Have you seen the commercial for CFP (Certified Financial Planners)? If not, the guy is a DJ that gets a haircut and puts on a suit and acts like he is a financial planner. Unfortunately, search engine optimization and online marketing have taken a bad hit from people that are pretending to be something they are not. My hope is this post will show you what to look for in a good or bad company so you can make the right decision for your company.

Tips to help you find the right marketing agency for you.

Making the decision to entrust an agency with your search engine presence is a big step. In past years, SEO has been on a shaky road. We hope this post will help small business owners, who depend on agencies, to help them achieve more visibility in online searches.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. It, basically, means that the domain and website have strong relevance and authority so that it is ranked high by search engines in search results. Search engines depend, primarily, on the website in how they rank a business. Another factor that plays a role in SEO is how many other relevant websites link to the website. These are known as backlinks. In addition, the online reputation of a business and its credibility have a role in searches.

If location is important to you, search engine optimization with a local emphasis (also known as local search), is extremely important. Local search is similar to regular SEO except for the links, content, and the focus is based on the service area of the business whether it be a neighborhood, city, county, or state.

Search engines have become a part of our life. We all use them to find information, products, services, and more. Each search engine wants to provide the best results possible so that its users find what they are looking for. If it didn't, users would quit using them. SEO isn't hard, but it is ever-changing. What works today may hurt you six months from now.

Should you Handle SEO In-house or Hire a Search Engine Optimization Agency?

The first decision to make is whether you should hire an SEO agency or do your own website and search engine optimization.

It is important to understand that most search engine optimization is based on the company's website authority and relevance in their industry. This is proven to the search engines through well thought out, informative articles that can't be found everywhere. When working with an agency it is easy to fall back on them for everything. However, most will not have the education and experience the company has and cant create the necessary higher level of content pieces. This is also a challenge when working with someone in-house and, more often than not, it just becomes too difficult or time-consuming and doesn't get done. This is why it is important to figure out how content will be handled from the beginning.

For companies that do not have the time or the skill to write their own articles, an agency is a great resource to bridge the gap and help out where needed. An agency can:

Conduct interviews
Create an idea/fact list
Conduct video interviews
Complete project write-ups and case studies

This is not a complete list of all that an agency can do. No matter what you choose, whether working in-house or with an agency, getting creative is the key to success.

Weighing the Costs of Search Engine Optimization

Reputable SEO agencies stay on top of changes made by search engines and they stay in front of search trends. Sometimes an employee is given the task of doing SEO for the company, along with their other job responsibilities. This is not a good situation. SEO takes time, knowledge, and skill. If you are going to do your SEO and marketing in-house, then it is best to hire someone to handle it exclusively.

Depending on your finances, it may be out of reach to hire someone full-time. In this case, an agency is a good option, and they will work within your budget.

Working Together to Create a Review Strategy

For an SEO campaign to be successful you will need to incorporate a review strategy. Reviews are the most difficult things to ask for and, very often, people are not compelled to provide a review unless they have had a bad experience. If you do not ask for reviews, then even one bad review can haunt you.

Amazon.com or eBay.com has perfected the concept of getting feedback and reviews. If you have ever ordered from them, you know what I'm talking about.

A review strategy is fairly easy to implement if you make it part of your process from the beginning. Simply ask for a review when you mail an invoice after your services have been provided. You can also send a thank you card or an email after the sale asking the client to provide a review. Don't forget to tell them how to go about leaving the review.

Some agencies will collect reviews for you. Following are a couple of things you will need to watch for:

 Where are the reviews? Some companies collect reviews and keep them on their website. You may be able to add a widget of some kind to allow the reviews to be seen on your website. This is not ideal and you get no search juice from this. We do not recommend going this route.

 How are they collecting the reviews? If you are going to hand your customers and clients to a third party, it is a good idea to know how they are doing it.

 White Hat and Black Hat Methods. Google and other search engines each have their best practice guidelines. Black hat methods go against this. You may see results, however, search engines are smarter than you think. The results will be short-lived and can come with consequences, such as penalties or your domain being blacklisted from the search engine. A penalty can take a lot of time to correct and coming off the blacklist is challenging, at best.

If you look hard enough, you will find the right SEO agency. One that will meet you somewhere in the middle, while you both work towards improving your rankings.

A service we recommend is Get5Stars.com. We've worked with them in the past and trust their methods.

The Interview: Questions to ask before hiring an agency

Search engine optimization has grown in popularity over the last few years. As people saw the opportunity, more and more people have gotten into it.

Not every person who offers SEO services is a pro at it, nor do they ALL know what they are doing. Many SEO groups I am in are people that have taken a weekend class and think they can run an SEO campaign. These people are out there and you do not want to entrust the wrong person with such an important task.

If you do decide to hire an agency, here are a few questions you may ask to lessen the chances of falling for one of the bad apples out there that give SEO a bad rap. Choosing an SEO agency can seem to be a daunting task. The best route is to get a referral from a friend. If not, these basic questions can get you started in the right direction.

 Ask for Referrals. There are two types of search engine optimization: local search optimization, which focuses on the local area, and national search engine optimization. Make sure the SEO agency has appropriate experience in the area(s) you need.

 How do they Rank in their Area? If the company you are considering isn't ranking well in their area, this is a huge red flag that they probably are not a good fit for your company.

 Are they up to date? As I mentioned earlier, search engines are always improving the quality of search results and changing what is acceptable. There is a lot of incorrect and outdated information out there about search engine optimization. If you arent in the industry, it can be hard to know what is accurate. For example, black hat methods used to be acceptable, but that is no longer the case and can cause problems. If the SEO agency you are considering does not stay up-to-date on the acceptable methods, you could face penalties. This must also be considered when you are using someone in-house to run your SEO campaigns.

 What is their link-building strategy? Link building is a crucial part of search engine optimization and when done correctly can be very effective. However, if the SEO agency does not practice good link-building tactics you can find yourself with a bunch of links that will count against you. Removing links is a time-consuming task.

 What is considered a success to the agency? Do they provide reporting to gauge the success of a campaign? Every SEO campaign should have a goal in mind; a mutual understanding of expectations. Reporting helps keep both the goals and the expectation of results in check. The SEO Agency may use Basecamp or Asana as project managers. These programs allow you to keep up with what is being done on your campaign.

 Do they write content for you? How can you monitor what is being posted in your name? Content is one of the most crucial parts of an SEO campaign. If you do not have time to provide content for your blog, make sure the SEO agency you are considering will furnish the necessary articles and content for the campaign. If you do have time to write content, see if they are willing to help optimize your content to meet the goals of the campaign.

If you are already working with an agency and you see things aren't going the way you expected, then it's time to set up a meeting to go over the goals of the campaign.

Warning Signs of a Bad Agency

To be found by search engines running queries, a website needs better optimization. Advertising websites is a necessity these days and this cannot be overlooked. However, that doesn't mean just any old SEO company will do. There are certain rules to be followed in this matter, as well, and it's important to be aware of those rules.

There are thousands of SEO companies out there, and there are certain warning signs, which should be kept in mind before you choose one to work on your website.

1. Unrealistic Claims of Top Rankings FAST. There have always been SEO firms that assure you of getting a top ranking in a short, specific amount of time. Fast is good, right? Unfortunately, the process for improving rankings with SEO takes weeks and months to show significant results. It is not possible to have a significantly higher page rank in just a few days. It takes time to get a proper ranking that will not get you flagged for inappropriate SEO practices, which will yank your page to the bottom if it doesn't get the site banned entirely. Once you get a flag or a ban, it will take even longer to get the results you need and want.

2. Keyword Stuffing. Overusing good keywords invalidates the good that they do for your site. SEO deals with better utilization of keywords and shouldn't involve using them to the detriment of your site. Unnecessary keyword stuffing often looks awkward and unnatural to both the bots and human site visitors. Always look over a potential SEO firm's website to check if they keyword stuff their own website. After all, the kind of practices they use on their own site will be the kind of practice they will likely use on your website.

3. Incredibly Low Pricing. They say You get what you pay for, and, sadly, this is often true in the SEO world. If an SEO company is claiming to charge drastically lower prices and offers free trials, they may not fully understand what they are doing or there are hidden charges that arent immediately obvious. In addition, free trials that give them direct access to your site is like providing your bank account information to a random person who calls your business. Just don't do it!

4. Incredibly High Pricing. On the flip side, though, is an SEO company that is charging higher rates than the industry standards. A higher price is not necessarily an indicator of higher quality. Pricing SEO services too high is another indicator that the company may not really understand what they are doing.

5. Promises to Use Hundreds of . . . This could be promising to submit your site to hundreds of directories or hundreds of search engines or provide thousands of links. Whatever it is, these impressively high numbers should be a big warning sign that something is not quite right. Bigger is not necessarily better in SEO. Relevancy is of significantly more important than quantity.

Of course, many SEO and Internet marketing companies can provide you high quality, effective SEO for a reasonable price, so there is no need to worry that they are all swindlers! They aren't. There are some exceptional SEO agencies out there. To find them, it's important to be aware of what to look for and be prepared to do some research on your own prior to hiring an agency.

SEO companies that are not able to answer or are unwilling to give information regarding how they intend to go about enhancing your rankings do not offer good promises to your business.

Lighthouse Web Design & Marketing is a transparent agency. Our goal is not to make SEO and marketing a mystery we tell you what we are doing and you have the same access we do to reports, tracking, and SEO signals. If you have questions about search engine optimization or how you can grow your business through internet marketing reach out. We will answer any questions you may have. Call us at (405) 753-4114 or request a local website audit today.

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