Getting started with SEO: tips for choosing a vendor, building a strategy, & tracking performance

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The first step towards helping consumers find your business is implementing a strategic search engine optimization (SEO) plan. After all, when more people can find you, more people will do business with you! However, SEO can be complicated to understand and seemingly has a language all its own. No question, it can be very intimidating for a small business owner to formulate and implement an SEO plan, especially while juggling the other myriad tasks related to running a business.

The good news is you don’t need to face SEO alone. Finding a qualified SEO partner can save you valuable time and create a path for increasing visibility, web traffic, and revenue growth.

Not sure where to begin? Check out these tips for ensuring your business is ready for an SEO partner, and how to choose a reputable vendor that’s right for you.

When is your business ready for an SEO plan?

There are several things that your business should do before buckling down and finding an SEO partner. This proactive maintenance will give your SEO provider a head start and facilitate an easier transition into a strategic partnership. Once these steps are completed, you’ll be set to begin your SEO provider search.

Digital business information

First and foremost, ensure your digital business information is accurate by creating, claiming, and optimizing your online listings. “Listings” are profiles across the ecosystem of search engines, online directories, nav apps and social platforms – including sites like Google My Business, Yelp, Facebook, Apple Maps, and dozens more.

Online listings can get as much, if not more traffic than your website itself. Users can gather much of the information they may need from within your business listings (hours, services, and more) without visiting your website. Further, accuracy and consistency of your listings is an important ranking factor within the Google algorithm.

Website audit

Once your digital business information is secured, it’s time to complete an audit of your website. This audit serves to get a baseline understanding of the current state of your website with the goal of efficiently communicating your goals and vision to the SEO provider. The insights you gather will help to guide your SEO partner.

Your audit should evaluate the content on your site. Is it accurate and up to date? Are all your links working and images appearing? Is there content that reflects all your products and services? Is there anything such as additional pages, videos, or blogs that you were planning to add? Your SEO provider will likely make additional suggestions and improvements to your site, so this audit is intended to help jumpstart the SEO process.

How can I find an SEO partner that’s right for my business?

It’s important to thoroughly examine your options before deciding on an SEO partner. Never settle for the first vendor you find—it’s always worthwhile to shop around with a few different vendors. But how do you vet and compare SEO companies? Below, we’ve compiled a list of important questions to ask when evaluating SEO vendors.

Key questions for prospective SEO partners

1. How will you quantify success? This is possibly the most important question to ask potential SEO partners. A legitimate SEO agency should be able to set clear expectations of what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they plan to report on in order to determine the success of your campaigns.

Some KPIs you might expect to see include…

  • Keyword rank: This shows you how search engines are ranking your business based on your top keywords.
  • Clicks to website: This metric determines if your keywords are enticing viewers to visit your website. Your SEO vendor might also examine more detailed metrics such as time spent on your webpages and the click through rate to determine website traffic quality.
  • Conversions: Is the SEO traffic driving the desired outcomes in terms of engagement and driving new business? This might include form fills, calls or online sales.

2. What tangible, ongoing deliverables will they provide? Of course, SEO requires on-site optimization of content that is already published, but that is often not enough. Has the agency done their homework to develop a data-driven plan? Your deliverables should include a list of on-site and off-site tactics (e.g. backlinking or press releases) offered on a monthly, or quarterly basis.

3. Do they have experience/references in your business’ vertical? You wouldn’t hire someone who didn’t have a proven track record—hiring an agency is no different. It’s always a good idea to ask potential partners about relevant projects they have worked on. Most agencies are eager to share case studies and other examples of their past work. On a similar note, ask for references from other clients they work with.

What should you look for in an SEO plan from your agency?

Once you’ve selected an SEO vendor, they’ll need some time to research your keywords, competition, and geographies to prepare a comprehensive, data-driven SEO strategy for you.

Here are some important elements to look for in your SEO plan:

  • Detailed scope of work, agreed upon budget, and ongoing deliverables.
  • Audit of current website on-site and off-site with list of opportunities for improvement, and a fulfillment plan.
  • Content strategy and a production schedule to target topics for your most relevant keywords. This strategy should include what content needs to be created, content types (video, infographics, blogs, written content, etc.) and how that content should be approached to match your brands talking points.
  • A reporting dashboard that has been integrated with metrics relating to your defined KPIs.

How do you maintain a relationship with your SEO vendor?

Once your SEO plan is in place and ready for deployment, be sure to set clear expectations for ongoing communication with your partner. Will you be holding meetings on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis?

When it comes time to review your progress reports and deliverables, be sure you ask plenty of questions to ensure that you fully understand what is being presented to you. Your SEO partner should be happy to walk through your reports with you at a pace that is comfortable for you.

Developing and implementing an SEO plan doesn’t have to be hard when you partner with a reputable, well qualified agency. When your SEO goals are achieved, you’ll see the results with more site visitors, leads, and conversions.

 This article is a sample of Ruby’s guide, the lead generation playbook. For more tips on digital marketing—including social media, pay-per-click advertising, content marketing, and more—be sure to check out the full guide.