Search Engine Optimisation is something that is now a essential service needed by all businesses as it is vital to have a strong online presence as the online marketplace is becoming even more competitive with people using Google as their first port of call for information.
Despite knowing they need their website optimising many business owners do not know what is involved in the process or where to start.
Whilst the process can be complicated and involve many technical tasks everything that is done is evidencable and traceable online.
Very often they turn to the tens of thousands of companies based not only in the UK but worldwide,that offer Search Engine Optimisation services.
They are often hooked by the very bold claims made by these ‘SEO specialists’ such as “Number 1 in Google Rankings Guaranteed” which is obviously where every business owner wants to be.
Most SEO companies work on the basis of a monthly retainer being paid; the amount can vary from hundreds of pounds to thousands of pounds per month. SEO budgets are a significant financial investment for most businesses but these investments very often made in the hope that the claims and promises made by these SEO companies come to fruition.
Our experience is that some of the SEO agencies cannot back up their bold claims and very often fail to deliver.
Clients often find themselves in a situation where they are months down the line and thousands of pounds worse off. Some have reports they cannot decipher and many have seen no significant change in their online enquiries, sales or their search engine rankings.
Mercantile Claims have identified this practice of SEO companies misleading people and are setting out to take them to task and reclaim clients’ money as well as possible compensation. We have found that many business owners have been mis-sold services through false promises and representations.
Part of the process is for us to appoint an independent SEO expert witnesses who will provide a straightforward and unbiased report detailing what work should have been completed, what work was actually done, and providing an expert opinion on which a court ruling could be considered.
Mercantile Claims will then work on your behalf dealing directly with the SEO Company in question, managing the legal documentation and liaising with the court in order to secure a financial settlement.
We pride ourselves on providing a professional and friendly service, ensuring we maintain an open relationship with our customers throughout the entire process.
We have compiled a sample of some questions that have been raised by our clients in an attempt to help you in your decision to proceed:
The first and most important thing you should expect from a SEO company is complete transparency. You are paying them for a service and giving them access to your website so you have every right to know what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it.
You should also expect them to have a full understanding of Google’s best practices. If they do not they may unknowingly be employing “Black Hat” tactics which will incur penalties from Google and will significantly hurt your online presence. You should ask them what they do to abide by Google’s rules of which you can find a copy of here: https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769.
Clear communication and regular reporting are also things that you should expect ‘as normal’ from any SEO company.
Both the SEO provider and the client should understand the aims and goals of the project, all tasks should be documented and evidencible with regular review meetings held to discuss campaign performance including analytics and key performance statistics.
Reporting is key to any SEO project and you should expect to receive reports at least once a quarter but ideally monthly. The reports should be easy to read and your SEO provider should be able to answer any queries you have and offer suggestions moving forward.
There are many different tasks and projects that an SEO company may carry out depending on the individual business’s profile and requirements but some examples may include:
Keyword research is one of the most important tasks that is undertaken when starting a new campaign. The success of your SEO campaign will be judged by the words and phrases that you aim to rank for.
It is important to understand how keywords can drive traffic to your site. If you are looking to target certain keywords it is important to consider how competitive the keyword is and the search volumes across the search engines on a monthly basis. Remember there is no point in ranking for a keyword or phrase that no one is looking for! It is vital that your keywords and traffic targets are agreed at the outset of your campaign.
On-Page optimisation refers to the content and HTML source code of a webpage that can be optimised. The process of optimising the HTML source code involves making sure that the webpage is structured correctly and that the following are correctly optimised:
Meta Title Tag
Meta Description Tag
<h1> heading tag
<h2> heading tag
<img> tags use the ALT attribute
Content optimisation is ensuring that your content is written correctly and importantly that it stays within the theme of your website. For example if your website is for a prestige car dealership you wouldn’t want to be putting content about second hand bicycles on there.
You also need to consider the use of your keywords within your content carefully using keyword density, keyword prominence and keyword proximity.
Keyword density is the percentage of times a keyword or keyword phrase appears on a webpage compared to the total number of words on the webpage.
Keyword prominence refers to how prominent your keywords are in the key areas of your webpage. Examples of key areas include the meta title tag, the <h1> heading tag and the opening and ending sentences of the content.
Keyword proximity refers to the distance between individual keywords that make up a search term with the smaller the distance the better. For example the search term “Birmingham Corporate Photographer” in the sentence “Birmingham Photographer Joe Bloggs specialises in corporate photography”. The keyword proximity between “Birmingham” and “Photographer is excellent at zero words but not great between “Photographer” and “corporate” at four words.
A better way to write the above would be “Birmingham Corporate Photographer Joe Bloggs creates images for …” as this way all three words of the search phrase are at the start of the phrase and together.
You also need to consider the use of stop words. Stop words are words that are filtered out by search engines before carrying out a search. Example stop words include: the, is, at, which and on.
You should try and eliminate stop words from your search terms as this will help with keyword proximity.
Off-Page optimisation refers to external optimisation of content such as links. Off page factors help your website to gain higher rankings but are elements that are not found on your website.
Examples of off-page optimisation include making sure your website has an XML sitemap that shows search engines what pages are on your website, a robots.txt file that tells search engines which pages you want to be indexed and which ones you don’t want to index, ensuring that there are no broken links within your website and that you have a 404 page.
Making sure your website has a SSL certificate and uses HTTPS is probably the most recent change to off-page optimisation and it is something that you should ensure your SEO company is aware of and is capable of carrying out for you.
In short you are able to tell if the SEO company haven’t carried out the work they allege to have completed. If over the period in question you haven’t seen your search rankings rise, the number of visitors to your website increase and the number of enquiries or sales increase, it is unlikely that they have completed any notable SEO tasks. In some circumstances you may have seen a decline in these areas if the work they have done does not meet certain standards and guidelines.
It is quite possible to see what SEO tasks have been carried out on a website using various webmaster tools and carrying out a simple website audit.
The typical hourly rate for SEO work is between £60 – £75 although most SEO companies don’t charge per hour unless they are helping recover from a Google penalty.
What is more often the case is a monthly retainer will be agreed dependant on the amount of work that is required. Certain tasks will need to carried out monthly; SEO is an ongoing service that should progressively increase your online visibility and subsequently, the benefits that this brings.
Whilst there are formal Google qualifications such as becoming Google Website Optimizer Authorized Consultant you do not have to be qualified to carry out Search Engine Optimisation. However there are industry guidelines that should be met as laid down by Google and anything short of these would be viewed as not meeting the standards required of a professional SEO consultant.
Reports are at the very heart of Search Engine Optimisation and are needed at every stage of the process.
When you first sign up with a SEO company they should run some standard initial reports that will help assess where your website currently stands, what improvements are achievable and what work will need to be carried out.
The initial report should include the following:
This should include a list of the keywords that your website currently ranks for and the positions within Google’s Search Engine. It should also identify which keywords are driving the most traffic to your website and how much more traffic your website could receive if these keywords ranked in the top 10.
This will identify your online competitors and the SEO strategies they are using to obtain website traffic. It should show you which keywords they are ranking for, how much traffic they are receiving and which third party websites link to their website by way of backlinks. It should also advise which of these you should deploy in your campaign
This is basically a SEO health check of your website and will consider elements of both SEO Content and Technical elements of SEO. It should detail where your website ranks measured against industry standards, for various factors, and identify any issues and elements that need improvement.
The content SEO section should include factors such as:
The technical SEO section should include factors such as:
Your ongoing reports should include the following:
It is essential to monitor which keywords your website is ranking for and their positions in the Search Results, as you will be able to spot any potential issues before they become more serious. If your rankings start to drop over a number of weeks it could indicate an issue with your backlink profile for example.
You should also compare your current keyword positions to previous reports such as your initial report or to one where you achieved your highest rankings or to when you received the most visitors to your site.
As in any aspect of business you need to keep an eye on your competition and it is no different when it comes to SEO. If you see a marked increase in their positions then it’s time to look at their on-page SEO and backlinks to see what has caused this and to consider employing those tactics yourself.
Link-building is probably the most tedious and time consuming of all SEO tasks but also the most beneficial. It is essential to keep on top of your backlink profile to ensure a maximum return on your investment. Links can become ‘broken’ in situations for example, where the original content has been removed by the publisher. It is also important to review the ‘linked to’ page statistics being, number of keywords that the page ranks for, current traffic levels, historic movements of both number of keywords and traffic etc.
The link-building reports should include:
Overall, the reports provided by your SEO company should tell a story of how the campaign is progressing and be clear and easy to read. It should also include some explanatory text to help you decipher the charts and terminology used.
One of the first tasks any SEO company should carry out is to install some analytics software. The most commonly used is Google Analytics but other examples include Clicky, Piwik and Open Web Analytics.
This software is then able to track every visitor to your site and provide information such as:
In short it is vital that you know who is visiting your website and full details of the visitor journey to and through your website.
Calculating the return on investment (ROI) of a SEO campaign is not easy or straightforward.
Many SEO companies will use differing terminology and calculations to try and show a return on your investment with them.
We would suggest taking this view point on your SEO spend – Just like any other investment, common business sense dictates that if an investment doesn’t yield a positive ROI then it should be withdrawn.
As an example:
|SEO Campaign Spend (Monthly)||£500|
|Total Search Volume (Monthly)||10,000|
|Average Order Value||£500|
|Average Profit Margin||40%|
|Position||Visits||Monthly Conversions||Monthly Return|
This campaign would make an 1100% return based on top position rankings.
It is very difficult to draw on industry averages as the norm as each campaign is totally bespoke to each client.
If you take the average hourly charge of between £60 – £70 and compare that to the work has been done you can make your own judgement. If the work hasn’t been completed then that really speaks for itself.
Ultimately if you are getting the traffic, enquiries and sales that were promised and the returns outweigh your investment then the decision to carry on falls to you.
Your SEO company should provide as part of your ongoing reports detailed information on where you are ranking in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for each keyword and if they are up or down on the previous reporting period.
What you cannot do is simply do a search in Google for the keyword and count the positions yourself. This method provides false results as Google builds a search profile from your computer and gives you customised results based on this profile.
What you can do is use Google Search Console’s Search Analytics which provides your average positions for the search terms used to find your website. To do this you just need to log into your Google Search Console and then click “Search Traffic” and then “Search Analytics” on the left hand side and you will see a page like the one below.
Make sure that you check “Position” and “Queries” as this will ensure you are receiving the correct results. You can then change the period of which you are checking or even filter the results down by entering your keyword into the queries filter.
Obtaining quality backlinks should be a high priority in any SEO project and monitoring the number of backlinks you have is essential. There are many online tools that can give you a list of backlinks that point to your website such as Ahrefs or Moz but this is something that your SEO company should be providing as part of their on-going reports.
You can also use Google Search Console to see which sites are linking back to you and what anchor text they are using. To do this you just need to log into your Google Search Console and then click “Search Traffic” and then “Links to Your Site” on the left hand side and you will see a page like the one below.
You can then click on the “More >>” links to see all the links and you can also click the links themselves to see the content on the linked page. This is a good idea to do as your website may be linked to pages of low value.
There is no set figure by which your website traffic will increase; and the rate at which your traffic will increase is dependent on many different factors.
Firstly you need to define what is meant by traffic. You should ensure that you looking at qualified human visitors as your website will receive visits by internet bots. Some unscrupulous SEO companies have been known to actually generate automated traffic to skew visitor statistics.
The amount of visitors you receive will depend upon:
Having said that if your website is brand new and never been optimised before you should see a significant increase within the first 90 days of starting your SEO project and in general most sites should target at least a 20% improvement year on year.
Google has published a set of Webmaster Guidelines that can be found here https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769.
The guidelines are split into two sections, ‘general’ – which outlines how you can help Google find, index and rank your site and ‘quality’ – which outlines some of the methods and techniques which Google frowns upon and will take action against sites that employ them.
Technical SEO can be briefly described as anything to do with the coding or the functionality of your website that helps Google and other search engines crawl and index your website as opposed to the actual content of your website. Examples of Technical SEO Tasks include fixing broken links, making sure you have a sitemap listing all the pages on your website and ensuring you use 301 redirects to point old pages to new pages.
Meeting regularly with your SEO company is essential as it gives both sides an opportunity to talk through the progress that is being made on the project and make decisions on changes in strategy or budget.
Most SEO companies will assign you an account manager who will liaise with you and keep you updated with your project. As some companies actually use freelancers rather than in-house staff to carry out the SEO tasks on your website, it is possible that you won’t meet the person who is actually doing the work!
The frequency of your meetings will differ from company to company but as a bare minimum you should meet once a quarter. Ideally you should be meeting once a month as this allows you to review the monthly reports together and make timely decisions.