If you want to grow your business, great search engine optimization (SEO) is a must: Recent survey data found that 53 percent of all trackable website traffic originated from organic search, which means that if you want to get noticed, you need to show up at the top of search rankings.
The challenge? Many small businesses don’t have the time, skills or expertise necessary to handle everything that comes with a solid SEO strategy. From keyword research to content evaluation, from page optimization to internal linking, it’s easy for companies to end up with a generic web presence that doesn’t inspire engagement or drive conversions.
The result? It’s worth considering an SEO consultant or agency to help manage this process and maximize your impact. In this piece, we’ll tackle key outsourcing operations, including how it can benefit your business — and why SEO can’t be entirely outsourced. Then, we’ll break down top SEO pitfalls and offer actionable advice to find an SEO agency that best fits your brand.
Why Outsourcing SEO Can Be a Good Idea
Designing an effective SEO strategy isn’t a simple task. Companies have to consider how search engines are evaluating content, what aspects of SEO offer the most impact, and where they could change their current content to better align with search engine expectations.
This is especially critical as search engines like Google continually refine their ranking process. For example, page loading speed is now a factor in search result rankings. In practice, this expands the role of SEO; it’s not enough to simply weave in popular keywords and deliver high-quality content. Brands also need to consider the entire user experience.
As a result, it’s often worth outsourcing SEO services to ensure that your digital presence is generating maximum impact and capturing the highest volume of prospective customers. In much the same way that companies outsource their marketing efforts to experts, outsourcing SEO provides a way for brands to identify key strategic goals and then leave the complex process of meeting those goals to industry experts.
For small businesses and entrepreneurs, outsourcing offers the big benefit of time: Instead of learning about the ins and outs of SEO, testing new strategies, and refining results, business owners and managers can focus on customer conversions, product improvements, and new ideas.
Why Your Business Can’t Fully Outsource SEO
While it’s possible to outsource much of your SEO strategy to an agency or consultant, there are aspects of the process that still rest within your business. These include:
Although an SEO expert can help pinpoint specific keywords of opportunity, you’re often the authority on the core keywords that define your business and operations. You know that if you stray too far from these keywords, your brand simply won’t be the same — and customers that do end up on your site may be there looking for something else. As a result, you always have a role to play in choosing ideal keywords.
The content on your site is unique to your brand. And while SEO agencies have gotten much better at creating targeted content designed to attract your market, there are some aspects of your onsite content — such as information about the history and mission of your business — that you’re best-suited to create and manage.
No matter how good your SEO provider may be, they can’t replicate the relationships you have with other businesses, suppliers and partners. This means that while they’re able to provide strategy for your SEO framework, you provide the connective tissue that makes it possible for your content to be posted (and reposted) across your industry network.
Your Brand Perspective
The unique nature of your brand perspective is what’s taken you this far — and it’s what will continue to drive your growth. Even the best SEO agency can’t be in your head; they don’t know what your brand means to you or how you want to communicate your message to the world. As a result, outsourcing SEO is ideal for laying a foundation for conversion and revenue, but it only works when paired with your perspective.
Your Growth Strategy
While you provide general goals to your SEO agency — such as increasing your rankings for a specific keyword by X amount or boosting total website visits — you’re still responsible for your overall growth strategy. Where do you want to be in a month? A year? Five? And how can your SEO partner help you get there?
Five Common Pitfalls to Avoid in SEO
Every business is different, but the principles of SEO remain the same: Rank higher in search engines for popular keywords to drive more traffic to your site. The challenge? Reaching this goal isn’t easy, leading some brands and SEO agencies to make potentially costly mistakes. Here are the top five pitfalls to avoid.
If there’s a cardinal rule of modern SEO it’s this: Don’t keyword stuff.
Stuffing is the practice of adding the same keyword over and over to your content with the intention of ranking higher. The problem? Search engines are now smart enough to detect this practice and will down-rank your site if keyword stuffing is detected. Generally speaking, one instance of your primary keyword per piece of content is enough to get noticed.
Next up is duplicate content. While more content on your site with keywords can help you rank higher, simply copying and pasting content — or slightly changing content to include a new keyword — lowers the overall value of your site and in turn your ranking.
Put simply? New content is always better than old.
Backlinks can help increase the relevance and authority of your content — but only if they link to high-quality sites. If your content links out to sites that are continually keyword stuffing or don’t receive many visitor views, you won’t enjoy a bump in search rankings. In fact, links to these sites may hurt your overall standing.
Images help capture user interest, but it’s not enough to simply put pictures on your site: You also need to ensure they’re optimized.
This starts with the image itself. Make sure it’s relevant and easy to understand. For example, if you run a construction company, use an image that’s related to the services that you offer and that’s high enough quality that users can immediately tell what it is. If the image is low-resolution or confusing, users won’t bother sticking around.
It’s also a good idea to look at the size of your images. Here’s why: The more images you have on your site, the slower it loads. Optimizing images for size (without losing quality) can help improve the user experience and your search rankings.
Muddled Meta Descriptions
Meta descriptions are snippets of text that offer a quick description of content on a specific page. Here, clear and concise descriptions are critical. Muddled or vague meta descriptions make it easy for users to overlook your site. Ideally, you want to use your primary keyword and provide a quick overview of the page in question so users know what they’re getting into.
How to Hire the Right SEO Consultant or Agency
- Ask them: What makes you different?
- Ask them: What’s your process?
- Ask them: What are your tools?
- Ask them: How long will results take?
- Ask them: What are your metrics?
- Ask them: How often do you report data?
- Ask them: Who have you helped?
Simply put? Ask questions. Not sure which ones to ask? We’ve got you covered.
Let’s explore each question in more detail.
1. What makes you different?
While the process of SEO is fairly straightforward, approaches differ significantly. Some companies rely solely on specific metrics, while others opt for a more organic approach or a more middle-ground stance. As a result, it’s worth asking agencies and consultants what sets them apart from the competition — what can they offer to boost your rankings and drive traffic?
Quick tip: Listen to what they say and then fact-check it against their own site’s SEO rankings. If they don’t show up near the top of their page for their own targeted keyword, consider looking elsewhere for help.
2. What’s your process?
Your prospective partners should be able to lay out their process in a way that’s clear, concise, and understandable. If you find yourself on the receiving end of too many buzzwords or big promises with no underlying proof, other choices may be a better fit.
3. What are your tools?
From the HubSpot Website Grader to Ahrefs, from SEMRush to Moz Pro, there are a host of SEO tools available. Many agencies will also have their own proprietary tools they use alongside these popular offerings — look for a provider willing to specify what tools they use, why, and how.
4. How long will results take?
Beware any company that promises instant results. SEO rankings don’t increase until search engine “spiders” have crawled the web to assess site changes and their impact. Generally speaking, substantive results start showing up around the 4-to-6 month mark.
5. What are your metrics?
Metrics matter in SEO. These include new referring domains, text readability, keyword rankings, organic search volumes, lead conversions, bounce rate, and click-through rate. All are relevant depending on their context and all measure different aspects of SEO impact. Always ask your potential provider what metrics they use and why, and ask for an explanation of how they impact results.
6. How often do you report data?
Data reporting is key to tracking SEO success. Some companies report results weekly; for others, this frequency is every other week or even monthly. Here, go with whatever you’re comfortable with — while longer reporting periods may show more change, they may also miss key indicators that strategies aren’t working or need to be adjusted.
7. Who have you helped?
Finally, ask for references. If your prospective SEO provider is as good as they say they are, they should have data that shows how they’ve boosted the impact of other brands. If they’re short on specific data and big on promises, tread carefully.
Solving for SEO
A solid SEO strategy can help your brand rank higher in search engine results and drive more traffic to your business. Outsourcing is a great way to jumpstart this process — the right agency can give you the advantage when it comes to getting noticed and capturing customer interest.
But outsourcing alone isn’t enough. Your brand perspective is critical to drive success and avoid common pitfalls. Not sure where to get started learning SEO? HubSpot has you covered.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2008 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.