SEO is an entire discipline within marketing, there are more than just a few rankings factors. In fact, there are so many that every year, Search Engine Land makes a periodic table of SEO to outline the weighting and influence of the most important ones. This guide is designed to help you quickly understand the different approaches to SEO so you can improve your understanding before you contact an SEO Agency. What are the different types of SEO? SEO is usually split into categories of on page, off page and technical and non-technical but no matter what your goals are, you’re probably going to need a little bit of each specialty. How much of each depends on what you want to achieve from SEO and the current condition of your site. SEO is kind of like a race or a competition to rank higher than your competitors for a target keyword. In simple terms you only need your site to perform slightly better than your competitors and you will win the rank. I hope that simplifies it: What you will need to achieve your goals in SEO will depend entirely on what the people you are competing with already have and are doing. There is no one size fits all in SEO and there is not a single solution. A good SEO professional analyses your competitors and tells you what your site needs to compete with them. Here are a few examples of my work to show you what I mean by different approaches. Bad technical condition with a top rank I provided SEO for for a language school. Their site had a poor technical score (under 50%) but we still got it ranking #1 for “Spanish classes + target location” without doing any tech work. We focussed on content and site authority. The brand’s competitors also had a poor technical score, but they had a lot of backlinks and content. We competed on their field. A site that climbed up the rankings thanks to an improved technical score This is a well-known venue in London. It already had such an incredible backlink profile, an impressive domain authority and loads of well-written content, but from an SEO perspective the site required improvement and it suffered from bad UX. We launched a new website, the new site was perfect from a tech SEO perspective. It launched with a little bit of movement in rankings (usual with a new site). It had an SEO friendly launch strategy, so it maintained its history. Once it established, it had better rank then the old site, despite no pro-active SEO taking place after launch. In our opinion just the technical condition and UX did this because they already had good SEO signals in other areas, as did their competitors. The difference was their competitors had sites that followed SEO best practice and had a similar authority. A business that grew by ranking well in image results This clever wedding supplier knew that the best stage of the customer journey for them to sell their services was during the early stage of research. They knew they had to get noticed when brides and grooms were looking for wedding inspiration, but have you seen how much the big media outlets spend on maintaining those wedding inspiration ranks? People don’t try as hard for image ranks but they’re just as popular for inspiration searches and a lower rank (e.g., 24) in images still means you’re on page one of the search results. This client didn’t have to spend loads on SEO or compete with well-established ranking websites, it found a gap that was less competitive and just as successful. Be realistic with your SEO goals Everyone wants a page one rank for the highest volume keyword but not everyone has the budget to achieve it. I’ve worked with a lot of SMEs in my career, and I’ve spent some of my time explaining why they can’t compete for the same keywords as Microsoft or Amazon. For small to medium companies need to find the place they can stand out within their budget, instead of trying to find budgets to match the big companies. If you come across an SEO professional or agency that says you can win ranks from large companies (without similar budgets) make sure you ask how they are going to do it and hold them accountable. It’s very easy to over promise and under deliver. If you’re in a similar position it’ll help to ask yourself these questions What keywords do your potential customers search at the different stages of the customer journey? Are there any keywords at different stages of the customer journey that are less competitive but offer a reasonable volume of qualified searches every month? Like my wedding supplies client, you may find a broad keyword demonstrating a purchase intent like “Wedding supplies” too difficult but you could find an opportunity to stand out higher up the funnel on a less competitive but equally as qualified keyword such as “how much do wedding invitations cost?”. What search verticals are most suitable for my business The “All” rankings are the most competitive but not always the best for everyone, you may find better opportunities more suited to your products and services in the image, video, map or shopping search verticals. Know your limitations I mentioned it’s important to know your budget limitations, but you also need to know the limitations for your site and business type. A lot of location searches will serve directories first in all rankings. The reason they do is because search engines want to solve the query within as little searches as possible. If your query is broad (e.g., “restaurants in New York”) search engines will serve directories or “top lists” because they offer a broad selection of options and consequently are more likely answer a broad query in one search. If you are not a directory or “top list” you should bear this in mind when planning your SEO strategy. Put simply: Don’t chose battles you can’t win, you will only waste money trying. Look out for the ones you can win that also add value to your business. How should I approach an SEO agency? You should approach an SEO Agency with your actual business goals and never the ranks you want. You should tell your agency you want to increase your sales from organic traffic by xx% within an agreed time frame. By looking at your site analytics and performing a bit of research they will be able to tell you the increase in traffic you will need to achieve your sales targets, the search positions you will need to achieve the traffic increase and the cost to get those search positions. If you want to know how a marketing agencies costs compare to other agencies, ask them their average hourly rate of delivery for the past twelve months. Most marketing agencies will tell you they work on fixed fees for projects but an agency with a calculator can tell you how much that equates to per hour and from that you can see a comparison on cost per hour delivered. I recommend doing this before you ask them to make you a plan or quote, by doing it before you can quickly rule out agencies that are too expensive or so cheap you don’t believe they can do what they claim. You’ll end up with a short list of agencies within budget, so you’ll be making your final decision based on their proposals and plans and not your bank balance. To ensure you seem in the know when you contact a marketing agency it’s useful to consider the sorts of keywords and search verticals you think you should rank on, your agency should advise on this though, but it can’t hurt to show them you know what you’re talking about when it comes to SEO. What can you expect from an SEO agency when you ask for a quote? If they’re doing their job properly, they should work back from your business growth targets to determine how they are going to acquire the traffic required to reach those targets. Once they know that it’s a matter of performing competitor analysis to determine the type of SEO your site needs to compete, and therefore the cost.