A Collection Of Frequently Asked Questions (And Answers) About SEO For Newbies
As a digital marketing company that specializes in web design as search engine optimization (SEO), it is very common to receive questions about what SEO is and how it works. Sometimes it seems like a very simple and easy enough thing to do on your own. Yet, if you want to see improvements in your business’s traffic and leads, you need to apply a far more comprehensive approach to SEO than most people can (or want to) do on their own. Here are some of the most common questions people have.
What Is SEO Exactly?
Search engine optimization is an ongoing process that works to improve your website’s visibility in search engine results.
Every business provides solutions to various problems (often multiple solutions). Since most people turn to Google (and sometimes Bing) for answers, SEO helps your website show up as the result whenever people search terms or phrases that are relevant to the solutions you provide.
Through a series of strategies and steps, SEO can help your business prove to the search engines that you are the right company to position on the search engine results page (SERP) – the page you see immediately after you’ve Googled something.
That’s the basic idea. Here’s a bit more of an in-depth look at why it matters.
How SEO Can Help Your Business
Search engines have bots that automatically crawl over a page of a website, determine what the page is about and how valuable it is to various topics, and then file that information away.
When someone goes to the search engine and uses phrases or other information to look for information about the topics listed on your website, your page is positioned on the SERP. The higher up on this page your business is, the more clicks you’ll get.
In a sentence, SEO brings more targeted traffic to your digital front door. These are people who have actively searched to the very solutions that your business provides.
SEO can help your business by:
- Builds your brand recognition, so more people learn about your company
- Gets more people to visit your website
- Enables you to get highly qualified, often ready-to-buy visitors to your site
- Increasing your leads
- Providing an ongoing way to build your business – the work you do with SEO will continue to benefit you for years to come
If you do not invest (time or money) into SEO, it is likely that your competitors will be positioned higher on the SERP than you. Here’s why that matters:
- Most people make a decision about which result to click on within seconds
- Very few people go to the second page
- Your competitors are already working to rank well
- You’ll lose business to them if you’re not incorporating good SEO practices
Some Introductory Information About SEO
To some, it may seem like getting your website to page one of the search results seems like a simple thing. It’s anything but simple.
Google will tell you that there are over 200 ranking factors that they consider when reviewing a website. The reality is that there are far more than 200 and only Google engineers really know how many ranking factors there actually are.
When considering all these ranking factors, it’s also important to know that each one of the factors has what’s essentially a weighted factor, so not all ranking factors are of equal value. Some are far more important, albeit it essential, while others- not so much.
Understanding which ranking factors are the most important is a factor of research, education, and keeping your head around the latest trends and updates.
The reality is that SEO is like putting a 10,000-piece puzzle together. The company that puts the most factors together is far more likely to win a spot on page one,
To add to the complexity, there are multiple algorithms working at any given time which get updated over 1000 times a year. These updates are usually announced although when they are, you can bet that it’s important to pay attention because of how it may affect the visibility of your site.
If your head is swimming after this, you’re not alone. There are times when even the most experienced SEO nerds have to step back and reevaluate what needs to be done.
Search engine optimization used to be something that was once far more simple, but because so many people have tried to game the system, the search engines have had to complicate things in order to consistently provide the best results. Or, at least, that’s what the people at Google will tell you.
Three Main Parts Of SEO
Most people don’t realize this, but there are three main parts to search engine optimization for any website in any industry. These components are:
Think of your website as an airplane. To fly, the plane needs to be aerodynamically sound. If there are holes in the wings or parts hanging off producing drag, it can affect the way the plane flies all the way to prevent it from ever getting off the ground.
The same is true with a website. If there are technical problems such as slow page load speed, broken links, missing pages (404 errors), etc., this can negatively impact your site’s ability to make it to page one of the search results.
On-page work involves all the things you can do directly on your site to help improve your rankings. This includes things like having proper keyword research, using these terms in your page titles and appropriately in your content, creating internal linking strategies that make sense, optimizing your images, and many other things.
This is the part of SEO that can be compared to a popularity contest. If sites of higher authority link to your site, it can help elevate your site in the rankings. These are called backlinks and they are an important part of off-page optimization.
Questions About SEO
While SEO has become more complex over the years, we still get a lot of the same valid questions
Here are some of the most common that our digital marketing company gets.
How Much Does It Cost?
There’s no simple answer to this because it depends upon several factors such as the competitiveness of your industry and how big a geographical area you want to “rank” for (ranking refers to being seen on page one of the search results).
For example, it’s easier to rank a company in Buford Georgia, than it is to rank them in every city in Gwinnett County or Atlanta or Georgia or the Southeast or the entire country. Essentially, the bigger the geographic area you want to rank for, the more work that it involves and the more it will cost.
For years, we’ve seen companies advertising SEO for $99/month all the way up to $10,000/month or more.
That being said, there have been several reputable companies out there who have researched SEO pricing, and the national average for local SEO is around $1000 a month whereas national SEO (getting your site on page one across the country) costs more like $2500-$3500 depending again on the competitiveness of the industry.
We’d suggest you ask a lot of questions when interviewing a company to do SEO work for you because the companies that charge less than the national average are likely cutting corners which means they probably won’t get you the results you’re hoping for much less in a timely manner.
How Long Does It Really Take?
This is one of the most popular questions we get and for good reason. No one wants to pay for services that essentially aren’t yielding a return on the investment.
Unfortunately, the answer is the obligatory, “it depends.”
This goes back to two real factors: the competitiveness of the industry and how aggressive the SEO company is in its strategy.
Regarding the issue of competitiveness, all of the divorce attorneys you see on page one in Atlanta are paying someone for SEO. This means, as an SEO professional, you’re really just trying to beat out the other lawyer’s SEO nerds. Other competitive industries would include weight loss, realtors, HVAC companies, roofers, etc. We’re not saying you can’t win a spot on page one in these industries, but it takes a lot more than other industries.
As for how aggressive the SEO company is, there are plenty of companies out there who don’t talk about this but they’ll put limits on the amount of work they’ll do for you such as 1 landing page and 1 blog post a month for your monthly fee. Unless you’re in whatever the least competitive industry on the planet, this level of work won’t get your site ranked in a few years.
The standard answer to the question “How long will it take?” is “3 to 6 months”, but the reality is that we’ve had sites rank as soon as the second week of going live, and some that took much longer. The “3 to 6 month” answer is really all about setting expectations when the honest answer is that it depends upon how aggressive you’re planning on being and how competitive the industry is.
There is no doubt that SEO is a marathon and not a sprint in most cases. It’s important to remember that going in.
If any company promises instant results, they are not being honest with you and will be unable to create the results they are promising – no matter what they are saying.
How Much Work Is Really Involved in SEO?
The short answer is “you have NO idea” and “A LOT!!”
Far and away, the heaviest part of SEO is making sure that the content on the site is really good. Google has made it clear that they want to put the best sites on page one and while that involves good technical SEO, it really is about high-quality content.
Ultimately, good SEO involves getting into the mind of the client’s target market and creating content that makes the most sense for the person searching for whatever that company does.
While it all begins with appropriate keyword research, it’s important to build your content around that research as well as learn how to use the most relevant terms and phrases in the page titles, headings and links.
At Make It Loud, we have a list of standard things we do for on-page optimization whenever we begin a project and we track the rankings from day one since that’s one important metric.
At times, strong SEO will involve trying new tactics to see how they affect the rankings positively or negatively and making adjustments from there.
Of course, it’s important to not only use strong SEO tools like SEM Rush or Ahrefs to help assess and diagnose issues as well as track the site’s rankings in the search results, but it’s important to use tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to gather appropriate data on the site’s performance. This data is vital to helping you understand what’s working and what’s not so that you can adjust accordingly.
The work involves knowing what to do, what to try, what to measure, and how to adjust based on the information you receive. There are simply no shortcuts available.
Does SEO Really Work?
It is a common and valid question, but yes, SEO works to help websites rank higher in the search results and bring in more targeted traffic.
But, can we say that SEO “works” for every company? Not by a long shot. The math has to work. For example, if your average customer only brings in $50, but you’re paying $1000 a month for SEO, you have to convert 20 clients a month for SEO to break even. We would encourage you to look at the math before investing in SEO depending on your business.
A situation where SEO won’t work is when the business already has an outdated, obsolete, or just plain ugly website. Even assuming that we could get a bad website on the first page of Google, it’s unlikely that visitors would become customers which means the SEO dollars are being wasted. It’s important to understand that a bad website just moves your prospective customers on to your competition.
It’s for this reason that we’ve given feedback to many potential SEO clients that they shouldn’t pay anyone for SEO until they invest in a better website first.
How Do I Know SEO Is Working?
The short answer is when SEO is paying for itself and then some.
All marketing is a trip to Vegas. It’s all a gamble, but the difference is that reputable SEO companies work hard to get the proper results so that you’ll continue to pay them. There is no secret to this. It’s all about statistics.
The more targeted traffic SEO brings to your site, the more likely they are to contact you or hire you for your services which means they will continue paying for SEO services.
That being said, it’s important to establish key performance indicators for SEO which would always start with the question “is it bringing you more customers?”
Other KPIs could be rankings or visibility, traffic, conversions, etc.
A company that doesn’t give you data that you can easily see is not worth working with.
Is All SEO The Same?
Not even close. In fact, we’re the first to tell you that there are some real charlatans out there.
When SEO first became a thing, it seemed that people were coming out of the woodwork selling SEO services. Many would try to baffle you with jargon and terms that most people don’t understand and when you asked for an explanation, they’d give you a condescending answer equivalent to “you wouldn’t understand”. Never work with anyone that tries to impress you with jargon or talks down to you.
It’s important to understand that all the jargon they might throw at you is all part of that 10,000-piece puzzle, some of the pieces are easier to do but most of the time, the easy stuff doesn’t move your site up the rankings.
While SEO is highly technical, so is medicine, yet doctors and other healthcare professionals manage to explain what they do in simple terms. SEO is no different. Never take any crap from an SEO nerd.
Again, we’re an aggressive SEO company in that we work hard to do all we can to get your site ranked well as quickly as we possibly can- as if it’s our business. Not all companies are like that nor can they afford to be. Some of the bigger companies can only afford to give your site limited time and attention which means it’ll take a lot longer to get results.
How is Google Adwords Different From SEO?
These are two different ways to get your site seen on page one of the search results. While both rely upon keyword research, Google Adwords or Pay Per Click (PPC) is like SEO combined with an auction.
You select your most relevant keywords with PPC and bid on them by setting a monthly/daily budget to spend on your campaign. You then create ads around each keyword group and once your campaign is ready, you go live and your ads will get shown whenever someone searches for your keywords.
With PPC, your ad is what is seen on page one whereas, with SEO, it’s a URL or page on your site that is listed in the search results. You should also know that generally speaking, more people click on the links in the SEO section than they do the ads.
An Adwords campaign is the fastest possible way to get your business seen on the first page of Google, but just because your ad is seen doesn’t mean that it’ll get clicked on. Once you get the click, the cost of that keyword is deducted from your budget.
People used to think that PPC was “an SEO tax”, but Google has made it clear that they are completely independent of each other. That being said, when someone clicks on your ad, they are taken to a page on your site and the more visitors your site gets, the more Google sees your site as relevant and more worthy of page one, so it’s hard to say there isn’t any correlation there at all.
We see a lot of companies who start their marketing with Google Adwords campaigns while their SEO is ramping up, but again, the math has to work for that to be effective. We’re happy to discuss if this strategy makes sense for your business.
We hope these FAQs have been helpful. Please know that it’s our intention to always be helpful to anyone that reaches out to us. If you have questions we haven’t covered here or our answers have sparked other questions, feel free to reach out to us and we’ll be happy to clarify further to the best of our ability. We’ve been doing SEO for more than 13 years now, so we’ve definitely learned a thing or two since we started.
Cliff Tillery, MBA is the Chief Operating Officer at Make It Loud which is a digital marketing firm located outside of Atlanta Georgia. He is also the Director of SEO. More than 14 years ago, he started search engine optimization at this agency and has taught digital marketing skills to business owners at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, the Gwinnett Entrepreneur Center and other groups.