Making a decision on SEO services is one of the most important aspects of online marketing, as it sets the pace on which the rest of your online marketing strategy will be advanced. SEO services come in a variety of ways, from freelancers offering ‘as and when’ services, to agencies giving a variety of monthly, quarterly and annual packages.
Small and new business owners are especially at risk, because they usually don’t know much about what SEO entails and what they need to look for. They can therefore be easily lured into making an unassisted decision because the deal seems too good. For such businesses every cent spent must be put to good use.
Package services present a unique challenge for small business owners: they may often think that they don’t need some of the services that come within the package, and have even been known to enquire about whether some of the services can be dispensed with or resold to other clients to reduce the cost of their package (no, that’s not how it works).
A reasonable amount of research is necessary before making any impactful business decisions, such as the SEO services to go for. The most important way to assess any potential service provider is not how much they cost compared to other vendors, but rather how much what they cost will bring to your business: deliverables, potential impact and production among others.
There are web designers who also offer SEO packages in addition to website design services. To assess whether this is an option that makes sense for your business, the answer is clear. You need to find out:
- Whether the package refers to SEO service specific to the redesign process (i.e. optimizing layout and design elements to be SEO-friendly) or to ongoing SEO work after the site goes live (link-building, content marketing, IE etc.)
- What key responsibilities and actions are included in the package, which will help in evaluation of impact and value?
- Can you get the same responsibilities and deliverables for a more competitive price, or additional services for the same price?
Let us examine these and more points in detail.
Factors to Consider when evaluating monthly SEO packages
- Do you need SEO? Why?
The answer to this question is not really a yes or no one, but rather it should be based on what exactly your business needs from SEO services. Why do you want to have SEO? What are your desired objectives and business milestones, and how do you think SEO will get your there? How does investing towards SEO over other marketing channels improve your chances of achieving those goals? How effective will it be in generating new business and building existing business compared with other marketing channels? Answering these questions will help you establish the baseline of your expectations of an SEO program from which you can assess any package that is offered to you.
- How does the vendor describe their process?
The important thing to remember is that SEO is a wide field, and different businesses require different specific services to improve their online status. While it is a tall order to expect a vendor to describe every single SEO technique he intends to apply right at the start, they should be able to explain their SEO philosophies in relation to your broader business goals. They should also be able to give you examples of where those tactics/philosophies have been applied. They should demonstrate an understanding of your business and its needs.
- How does the vendor want to measure progress/performance?
Your business should already have its own key performance indices to measure progress towards business goals and objectives. However, sound out the potential SEO provider about their recommendations for performance measurement and analysis. In many instances, the benchmarks suggested should be a cocktail of production-specific metrics and performance metrics.
- Can the vendor demonstrate achievement with clients of similar nature to yours?
It is not enough to show you performance of individual keywords for other clients they’ve worked with. The SEO vendor needs to prepare case studies (comparable, if possible) that illustrate challenges, background, tactics and subsequent results. These should be accompanied by references that you can directly contact to substantiate the information provided. Be conscious about vendors who do not take time to enquire about and understand your business and its model. Only then can they make suggestions that will succeed.
- What are the actual terms on the contract?
Outside of the SEO, getting out of a signed contract is no mean feat, and you need to understand every single stipulation before appending your name to the dotted line. You should know the total financial commitment, as well as the recommended actions in case their performance does not meet pre-agreed expectations. You should know your part in addressing renewal, termination and time-related concerns among others.
The importance of understanding exactly what your SEO package offers cannot be overstated. For instance, one businessman was offered an SEO package which included pushing business web addresses through a number of social media platforms a few times every month. The number of pushes was factored into the package pricing.
Now, social media is certainly a powerful marketing and link acquisition resource, as well as for brand development and lead generation. However, simply putting web address on social media sites is questionable as a tactic, given that most social sites have the ‘nofollow’ attribute added to links generated. This means that search engines will not consider those links when ranking. In addition, it is not completely clear how social media signals factor into search ranking improvements or lack thereof.
Where rubber meets the road, don’t just sign off on a tactic, technique or package without fully understanding what you may gain from it. The Internet is a resource at your fingertips, and you can get all the information you need to make an informed decision. Take your time to interview vendors and assess their approaches, philosophies and references. And then you’ll be ready to make your final call.