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Frequently Asked Questions

Search Engine Optimization and Web Marketing

Whether you are learning how to do Web Marketing and Search Engine Optimization on your own, thinking of hiring an SEO consultant, or planning on outsourcing your SEO needs, questions and answers below are meant to help you make informed decisions.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Usually, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is understood as a set of techniques applied to a website to improve its ranking and positioning with search engines, with the goal of helping visitors or potential buyers find the website through a keyword search on search engines (see also Web definitions of SEO).

In our approach to SEO, we assume that the ultimate goal of a site optimization project is to increase the number of visitors who fill out your order or registration forms. In other words, we understand SEO as a set of techniques that help you attract customers through your website and generate sales. We believe that SEO is not merely a strategy for enhancing your web presence and driving traffic to your website. SEO is a means for transforming your website into a powerful yet cost-effective vehicle for generating considerable and sustainable revenue.

As it is typically described, a site optimization usually involves design and layout changes, new text for the TITLE tags,  METATAGS, ALT- attributes, headings, creation of new links, and most importantly creation of new copy (text) as well as modifications to the existing one.

Additionally, it is also typical to supplement "organic" site optimization with Paid-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns, such asGoogle's AdWords, for example. Both organic SEO and keyword-purchasing campaigns aim at ensuring that users who are looking for your type of products and services can find you through a keyword search on Google and othersearch engines.

But what happens after your users have found your site? Do they stay and read on or do they leave it quickly? Do they visit multiple pages and review your company profile? Do they express interest in your white papers or other available documentation? Do they send you their feedback? And above all, do they register on your site to purchase your products or services? All these questions, although seemingly disconnected from the actual optimization of a site, in fact, form the most important part of the SEO project.

To generate or increase revenue through your website, you cannot merely aim at positioning your site high on search engines and driving traffic to it. You need to identify factors that form users' impressions, create their motivations and influence their decisions to register on your website and purchase your products or services. You need to approach these "intangible" factors as the main building principles of both your web design and SEO projects. 

What are the basic elements of an SEO project?

The search engine optimization (SEO) of a site is not complicated, but it does imply certain skills and it does take time. Before you begin working on your site, it is important to know what is involved in a full-scale SEO project.

Below is a 10-step SEO project summary that we hope you will find useful. Please note that the first step is for the most part relevant to new businesses, but established companies should also double-check whether they are listed in the right category in dmoz.org (Google uses dmoz for its database resource):

  1. Define (or verify) your business category and outline potential keywords

  2. Conduct rigorous competitive analysis

  3. Settle on your main keywords and key phrases

  4. Create a clever navigation structure: modular and scalable

  5. Create a large and highly specialized website (add pages)

  6. Optimize each page on your website individually

  7. Optimize code if using Flash, AJAX

  8. Create as many relevant links as you can

  9. Add content to your website regularly (white papers, demos)

  10. Follow industry news and monitor changes (every 3 months) 

When is the best time for an SEO project?

If you plan on starting an SEO project, it is best to co-ordinate it with a website re-design project. If your website has recently been updated, but you plan on starting an SEO project now, you need to be prepared for SOME changes. 

What do I need to know before doing my own SEO?

Before you start the search engine optimization (SEO) of your website, there are a few important factors that you need to know. These factors are the following:

  1. The amount of work required to successfully optimize your site depends on the type of business you compete in. For highly competitive areas, the process can be time consuming, because you will need to create a lot of copy (text). Depending on the market value of your keywords, the time required to optimize your website can range from one week to several months or even longer.

Below are some relations we noticed while conducting competitive analysis for various clients. Depending on the market value of your keywords (i.e. number of search results returned for a particular keyword query), your site should have the following amount ofkeyword-rich copy in it:

  • 2 million results – at least 50 pages

  • 2 – 4 million results – 50-100 pages

  • 4 – 6 million results – 100-150 pages

  • 6 – 8 million results – 200 pages

  • 8+ million results – 500+ pages

It is difficult to say how many links you need to create, because the more links you have pointing to other websites from your own site and especially links pointing back at your website, the better it is for your search engine ranking. As a rule of thumb, have at least 10 links per page, but make sure that these links are highly relevant to the page content. Irrelevant links (and content) may dilute your "specialization and expertise" and might even lower your SEO ranking, although this point remains to be questionable.

  • Once your copy and link creation and search engine optimization (SEO) work is complete, the results may not become apparent for another few weeks. At such time, it is important to start implementing marketing programs to help increase your visibility on the Internet (e.g. Google's AdWords, Yahoo Marketing, etc.). All these programs are quite intuitive and easy to use, but it will still take some time to become familiar with them and learn how to use them to your best advantage.

  • If you already have a website, you need to be prepared to make changes to it. In some cases, these changes can be small while in other cases, they can be quite significant. What needs to be changed and/or added will depend on how ambitious your SEO objectives are and how aggressively you decide to pursue them. In some cases, it is necessary to re-structure the navigation structure, i.e. rearrange folder and file hierarchy in order to ensure better SEO results.

  • You need to be prepared to post as much documentation related to your business as possible, i.e. how-to guides, newsletters, white papers, technology overview, product description, PowerPoint presentations, demos, etc. This will ensure that search engines rank your site highly for "relevancy" and "expertise". Note that it is important NOT to provide unrelated materials and to have keyword-rich copy on all your documents; otherwise, your content may not be ranked as "relevant".

  • You need to have the cooperation of other members of your team or, in the case of a larger company, other teams or even departments, to help ensure smooth project development and fast results. When it comes to websites and especially website copywriting, everyone thinks they are an expert.  To achieve successful SEO results, you would need to keep your management and your peers convinced that there are good reasons behind your decisions and that you know what you are doing. So if you are NOT the decision maker, but you are the only one who has researched the topic and understands why certain things are required for successful SEO results and how to go about completing them, then you may feel frustrated when trying to implement proper SEO principles, because you will most likely encounter management and peer resistance.

    One very effective way to avoid this type of turbulence is to hire a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant to do the job. It is very rare when someone appreciates quality of information or service coming their way if they did not have to pay for it.

  1. And finally, before you start your SEO project, make sure you get a preliminary understanding of what your competitors are doing for their Web Marketing and SEO. Once you have completed a preliminary review of your competitors' SEO, you can begin creating your own plan.

How do I evaluate an SEO consultant?

If you decide to seek additional help with your optimization project, remember that your website is your company's face. It is the first thing people see. The look and feel of your website has a direct affect on users' opinions not only about your management but also about your products. By associating impressions received from your website, users form opinions about your products and services before they even get a chance to see them. In fact, many users often even judge your products and services by the way your website looks and by the quality of content it exhibits. 

An SEO consultant optimizing your site becomes an "silent spokesman" for your company, a person whose education, knowledge, skills, and even personality would be manifested through your website, influencing users' decisions and affecting your company's revenue.

If you are thinking of hiring a consultant to help you with your SEO project, it is wise to ask and receive answers to the following questions:

    1. How many industries has an SEO consultant been exposed to in the last three years? Ask for specific examples.

    1. How many web sites did an SEO consultant work on in the last three years? Ask to provide customer references.

    2. Does an SEO consultant have first-hand web design and development experience as well as user-interface development experience? Ask to provide samples.

    3. Does an SEO consultant have a University degree, preferably in Linguistics?

    4. Does an SEO consultant own an SEO-related website, so that you can evaluate their writing and marketing skills?

    5. Does an SEO consultant have previous hands-on Sales experience?

    6. Does an SEO consultant have first-hand knowledge of customer relationship management (CRM) software,such as Salesforce.com or NetSuit, for example?

  1. Can an SEO consultant explain, in a matter of 10-15 minutes, what is involved in a typical SEO project?

  2. Does an SEO consultant insist that an SEO project is a lengthy endeavor that requires ongoing investment? Note that even a large SEO project, having been successfully implemented once, requires very little maintenance in the future.

  3. Does an SEO consultant want you to believe thatmonitoring keyword-purchasing programs, such asGoogle's AdWords , for example, is a difficult and time-consuming task? 

Answers to these questions would assist you in evaluating the scope and depth of your consultant's knowledge and help you arrive at an informed hiring decision.

What can be outsourced to an SEO consultant?

Once you learn what is involved in a successful SEO project, you will quickly realize that you cannot outsource your SEO project 100% and that your SEO consultant will be working with you and your team very closely in the course of the optimization project.

The question is what is best to outsource to an SEO consultant and what is best to do in house?

Based on our experience, we find that it is best to get your SEO consultant to do the following for you:

  1. Explain to you and your team what is involved in an SEO project (in the form of a presentation or a short workshop). You can't manage well what you don't understand.

  2. Conduct a critique and review of your existing website and record all pluses and minuses (it is best to have an outsider do this for you; otherwise, it is very easy NOT to find flaws and problems with your website, thus falling prey to what can end up being an expensive self-complacency).

  3. Conduct a competitive analysis and produce a detailed report. Time and time again we see how companies dive into a lengthy and expensive website re-design and optimization project without conducting proper competitive analysis. To out-do your competition while remaining cost-effective, you need to spend 3-5 hours on each of your main competitors. Make sure to check the following:

    • Website size (number of HTML pages and supplementary materials, such as white papers, demos, help manuals, product sheets in pdf, etc.)

    • Look-and-feel and user-friendliness of their website and whether or not it is appropriate for their business

    • Current ranking on search engines (use this free tool)

    • Ads on Google and other search engines

    • Incoming links (use these free tools)

    • Outgoing links (use these free tools)

    • Keywords and META tags (use this free tool)

    • Whether or not their website copy is keyword-rich?

    • Do they conduct lead registration through their website? What kind of questions do they ask in their registration form?

    • Do they offer free web seminars and if yes, what service they use?

    • Do they issue newsletters?

    • Quality of their white papers and related documents

    • Management team and their background

    • Financial reports or VC reviews

    • Other questions that will help you better understand your competition 

  4. Page-by-page optimization of your existing pages for specific keywords

  5. Optimization of your Title tags and META tags as well as image ALT tags

  6. Creation of internal links along with a Site Map

  7. Creation of supplementary web content to boost your rating and create outgoing links (creating 'Resources' section for your users, for example).

  8. Directory listings to create incoming or "back" links

  9. Enrolment in Google's AdWords campaign and other keyword purchasing programs

  10. If you are in a general consumer business, your SEO consultant can be your SEO copywriter as well, but keep in mind that this part of the service is usually more expensive.

Depending on how experienced your SEO consultant is, in some cases, you can hire them for a few months to do a rewamp of your site and optimize it for all of your desired keywords.

Can web development firms look after my SEO project?

With the exception of savvy technology companies, most businesses believe that web design and development firms can ensure successful search engine optimization (SEO) results as part of their design services. Is this an erroneous believe? And if yes, does it also mean that web design firms intentionally misrepresent their capabilities?

In our view, the best answer to this question can only be given in relative terms. Yes, this believe is erroneous by at least 90%, but no, web development firms do not intentionally misrepresent themselves. Web development firms also believe that they provide SEO services as part of their web design packages. But in fact, only very few of them actually do.

Back in mid 1990s, when search engines were young and not so clever, and the SEO field was just being born, web development firms did, in fact, provide professional search engine optimization (SEO) services. But at that time the SEO services for the most part consisted of certain coding and tagging tweaks. The SEO rules were few and they were confined to the realm of basic HTML programming.

In the last 5 years, however, the search engine optimization (SEO) situation has changed significantly. Search engines have evolved to become smarter and more effective; their algorithms and site evaluation matrix have become so effective that they are now just a few steps away from matching natural human perception.

In other words, nowadays the way search engines "perceive" and "evaluate" websites is not much different from the way human users do it. Search engines now focus on the same things human users do. And what do users focus on? What do they look for?

Users look for quality information that provides answers to their specific questions and needs. They highly appreciate "specialized" sites with a lot of clearly written and to-the-point information. They may not read more than a couple of pages at a time, but they certainly want to have all the wealth of information available to them. They particularly appreciate it when a site provides relevant references and links to other sites also devoted to the same subject matter, because it makes their research so much easier. Users love when information is well structured and copy is well written so that it is easy to glance through and sort out what may or may not apply to their query. They love to see free downloads and other additional documents, because all this provides more useful information and also speaks in favour of the site's expertise.

When users find sites that exhibit all these signs of "quality", they bookmark them so that to come back later, when their need to know more becomes more pressing or when they decide to purchase a specific product. Naturally, users love sites with simple easy-to-follow navigation and pleasing non-intrusive graphics.

Moreover, users often form opinions about specific products and services before they even get a chance to see them. In fact, they often judge products and services by the way the hosting website looks and by the quality of content it exhibits. In the end, it is the quality and appropriateness of content that influences users' decisions most and foremost.

Not surprisingly, the quality of your site copy and the level of your "expertise" are the two most important factors for search engines as well. When determining the ranking of a site, search engines mainly "look" at two things: 1) relevance and quantity of the links connected with this site, and 2) quality of the site copy and associated documents.

Having said all this, I can now answer the question of why it is erroneous to believe that web development firms can ensure successful SEO results. When web development firms build websites, it is exceptionally rare for them to also write the site copy, let alone provide associated documentation, such as white papers, product briefs, how-to guides, newsletters, etc.And it is your site copy along with associated documents and links (i.e. your site content) that influence your SEO ranking first and foremost.

To get the most for your money, make sure to ask your web development firm to introduce you to and then let you speak with a person who does SEO copywriting for them (often a freelancer).

Can I get customized SEO training from you?

Yes, we provide live on-demand SEO webinars. Our search engine optimization webinars are conducted via WebEx and can accept up to 10 participants. As a rule between 5 and 8 people attend. A small-group setting allows for a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, where all of your questions get answered and no gray areas are left untouched.

The following topics are covered in the course of approximately 2 hours:

  • Rigorous methodology on how to select the most appropriate keywords for your business

  • Step-by-step instructions on how to conduct proper competitive analysis quickly and effectively and how to outdo even your most aggressive competitors

  • Personal advice on how to maximize your investment in advertising campaigns of major search engines (Google’s AdWords and AdSense, for example), i.e. how to get more for less

  • Q&A session with real-life examples to help you apply the studied material to your particular business objectives, with practical guidance and improvement recommendations

  • Carefully researched, time-tested and customer-approved SEO guide, accompanied by a set of supporting materials (SEO glossary, references, and useful links).

Register for one of our SEO webinars or request a customized webinar by filling out our registration form. Call us at (613) 231-6308 for more details.

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