This post is an excerpt of a forthcoming book, The Promise of Marketing,
As a customer, you want people looking for your product or service to be able to find you easily. In simple terms, when somebody types in your search phrase, you come up as one of the answers on the first page of their results.
Request: Can you promise to increase my ability to be found on the web and demonstrate how we can measure progress?
Unfortunately, most competent SEO providers will say they cannot make that promise because they have to unpack your request first. There are promises that a capable SEO provider can make, but only after laying the considerable groundwork.
You and your SEO provider don’t yet share a common background of the obvious. To you, it’s self-evident that
- You must show up on the first page of results more often to grow your bottom line.
- You need help, which is why you’re hiring somebody.
- You need it done quickly.
- You want this job to be “completed” so you can focus on other objectives.
- It has to generate more revenue once achieve than it costs to produce.
Meanwhile, to the SEO provider, what’s obvious is that:
- Some people search for a particular outcome, such as “white paint” or “new windows.”
- Other people search based on a problem, such as “My room is too dark.”
- The keywords to optimize for those scenarios are going to differ.
- Building your rank or authority for given terms takes time.
- SEO is a process that requires ongoing maintenance.
- Ranking locally (in a geographic region) is far easier than nationally or globally.
- Depending on your market, there are cases where ranking is possible, but it would not be worth the cost to achieve it.
- You need a sales conversion rate that supports the effort to net a positive ROI
Because your background of the obvious differs, a competent SEO provider is going to reply to your request with a counter-offer to perform a series of tasks, such as the following:
- Identify the search terms for which you want to show up as a top answer (to rank). Your provider cannot do anything until you jointly identify this list. There may be several highly relevant terms you had not considered.
- Identify the level of traffic that each term receives. Seldom-used search terms may be easier to optimize but take longer to notice a change. Phrases with more searches will be harder to optimize but take less time to see results.
- Identify where you rank for each of your terms right now. These will be your baseline ranks, and each can go up or down independently.
- Identify the existing content that you should modify (copywriting). You cannot simply stuff keywords into your text; the words and phrases need to be relevant and natural.
- Identify content that you need to add to your website. If there are terms you want to rank for, but they don’t show up on your site, you’ll have to create additional content. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) are a prime location for legitimately inserting key phrases.
At this point, you’re likely frustrated. That’s a considerable level of work, but the performer who offered to complete the tasks above has not yet satisfied your original request. They have yet to take care of what you care about.
At worst, those tasks are necessary but insufficient to produce valuable results. At best, those actions support a thorough diagnosis before making a detailed prescription. In that prescription, your world as a customer and theirs as a performer come together.
A physician writes a prescription based on tremendous detail and information you don’t know. That includes the mechanism by which the drugs will operate on your body. You just want to get better. So too, with your SEO provider – you want them to fix the problem with your rankings, without getting into the weeds of how they do it.
With a thorough diagnosis in hand, your SEO provider can and should be able to make reliable promises for results, including:
- For search terms A, B, and C, we can consistently raise your rank from X to Y
- We promise to get you to level Y within Z months.
- If we fail to reach level Y, then we promise to keep working on your behalf without charge until we achieve that result.
In addition to the promises above, you should expect a competent SEO provider to require specific reciprocal commitments on your side for their promise to be valid. After all, if you don’t take your medicine, it’s not your doctor’s fault that you don’t get better.
- You will have to modify and produce additional content for the SEO provider to work with based on the parameters they provide.
- If your provider offers copywriting services, you will have to avail yourself of that service and put the content on your site.
- Achieving the desired results will take work on your side for the SEO provider’s skill to have an impact. It will be a joint effort rather than something you can hand off and ignore.
- You’ll need to be consistent in the application of SEO principles. Pausing your SEO efforts will lead to negative results for the same reason that rocket ships don’t halt their ascent until they reach orbit.
Note that none of the search engines care about you or your content unless it provides a relevant and valuable answer to somebody with a search query. Your primary task to rank better is not about secret techniques. Instead, your efforts support becoming more relevant by providing better content that your site will feed to the search engines. That part is like proper diet, sleep, and exercise. Only then can your SEO provider come in with the steroids to supercharge your performance.
So what are the promises you should demand from a competent SEO provider?
- Can they promise a thorough diagnosis and set of recommendations?
- Can they then tell you what specific results they can produce on your behalf?
- Can they tell you how much it will cost and how long those results should take?
- Can they partner with you, holding you to account to complete the required actions on your side?
- Can they perform (or refer out) to additional service providers that will support your combined efforts? E.g., designers, copywriters, or technology providers.
Special thanks to Liz Cortez of rebelfishlocal.com, and Kurien Abraham of creativewebresults.com, who helped me understand SEO process. They both run companies that offer SEO services and understand the value of an effective promise for results.