Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the various search engine optimization (SEO) service providers of various SEO Consultants?
If you don’t understand SEO (and why would you? You’re not alone), the tasks involved can sound a little like technobabble. And if you’ve ever hired someone to do SEO for your business or personal website, you may have wondered what you were actually paying for and if your investment was even accomplishing anything.
The first thing to understand is that not all SEO is the same, even though some contractors will try to tell you it is. Search Engine Optimization gets more sophisticated depending on your needs, budget, the urgency for results, and the time and capabilities of your team. For ease of understanding, allow me to break this down by levels.
This blog outlines what to expect from various SEO providers. Aside from building a website, search engine optimization is typically the starting point for building a recognizable brand online. Consequent blogs will explore other elements of digital marketing such as paid media, social media, dynamic content, and more.
Do you even need a SEO service provider?
Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo have algorithms that prioritize which websites get to be in the top positions on a results page for specific search terms. Without search engine optimization , Google will have trouble finding your site. Algorithms can be turbulent and change frequently. SEO consultants track these changes and help your website get ranked on search engines.
Types of SEO services
Just as there are myriads of different business goals, SEO services are created to achieve different objectives. SEO service providers range from software solutions to freelancers to full service agencies and there’s a good reason to work with any one of these depending on your needs.
For sake of ease, we have categorized services into three different levels to achieve the goals of local optimization (level one), rank against local competitors (level two), and lead engagement (level three).
LEVEL ONE SEO SERVICES: LOCAL OPTIMIZATION
Your level one SEO service provider’s goal is to have your website ranked for your business name and for your industry, within a geographical region. This is the most simple form of SEO and, therefore, the least expensive.
The majority of SEO contractors fall into this category, pursuing page one results for a business name and within a geographically-relevant search for their business category.
If someone enters American Express Travel from their home computer in Dallas, Texas, for instance, the closest American Express Travel Agency will appear at the top of the search results. Meanwhile, a travel shopper on their phone in a Singapore taxi will receive the nearest agency to their current location.
But what if someone wants to find a travel agency and they don’t have an agency brand name in mind when they do their search? Search engines will still take the prospect’s current location into consideration, but some people will add their location to the search term. Examples of geographic search terms are:
Travel Agency in Singapore
Business Accountant in Toronto
International School in Barcelona
Private Jet Charter Los Angeles
To ensure your website shows up as the answer to these queries, you would hire a “local SEO” contractor or a directory type of corporation, such as Yellow Pages, to get your website ranked on page one. If budget is a concern, there are inexpensive providers for hire in India, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and other regions who do systematic effective work.
Engagement with your SEO service provider will usually start with a website audit and report. Along with the technical optimizations outlined in your audit, a key set-up task in ranking your website is to optimize your Google My Business (GMB) listing. In this case, “optimization” is initially about filling in all the blanks on your profile.
Once the GMB is optimized, your contractor will shift focus to onsite optimization.
- Onsite Optimization:
Onsite optimization ensures that your ideal search terms, such as “tax accountant in Calgary”, are entered in the right places throughout your website. (For a more technical explanation, see our blog on how to write an SEO friendly blog post here.) Onsite optimization also addresses most of the technical issues revealed in the website audit, ensuring that your website loads quickly, is hosted securely, and is up-to-date.
Reporting is typically automated at this level; this means it’s automatically generated from Google Analytics or another piece of analytics software.
An independent contractor may have a monthly or quarterly meeting with you to discuss your results and next steps. The corporate directory option will provide an account executive to support your questions.
This is the least expensive form of search engine optimization. A larger, directory type of corporation or internationally outsourced contractor may charge a set-up fee of $500 to $1500 and as little as $50 to $100 USD per month, but fees can be significantly higher depending on added services. A western independent contractor’s set-up fee may be an additional $500 to $1000 more with a retainer of $500 to $1500 per month.
LEVEL TWO SEO SERVICES: COMPETITIVE RANKING
Once you have ranked for your business name and your industry locally, you will want to rank organically for a variety of keywords your prospects are searching for. This requires your SEO service to provide more knowledge of your target audience and their search patterns and some off-site SEO strategies.
The businesses listed below the geographical results are organically ranked websites.. The owners of these websites have invested more time and energy in optimization activities than those whose websites appear on page two and beyond.
Your Level Two SEO provider will cover the basics in Level One and will provide more in-depth insights and content recommendations that your target audience is interested in. At this level, you’re providing a strategy to your provider and they’re doing the research to help you implement the strategy. They do this through market and keyword research in addition to offsite optimization.
There are additional tasks required to be organically competitive.
- Keyword Research:
involves understanding your business and your ideal audience and then discovering what the hot topics are for your prospective clients. Your SEO provider will bring you topics to create content about. At this level, onsite optimization is performed and, with enough relevant content, your website will climb the ranks.
- Offsite Optimization:
Offsite optimization consists of identifying relevant and high authority websites to link back to your website. This can be done by building partnerships, providing great content for other websites such as informative blog posts or interesting infographs, or simply by linking back to your website from your social media posts.
A word of caution: Be careful about offsite optimization as many contractors will use unethical practices to get “backlinks”. It may accomplish the goal temporarily, but you run the risk of being shut down by Google and other search engines and it’s not easy to recover when this happens.
In addition to an automated analytics report, monthly reports may include a work report at this level, outlining tasks done on behalf of your organization. The tasks in Level Two take longer to achieve results and need to be tracked from the time they are implemented to when the outcome is achieved.
Your SEO provider should ask you questions about your goals and what’s happening in your industry and market so that they can provide updated insights and recommendations for content and a linking strategy. Consulting at this level tends to be technical in nature and should be at a consistent cadence.
Your level two provider is likely an independent contractor or an SEO firm with trained Google Analytics certified professionals.
Level Two fees will depend on the level of your provider’s experience combined with the complexity of your industry. For a retail storefront or ecommerce store, fees can start at the lower end, but can scale significantly in relation to the number of products you want to promote. Service oriented organizations or schools can expect to pay more depending on the geographic reach and the amount of content they want to promote.
LEVEL THREE SEO SERVICES: INBOUND SEO
Level One and Two may generate leads, but brand awareness is the focus of the SEO professional. Your Level Three SEO service provider will cover those bases as well, but will be more in tune with your business goals and their actions more focused on attracting leads.
You have created visibility for your website and you are generating some traffic. Perhaps prospects pick up the phone or email you once they have had a look. Level Three goes to the next level of creating content for your ideal prospects throughout their sales journey.
Inbound Marketing is a method of providing high-value content to visitors that guides them toward making a buying decision. The “SEO” service provider at this level is more of a strategist and consultant with experience across platforms other than Google and website software. Their role demands a more intimate knowledge of your business and your ideal clients in order to provide quality recommendations and help you achieve your goals.
Your interactions with an inbound marketing consultant will be focused on generating stories, profiles, how-to articles, and other valuable content bespoke to each of your prospect types. They will work with you on workflows that capture leads and nurture those leads through various media.
Rather than a “target audience”, inbound narrows the focus to various personas that your organization serves. This may include international target audiences, but be sure your contractor or agency has previous experience with international targeting if this is your wish, as generating leads from international customers is not the same as local targeting. (For more information see our article on international digital marketing here.)
- Personalized marketing:
The professional in this space will consider where your ideal customer consumes content through each part of their buying journey and, ultimately, where they signal intent to purchase. The highest quality leads may come from a source other than Google such as LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, or podcast influencer referrals.
- Content creation:
The creation of written content and other more innovative offers is the most time consuming and otherwise challenging aspect of Inbound Marketing. This, again, is why it’s important to work closely with your marketing partner. You will need content that matches your brand intent, voice, and values. Most organizations will want to be deeply involved in content production whether through being interviewed by professional writers or enlisting internal writers to participate.
Unlike “content marketing, Inbound Marketing isn’t solely dependent on the quantity of content produced, but quantity does play a role in being recognized by search engines and hitting all the buttons of your prospects along their journey. Depending on how quickly you want results and how much of the content you want to produce in-house, the scope of work can be significant.
Reporting will be far more customized and goal oriented at this level. Analytics will be used to back-up consulting recommendations and to track progress toward your goals.
Fees will likely resemble a full time salary, with the advantage of multiple disciplines in one “hire”. Retainers will vary greatly depending on your needs, urgency, the number and locations of target audiences, and whether they are utilizing social media, paid media, and other forms of support.
Unless you have an eCommerce website, you will have to work closely with your sales or admissions department to close the reporting loop and track marketing efforts through to a sale. Investing in marketing automation will help connect your inbound efforts to completed sales and will make your life a lot easier than using a multitude of tools to manage the various facets of Inbound. (SEO, landing pages, email for lead nurturing, thank you pages, social media scheduling and engagement, CRM, etc.)
The Level Three consulting relationship takes a notable leap from previous levels. Not merely a SEO contractor, your consultant will become integrated with your team over the course of time. While face-to-face (or virtual) meetings may only happen monthly, your access will tend to be open and you may have more than one contact if the selected agency is doing any of the content production or paid media on your behalf.
Depending on your desire and the size of your team, your consultant will likely provide training on various Inbound Marketing tasks to increase your internal capacity while the agency takes on more research and specialized technical tasks.
Note that not all content comes in the form of blogs and eBooks. Your SEO consultant should provide more innovative and creative ideas based on what your ideal client will most likely respond to.
Your Level Three provider is likely a full service agency, potentially specializing in Inbound marketing. This level of support requires a team with specific areas of expertise to work on your behalf.
Find your SEO service provider
It should be noted that SEO is the foundation for a long term marketing strategy. It provides a steady presence and reputation to meet prospects on their terms, through their online search habits. To increase results more rapidly, organizations need to be using social media to amplify their message and leverage paid media to support their more immediate goals. Contact IMPACT Marketing International, an expert SEO service provider to speak with a SEO Consultant for a free consultation on what the best SEO option is for you.