advantages of outsourcing certain marketing tasks. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of those projects that I believe is best handled by the experts. Although there are a few things that I think can be done in house, I still believe that an experienced SEO provider adds tremendous value. They are going to best understand the changing landscape of writing copy that the search engines look for.A few weeks ago I wrote a series of posts on the
I am not an SEO expert, I am a general practitioner in marketing. But, I have had opportunities to work with SEO experts on many levels. The problem, in my estimation, is that SEO vendors are experts in their field, but they are not usually experts in customer messaging. They have writers on staff that they insist can write pages that will bring people to your site – and they can if you work with them to select the right keywords.
However, bringing people to the site is only half the battle. Once you get them there, you want to keep them there long enough to add value. Ideally, you want to move them to the next step in the sales process.
To keep them on the site, add value, and move them through the process, you need to have content that provides them with the information they are looking for. It’s what Gerry McGovern, author of Killer Web Content, calls “customer care words.” According to Gerry, these are not necessarily the same words that a customer will use to search for your product. But, they are the words that will resonate with the customer once they get there. SEO experts may be great at bringing customers to your site, but they don’t always know how to keep them there.
Much of your experience with any vendor is going to hinge on selecting the vendor that will work best for your project. This is truer than ever when it comes to SEO vendor selection. I hope, by sharing my experiences, you can avoid some of the pitfalls that I’ve experienced.
In the past, I developed a shortlist of vendors through recommendations from others. Then I selected my vendor by judging their expertise in SEO as well as my feel for how well I thought they would work with my team. If you read my posts on outsourcing marketing functions you know that I choose vendors that I think are willing to work closely with my team and to let us learn from them.
I highly recommend looking for vendors that have experience in your industry – or at least as close as possible. Continue to ask for recommendations from people you trust and shortlist only vendors that can show results from past projects. But, try to find vendors that have at least some understanding of your business and the prospects you are targeting. You may not be able to ask for much, but a passing familiarity would be nice.
This need for an SEO vendor with experience in my industry was clear in a recent SEO project that I oversaw. The keyword selection process, which should be fairly quick and could probably be done in-house with the right tools, took weeks. It was round after round of the SEO team presenting keywords to us that were vaguely related our description of the business and our key messages.
We explained that many of the keywords they presented had nothing to do with our industry. We would suggest more suitable ones. They’d go back, run our words and some new ones of their own through their keywords stats tools (most of which are widely available), and come back with a new list. This list would be closer but still off the mark. We would make our adjustments and then send them back to the drawing board. As I recall, the team went through the keyword selection process at least five times. I think we could have done it ourselves in an afternoon with access to the right tools and a little knowledge of keyword theory.
By this time, you may be wondering why I didn’t fire the vendor. There were a couple reasons. First, they were trying. This, in and of itself is obviously not enough, but had they not been giving it their all I would have kicked them out immediately. The second, and more important reason, was that they really did know SEO. They were doing the mechanics correctly and in a far more sophisticated way than my team could with the knowledge we had at the time. We were learning a lot from them so I pressed on.
We finally got past the keyword stage and were on to building the pages. These are the pages where the prospect will land if they click on the link that comes up when they do a search. Since we had an established website this vendor created new pages that sat in parallel with our existing pages. Admittedly, this was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp but I understood why they felt it was better to create landing pages that could then lead the prospect into our main site where we could convert them.
It all sounded good until we saw the text that they proposed. You know where I am going with this, don’t you? Great job with the key words but the sentences didn’t carry a lot of real meaning and even less value.
It was back to the iterative process. Our product marketers worked with the SEO vendor’s writers to tweak the pages so they would resonate with the target audience. In many ways this was more difficult than the keyword process. There is a science to attracting search engines and sometimes you need to create a sentence that uses that keyword just so you can get it in the copy one more time. With a lot of back and forth, my team and the SEO team seemed to be balancing the science of SEO with the art of messages that resonate.
About this time, I left the company for another opportunity. The team was still working on the pages and the SEO vendor was working on link building. The project is now in the hands of the project lead and I know he’ll make it work.
Could we have done a better job of selecting SEO vendors? Maybe. It’s possible that I would select this vendor again if the organization sees the return they expect. The SEO vendor will only look metrics like page ranking and click throughs. I would need to see a similar rise in conversions to be happy with the project. Granted, not all of that is the responsibility of the SEO vendor, but it is related.
I would certainly look for a vendor with experience in my industry. If I absolutely can’t find one, I’d ask for extra references from their customers. They can tell you a lot about whether the SEO experts understand the need for content that resonates.
In the end, the team learned a lot. If they ever need to manage an SEO project from scratch again they know a lot about selecting key words, how the search engines rank pages, how to avoid tactics that will get you blocked by the search engines etc. There is a lot that they could do in-house, but it would have been challenging to gain this level of knowledge through classes or online seminars. Nothing beats practical experience.
I hope my experiences and the lessons we learned in the process can make your next Search Engine Optimization initiative much more effective. I’d be very interested in hearing the perspective of SEO providers. How have you managed this process so that the content appeals to search engines and to prospects?