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You’ve decided that you need to invest in SEO. But what should you expect from an external expert, and how much time will they need to achieve your goals?
SEO is a very specialised field, and there are rarely simple answers to these questions.
If you’ve not worked with external SEO help like an agency or freelancer before, it is important to know what to expect when working with them. So we’ve gathered some of the most important considerations here for you.
As with other forms of marketing or the building on online assets, SEO should be seen as an investment. You need to know what to expect and understand how your SEO campaign will work.
What does an SEO agency/expert do?
As a starting point, an SEO expert looks to make improvements to your site and online presence to make them stronger, and increase the likelihood search engines want to show it to their users.
As a complicated and nuanced subject, there are many different elements to SEO work. And as the search engines’ algorithms become more sophisticated, the ways SEOs go about their work evolves and increases.
There is more than one way for a site to rank, and the path chosen by your agency will be influenced by their particular skills, experiences and what they think best for your situation.
For some sites, there will need to be a greater emphasis on technical SEO, which looks ‘under the hood’ to focus on how well search engine bots (or spiders) can crawl your site and index your pages.
Other campaigns will need to look at on-page SEO. This focuses on the content of your site, and whether it is well optimised for your keyword targets and if it delivers a good user experience.
Finally, there is off-page SEO, often known as link-building. The primarily looks at the links you are getting from external websites which essentially act as votes or citations of trust. Strong links from relevant or important websites are best, but different agencies have different methods for earning these mentions.
Increasingly, some SEO agencies and experts are specialising in certain areas, such as technical SEO or link-building. As the range of work SEO comprises of increases, these agencies have found it more effective to hone in on one area to help sites with (though they will likely still have all-around SEO knowledge).
While many SEOs will have standard processes they follow, especially in the early stages of a campaign, don’t be surprised if an agency comes explains in their proposal that the work they will deliver in a few months will depend on the results of their initial analysis and what the market or search engines seem to demand.
Packages of SEO work that offer set types of work each month for a certain fee don’t take into account your business, website or market. You will want to treat those with caution.
All quality SEO campaigns have several consistent qualities:
- They look to cater their strategy based on your site’s specific needs. There is no one-size-fits-all in SEO.
- They look to educate you on what’s happening in your sector, what they are doing and why and what the results are telling you
- They offer excellent communication, and the opportunity to speak with those working on your campaign, either over the phone/video call or in person
Types of SEO help
On a more granular level, what work you get from an SEO depends on the type of SEO you look to hire:
– In-house SEO: Larger businesses or those that rely on SEO as a channel, such as e-commerce stores and ventures will often look to hire in-house SEO expertise dedicated to their goals. Often such businesses will use external SEO help to either add capacity, complete complex tasks or design an initial strategy
– SEO consultants: Freelancers who offer SEO services. Some will specialise in delivering SEO that you can’t do in-house, others will take more of a consulting role to help you shape an SEO strategy, one that you might carry out in-house
– SEO agencies: These are companies with teams of SEOs. They typically work with businesses of a decent size (with budgets to match) and will have a minimum monthly spend requirement, working on a retainer basis. Often they will have standard processes and techniques they follow and use to help their clients
List of SEO services
There are many different parts to SEO, and as part of a wider campaign some of the work you might expect to see include:
- Technical SEO audits (how well search engines can crawl your site)
- Content audits (how well does your content do at covering your target topics?)
- Keyword research (what are your audience searching for?)
- Backlink audits (who has linked to you?)
- On-page optimisation (can you improve how your pages embrace their target keywords?)
- Link-building (can we earn more citations to your site from credible, relevant sources?)
- Digital PR (can we earn your site and brand more attention?)
- Analytics (is your site set up to record and understand how visitors get to the site, and what they do once there?)
- Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) (can we improve the usability of your site to encourage a great percentage of your visitors to convert in some way?)
How much does SEO cost?
There’s no specific answer to how much SEO should cost, nor a helpful chart that plots how much you will need.
Each campaign or project should be based on the site’s business, resources and standing. You can find monthly SEO plans ranging from a couple of hundred pounds to well into five-figures a month, depending on the reputation of the agency, the needs of the customer, location, niche and more.
The price of an SEO campaign will also depend on what work (if any) you’ve had done before, what internal resources you can dedicate, how difficult a target your keywords are (how competitive your niche is) and what your goals are.
According to one study, the average monthly amount the majority of businesses spend on on SEO is $5,000. You will need to investigate the possibilities for your site by getting a number of quotes. Generally, you should expect an SEO agency to need several days a month to make a difference to your SEO in a reasonable timeframe.
Whatever the proposed cost of your SEO campaign, you need to understand how you will be charged. Many SEO agencies are paid either by retainer and consultants by project, though with so many suppliers, you’ll find any combination of payment style if you look hard enough.
Do I have to have an ongoing contract?
SEO work usually falls into one of two categories:
- A set project with agreed SEO deliverables
- An ongoing retainer, with an agreed number of hours or days of SEO time per month (usually with agreed areas of responsibility and emphasis)
SEO contracts don’t have to be ongoing, especially when you are looking for support with a specific SEO issue, such as a set of audits, some content creation or some other specific consultancy.
Most SEO campaigns run over many months and build to success. Unless there is a specific technical issue with your site to fix immediately, most SEO work takes between three and six months for the effects to begin to be seen. Substantial results can often take longer (and you should be wary of anyone promising immediate results!)
It is common for most agencies to work with ongoing contracts of at least six months. This allows you to work together towards improving your SEO while giving enough time for improvements to start to have an effect on your organic traffic.
For an SEO agency to assign the resources necessary to get a campaign started, especially for a large site, there needs to be the prospect of a longer-term commitment than a single month, otherwise, it limits what they can attempt, and how effective they can be.
Good quality SEO is complex, and so a commitment from your side is as vital to success as it is from the agency.
There are advantages to ongoing contracts, but they have to be entered into carefully. As they are a big commitment, some agencies offer a shorter trial, such as three months, so you can see how they work and be sure you are happy with their abilities and communication.
As a result, you can see why picking the best agency is such a crucial choice.
SEO work can be serious business, with the work of your agency, consultant or freelancer potentially producing huge benefits, but it also carries substantial risks.
You should always be careful to read and understand any contract provided, no matter the nature of the SEO work carried out, and query anything you are not sure about. Large SEO contracts (over many months, or sites that generate a lot of revenue or for large campaigns) may need specific legal advice for each new project.
What should an SEO agreement cover?
- The length of the agreement
- The work that will be conducted (the deliverables)
- The agreed KPIs and goals for the work, and how they are measured (what metrics will be used to measure SEO success for example)
- The expectations of both the SEO supplier and you as the customer (such as what resources you have to make the necessary adjustments to your site) – will the SEO agency be autonomous (with you ceding control as a result), or will you put solutions in place together?
- What happens at the end of the agreement or if you part ways
- The notice period needed to terminate the contract (which might be different for the initial period) – SEO results take time, but you want to be clear on how to end things if necessary
How do I know if it is working?
Simply put, if the goals you established during your supplier research are being met, then you can say the SEO campaign is working.
SEO can help you earn more organic traffic, but if you aren’t a publisher, traffic alone isn’t enough – that traffic needs to convert. How the SEO campaign has helped your bottom line, and if clear steps towards those conversions are being hit, is the measure of most campaigns.
The clearer you can establish your goals at the onset, the less frustrated you will be in determining if they are being met.
Vanity metrics such as rankings for specific terms are all very well, but you should be looking for a campaign that increases brand awareness, improves customer retention or drives more revenue. Quality over quantity is the aim.
Ultimately, what success looks like is down to your interpretation – though during the hiring process you should have set some KPIs and realistic goals that make it clear to everyone what you want to achieve.
Remember, only the search engines themselves have control over their search results, and with the complex algorithms they use to determine ranking, very few of even their engineers will know the ‘secret sauce’.
You also have to consider that it is not only about your site. How the competition stacks up (and what marketing they are doing) plays a huge role in determining your success.
Above all, an SEO campaign is a partnership with your agency, consultant or freelancer. How you track their work and their results, and the level of communication with them, will determine well you can judge their performance.