Year over year, Why So Long? Impatience with SEO is understandable. Users of traditional advertising (radio, print, television) became accustomed to putting up an ad or commercial and watching the responses roll in immediately. Unlike traditional channels and even some digital ones (Facebook and email marketing), however, SEO doesn’t throw itself in front of an audience. For the most part, it patiently waits for the audience to express interest before connecting. Its power derives from the very fact that the consumer sought out the solution themselves. Audiences express interest every day in every way by searching for answers to their questions via Google, YouTube, Bing and more. Figuring out how to be the answer for the consumer with the most money, the most drive to buy (intent) takes some behind the scene finagling. The First Three Months: Discovery and Preparation You wouldn’t want a doctor to prescribe medication without asking about your diet, exercise habits, other meds and where you’ve traveled in the past three months. Similarly, the ethical agency performs a “discovery,” where they analyze your business, marketing efforts, competitors, website, social channels and more. The discovery process takes time Agencies not only perform a website audit, but explore the business’s position in the market and the overall industry. This critical research amounts to many hours of work. A key aspect of the audit involves exploring how well the website meets search engine optimization standards. Behind the website’s colorful pages and conversion forms lay thousands of lines of code. A SEO agency first must make sure this code is built according to Google preferences. If not, it must be fixed. What needs to be fixed will go into the baseline report the client can review. Website repair – Websites need repair so often because a business’s first website tends to have been created by either an amateur (a techie neighbor or relative), a web development company that was just getting off the ground or an inexperienced on-site team. The Internet revolution came pretty quickly and website design agencies were starting from nothing, learning as they went along. Even in house teams were scrambling to learn the latest and greatest strategies for coding websites in the manner in which Google preferred. Google – Then, Google kept changing the rules. Even if these well-meaning developers were excellent at their craft, the guidelines have changed dramatically in just the past three years. A professional SEO team at an agency with years of experience and a solid track record has expertise in the most recent technical requirements for the creation of Google-pleasing websites. Market position – The second part of the discovery process involves understanding the business’s position in the market. Agencies research competitors and how thoroughly they have colonized certain niches of an overall market. The agency has the best chance to rank the business in a niche that isn’t as saturated, where consumers are underserved. Once the new company gets a foothold there, the agency can attempt to invade already claimed areas, too. Like every doctor’s patient, each website needs custom treatment depending on how complete their SEO is, how many backlinks they’ve accrued, the quality of the content and a number of other factors. Performing all of this research, preparing the audit and the marketing plan will take at least one month. Content is King Technical specialists begin to roll out the technical upgrades during the second month of the client and agency relationship. Successful SEO depends on more than technical aspects. If you’ve heard the saying, “content is king,” you know that content has become a critical aspect of robust search engine optimization. Why? A few years ago, Google recognized that people had begun writing seven and more words into the search bar. Rather than typing, “cooking supplies San Diego,” more consumers got specific by typing (or saying), “get silicone spatulas and spoons Mission Valley.” Long tail Keywords Where once, search specialists advised website owners to put general category names or keywords on their web pages, today the more effective strategy involves using longer phrases that incorporate natural language. These are known as “long-tail” keywords. Each of these specific phrases draws a lower number of visitors, but they deliver consumers who are sincerely interested in specific, individual products and services. More, an additional number of pages (each individually optimized for one long-tail keyword) in aggregate bring nearly the same amount visitors. As mentioned above, Google is in the information-delivery and question-answering business. It strives to deliver the best and most complete answer to an infinite number of increasingly specific questions and directives. Blogging One of the best ways to provide specific, useful answers is via “content,” also known as blog posts, articles, white papers or news. Even product pages can have enough content to attract new customers. It’s now, in month two, that as the techie web developers are fixing up the website’s code, the strategists and writers and joining forces to come up with the blog post or even service page titles that will deliver up the answers consumers seek. Once the content is strategized, writers create enticing titles. Maintenance By the third month, the technical aspects should be mostly upgraded, but since links can break and plugins fall out of date, constant maintenance is required. Content writers will have delivered posts to the client for approval. This content will then be posted on the website and broadcast through social media (another SEO ranking factor) by the agency. It’s at this point, ninety days in, that a few new leads should start coming in. Months Four Through Six At this point, the agency and the business BEGINS to determine which content gets the most engagement and which sends customers back to the website where offers live. By collecting information on the company’s ideal audience in this way, the agency is able to fine tune marketing tactics. Writers mimic the better performing blog posts and social updates, hopefully bringing more ideal clients to conversion point. Technical and content optimization continues throughout the trimester. Backlinks It’s typically at this point that those who performed the website audit start focusing on the “backlinks” or the links from other sites. Google and other search engines put the number and quality of links from other sites at the top of their list of most important ranking factors. Backlinks indicate that other website owners respect a page or post enough to refer to it on their site. The more quality backlinks the website has, the higher Google ranks it: the Internet audience has spoken, after all. The agency or the business owner takes action to get low quality websites to remove their links referring to the website. Social Media With a smoothly coded website, robust content and some muscular backlinks, the website is now ready to be presented to the public via social media. The initial marketing plan will incorporate the most appropriate social media channels. With Millennials (those in teens, twenties) crowding Instagram, businesses targeting this population have their best opportunities there. B2B business get the most traction on LinkedIn and the whole world is on Facebook. The social channel is a great place to post a link to the blog post that lives on your website. Not only does this bring people back to the website, it acts as a backlink from an authority site that search engines like. Social media enables businesses to build their own backlinks. Turn traffic into customers By the end of the sixth month, if consistent traffic has risen, the agency will most likely focus on turning as much incoming traffic as possible into paying customers. Changing colors, calls to action, buttons, graphics, offers and more can make a significant difference in a website visitor’s willingness to “convert” or take an action such as buying, calling, signing up as a newsletter subscriber. Making these changes is called “conversion optimization.” The agency may even “split-test” two versions of a page, a color or an offer. Technology exists to determine which of two options will get the best response. Month Six Onward With the bulk of the initial work done, the agency and client keep moving forward with continued efforts. By month six, results should be better than when the process started. Still, the best results, given consistent efforts, don’t arrive until the one-year mark. Maintaining improved traffic, leads and sales requires constant content creation, website monitoring via analytics and continuous refining of marketing tactics. Avoid These Common SEO Mistakes If you’ve been in business for any time, chances are you’ve gotten calls from agencies locally and overseas asking whether you want to make it to the first page of Google. They eagerly assert that they will get you new clients immediately. Unethical agencies promising immediate results make it difficult for responsible agencies to explain that SEO takes time. In the past decade thousands of fly-by-night agencies have risen and failed, taking client money with them. If you’re considering an agency, always research it through the Better Business Bureau, Hoovers.com and even social media channels. Those who have invested in search engine optimization can get frustrated with it three to six months in. This is when they typically call another agency explaining they aren’t getting results. The unethical agency will encourage a client to switch to them. Moving in the middle of a carefully crafted campaign will undo the background research and emerging results generated by the original agency, resulting in total waste of investment. Avoid the temptation to rip up the budding daisy before it blooms. Images: “A manager is holding a cloud with the SEO cloud. / Shutterstock.com“ ________________________________________________________________________________ Tweak Your Biz is a thought leader global publication and online business community. Today, it is part of the Small Biz Trends stable of websites and receives over 300,000 unique views per month. 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