
- Plenty of evidence exists that shows, that for small businesses it is highly worth to invest in SEO (more on this later…).
Search Engine Optimisation vs. Pay-Per-Click
Just to recap…
- SEO: clicks are free, but it is harder to get to the top
- PPC: each click costs you money, but it is easier to get to the top (with enough money basically you buy yourself into the top sponsored links)
Since SEO is not the fastest way to the top of search engines (but its the most cost effective), you need to be prepared to be patient. It isn’t particularly easy either to get to the top of Google, which is why many businesses hire an SEO expert.
With PPC you can get to the top within a few hours – you just need to set up an account (like Google AdWords) and buy your keywords. Your ads will be displayed alongside the organic listings, and placement is mainly determined by how much you are willing to pay for a click. You only pay when somebody clicks.
Google divides up the page to show both organic and paid listings
10 reasons why you need SEO
- Search can help you get more customers, more leads and more sales!
The internet is a huge marketplace and the search engines, specially Google, are the starting place for everyone looking for a product or service.
- Visibility and findability!
About a quarter of all searches contain a brand term, such as a product name or company name. Should you really have to pay to be found for your brand terms? Also, when people add a product or company name to a generic keyword when searching Google it is a great indicator that they want to buy. Don’t allow your competitors to rank higher than you on your own products!
- Competitor activity
Your competitors are likely to be investing in SEO, even if you aren’t. And if they are, you need to quickly start to compete with them in this area, or they could take something of an entrenched position.
- It pays off in the long-term…
In the long-term, organic listings will deliver a potentially higher volume of visitors to your website at a much much lower cost than paid listings. Organic clicks are essentially FREE!
- Paid search is becoming more expensive!
There is greater competition in paid search these days, which means paid listings costs have increased in many sectors to a point where there is limited margin left for profit. Your ability to generate profits depends on how well your website converts visitors to customers, and paid search traffic can cost a huge amount of money.
- People prefer the natural results
Users tend to choose the natural search results in preference to the paid search listings. On average, the organic listings receive 85-90% of the clicks, and only 15-10% of the clicks go to paid advertising.
- You don’t need to come first to win
It isn’t a case of “first page or nothing” with SEO, so don’t let the challenge of making it onto the first page deter you from investing in search engine optimisation. (Although with the right SEO strategy – or expert on your side – you could dominate Google for every keyword that matters to your business!)
- Concerns about PPC click fraud
Although the search engines are pretty good at detecting and minimizing the fraudulent clicks, there is still risk that one of your competitors is using one of the many programs designed to constantly click on your ads, and thus quickly burning your hard earned money.
- People trust Google!
Specifically, people trust Google to deliver relevant results. It is the reason why Google became synonymous with search. With enough money anybody can buy himself into the paid listings, but you have to earn it to be among the first in the organic results. So if Google says your company is number one for “laser hair removal” for example, then in the mind of the searcher it probably is.
- SEO helps you build a better website
You need to build a better website with quality content, better user experience and better usability in order to earn your first place ranking in Google. With a better website you get happy customers, and happy customers mean higher satisfaction rates and more repeat business. And this makes for a HAPPIER YOU… !
Business Benefits of SEO
Search is certainly one of the most cost-effective ways of marketing, but there’s more to it than just marketing. You can derive many benefits from SEO, some more obvious than others, so let’s take a look at a few…
- Cost-effective customer acquisition
There is no payment for the search engines for being indexed. This is particularly important for terms that get high volume searches like “car insurance” for example, where the cost of SEO is very small compared to the paid listing costs. But it is also useful for generating visitors on the long tail of search (people searching with a keyword that has three or more words in it), and generally people searching with long tail keywords are more likely to buy, than those who use a head term. Remember this: people using head terms (eg: Lawnmowers) are in the research phase (looking for information, researching options), people using long tail terms (eg: Castelgarden EP414-B lawnmower) are in a buying phase (they already know what they want, their looking for prices and a trusted business to buy from).
- Fixed costs
The cost of SEO is relatively fixed, independent of click volume. Effectively, the cost per click from SEO declines through time after initial optimisation costs and lower ongoing optimisation costs. On the other hand, paid-search is a variable cost.
- Repeat business
Customers coming from search engines tend to stick around for longer. Increase customer lifetime revenues with SEO!
- Well targeted prospects
Search is demand driven, so anybody who comes from a search engine is hoping that they will find the information they need on your website. If you show them all the information they need to see, they may well become your next customer.
- Credibility / Company perception
Consumers expect trusted and reputable businesses to be prominently placed in Google, so what is the effect if you aren’t on the first page?
Search engines allow you to find relevant web pages even if you only remember snippets of information like a few words from an ad, a company name, a product review, a person….
SEO costs and SEO prices in Dublin and in Ireland
Usually there are four things that you are paying for when buying SEO:
- knowledge - pretty straight forward
- development costs – for fixing your website (like getting rid of duplicate content or making your website accessible for search engines, etc.)
- content creation costs – making sure that your website has the quality and useful information that people want to see
- content marketing (also known as link building) – making sure that your content (pages on your website) is linked to by many relevant and trusted websites, thus telling Google and the other search engines, that your website is a good resource for people and worthy for high rankings.
Note Some web design companies sell web design with SEO, but in these cases almost every time SEO only means search engine friendly development (coding) and if you’re lucky than maybe content optimization (but no content creation), and almost never includes linkbuilding or off-page optimization. Make sure you ask before you buy!
The typical pricing models that SEO companies use in Ireland:
- pricing by the number of web pages and the number of keywords you want to rank those webpages for – this is the most common pricing model in Ireland. Prices range from €200 to €6,500 (if you have many pages like an e-commerce website) per month.
- pricing by the number of hours with a fix hourly rate (hourly consulting) – hourly rates in the field of SEO vary greatly starting from €20 all the way up to €400 based on the knowledge level and reputation of the consultant or agency.
- pricing by a fixed price usually paid in monthly installments (also known as project based pricing) – the price is usually calculated based on the number of people involved in the project and by the time and effort these people need to put in, in order to complete the project.
- pricing by the number of links they build for you – this one varies greatly as well starting from €30 with low quality useless links, all the way to €500 for which you get a set amount of high quality links from topic relevant pages. Watch out for these, there are many snake oil salesman here who do more harm than good!
- Monthly retainer pricing – the retainer fee is a fixed amount of money charged monthly and includes a complete SEO package (or several options). This is a pricing model that a few good SEO companies use and it is based on a mutually beneficial long-term relationship.
As you can see there are a number of SEO service pricing models and SEO prices vary greatly, which makes them hard to compare. So how do you choose?
First of all, you should never make a decision by the price only! With that said, keep in mind that…
- SEO is not a one-off cost. It’s a long term investment that you’ll need to do or pay for, for at least a few months in order to get lasting results.
- You need a minimum of two to six months before the results of SEO really kick in.
- Expect to pay at least €300 per month for a good SEO company that uses Google approved methods to rank your website.
How to make sure you choose a good SEO company?
- Look for someone who can give you a whole range of internet marketing services like web design, SEO, PPC, social media, email marketing, etc. SEO is only one marketing channel you can use to get more customers online, you’ll want someone who can give you a whole strategy using all the channels that might be a fit for your business. Even if you don’t need most of the services right now you might never know what the future holds for you. And I really wish for a bright future for you! And when that happens, you’ll need someone who already knows you, knows your business, and can help you grow fast.
- Look for someone who shares his knowledge and who you can constantly learn from.
- Try to discuss pricing with your SEO, ask why they have chosen to use certain pricing models and not others. It can be helpful in coming up with the best pricing arrangement for you and may help you find options that are better suited for your budget.
- Ask your SEO to tell you about the different methods he is going to use to rank your website and stay away from those who plan on using shady and black hat methods (remember if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is).
- Ask for references and past SEO work. Check if those websites still rank. Call and ask those references if they recommend the SEO company.
- Look for someone who you can really talk with and who can explain stuff to you without the usual tech talk. You want to be able to understand what an SEO is going to do and why.
- Continuously measure the performance of SEO and use performance indicators that actually matter to your business. Don’t let anyone deceive you with fancy looking metrics that are not actionable and do not mean anything to your business.
- Make sure that you will have access to all the webmaster tools, social media, etc. accounts all the time. If you decide to move on and let your SEO go you still want to have access to all these accounts an you don’t want anyone else changing things without you knowing about it (believe me, I’ve seen it happen)!
Warning 1 Before you invest in SEO, make sure that you have fixed these small business website mistakes.
Warning 2 SEO should not be the main focus of businesses that just started! Only invest in SEO if your sales are steady and you are looking for ways to grow and expand. For businesses that just started there are many other marketing strategies that are a way more cheaper and easier to implement then SEO. You can find those strategies in my “Double your customers in 60 days or less” training.