The subject of SEO seems to cause as much confusion today as ever, and many people are still asking the question, what do SEO companies really do?
The Two Kinds of SEO Companies
SEO companies fall into two broad categories, cheap and cheerful snake-oil types and hard-working realists. I know the whole "snake-oil" thing is somewhat old hat but if the hat fits, wear it.
The bad guys make spurious claims about having insider information and some secret sauce that dupes Google. The hard-working realists often start with something along the lines of "are you sure you want to do this?" because it's usually a hard slog. It's also the case that the snake-oil brigade are typically cheap and the hard-working realists are not.
However, I realise that merely stating there are good guys and bad guys isn't that helpful when considering what SEO companies do. So, I'll expand on the fundamental premise to help you better understand what decent SEO companies really do.
Mind Your Language
In the world of SEO, it's likely the bad guys will contact you directly via email or phone to tell you how badly your website's been set up. They'll let you know it's full of errors preventing it from ranking on page one of Google, and they'll probably sprinkle in some confusing jargon to show you how clever they are.
Their stock in trade is to show you how much they care about your poor website performance, and how for not very much money they can transform your fortunes.
The critical thing to remember is this, good SEO companies rarely if ever do outreach, they don't need to. They practice what they preach; they attract enquiries from, you know, search engines, using, you know, search engine optimisation.
So assuming we can discount the majority of so-called SEO companies as bogus, what do good SEO companies really do?
It's More Business Consultancy Than HTML
SEO is a blend of science and art. It's a creative endeavour informed by data that leans on technology. Wait, what does that mean?
Let me explain. This blog post is a creative endeavour; it's a piece of, hopefully, entertaining and informative writing that's going to be found by people carrying out a specific search. The particular search term it's hoping to be found for was chosen thanks to some data suggesting it's a popular term worth chasing. Finally, it will lean on technology for its presentation both visually, for people, and structurally, for the search engines.
Put another way; this blog post has been created based on data and presented in a way the search engines will favour.
So although SEO is a technical discipline and getting the tech right is necessary, it's a lot more than that.
In fact, pages that are technically not that great can rank well in search and bring in traffic and business. I'm not suggesting the technical stuff should be ignored, far from it, I'm merely pointing out these pages can still perform well.
How SEO Companies Start The Process
Good SEO companies are easy to spot because of something they do. All good SEO companies do an initial deep dive into your business. Your initial conversations will be about what your business does, its history, its competitors and its direction of travel. An understanding of where you've been and where you'd like to go will inform everything that happens next.
This phase of work informs the strategy and the actions required to deliver it. It will feel like a business consultancy engagement rather than a chat with some geeks who speak a different language to you. You will probably find it both surprising and refreshing, but you should never find it confusing.
So, the first answer to the question, what do SEO companies actually do is, they find out about your business.
Everyone Is A Potential Customer, Right? Wrong!
Once the SEO company are informed about your business, they're going to want to know about your customers, knowing who buys what you sell and why is critical to SEO success.
By understanding who your ideal customers are, savvy search gurus can figure out the problems they have that you solve and what they search for when looking for solutions.
Let me explain it another way.
Real success with SEO isn't measured simply by improved search rankings and good scores from automated web page checking tools. Success is measured by an increase in enquiries and business won that's directly attributable to a Google search. A person went to Google to solve a problem, searched, clicked on a link to your website and became a customer.
That, in a nutshell, is what SEO companies do. They learn about your business, they learn about your ideal customers, and they make sure your business gets found by the right people at the right time. It's less about geeky stuff and more about business.
A Pretty Face Helps
OK, I'm not suggesting only good looking people generate business from Google. Neither am I suggesting that Google's systems favour beautiful websites. But a great website is going to convert more visitors into customer. This means another aspect of a good SEO's workload will be making your website the very best it can be within your budget.
In a recent blog post, I wrote about the importance of creating websites for people and not Google. In that post, I write about a company who put all their effort into improving rankings but ignored the user experience. The result was a website with significant traffic but poor revenue generation.
When people visited the site from search, they were hit with a wall of text. It was too much, it was confusing, it was horrible.
There You Have It
So there it is. You now know what SEO companies really do. They are less about meta's and headers and more about making your website an asset that gets found by your ideal customers and goes on to convince them to contact you.
It's not geeky; it's not hard to understand, and working with a good SEO partner will be enjoyable and enlightening.