The subject of SEO is a broad and complex one, with so much information available that it often becomes confusing. Claims as to its effectiveness and relevance frequently contradict each other, leaving business owners scratching their heads over which advice to take. And the pressures placed on businesses by the Covid19 crisis have only added to the problem. What people are looking for is clarity and assurance.
SEO – here to stay
Firstly, let’s be clear; Search Engine Optimisation continues to be a vital tool in the business world today, and the unprecedented effects of Covid19 have highlighted this fact. As people initially reacted to the pandemic in different ways, one of the most devastating effects (in business terms) was the fact that revenue was drastically decreased across many sectors, including spending on SEO and marketing strategy. The simple fact is that consumers focused their spending on particular items (mainly groceries) and spent less on others. As a result, companies slashed their budgets as they sought to minimise their losses.
Although the pandemic remains a serious issue and will do for some time to come, many people are finding ways to adapt to the ‘new normal’. And unless businesses do likewise they will feel the consequences – as many have unfortunately already done so.
One of the best courses of action is to establish a strong, continuous, long-term SEO strategy. Eventually, Covid19 will go away. The businesses that weather the storm will be those who were able to provide relevant, helpful, or ‘evergreen’ content throughout this period.
Before going further, it is important to try to understand the changes in internet use brought about by the pandemic.
As we moved into ‘lockdown’ and more people stayed home, internet use rose dramatically.
Remember, however, that ‘internet use’ doesn’t always mean internet searches; gaming, movie-streaming, social media, electronic transfers and so on, all account for the rise in use.
Having said this, internet searches did increase exponentially. This is still generally the case even though restrictions have been eased somewhat and things are more settled. But for businesses hoping to capitalise on the situation, there was a problem; certain industries saw an increase in traffic, whereas others witnessed a very significant fall. The negative impact of this on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is still being calculated, but in many cases has been devastating. Even though internet searches have risen for relevant subjects such as news, health, and covid19-related things, businesses (especially SMBs) seen as ‘non-essential’ have been widely ignored in terms of both paid and organic traffic.
So, for businesses that are currently ‘relevant’, SEO is essential for keeping ahead of the competition in the rankings and driving more traffic. And for those deemed ‘non-essential’, especially those who have temporarily closed, SEO is pretty pointless, right? Well, no! In fact, SEO is more important than ever. People who are finding their way to your site are doing so in spite of the trend. This isn’t simply a matter of getting a higher volume of potential customers, it’s about getting qualified traffic. And SEO can help to identify these leads.
Having a good SEO strategy right now could make the difference between success and failure in a ‘post-covid19’ business environment.
But how do you go about choosing the right strategy? Who do you trust to help you establish this? Finding the right SEO consultant for your needs is the first step, and it is vital to make the correct choice.
Here are a few pointers to guide you.
Ask the right questions
An SEO agency or consultant will not object to your questions if they are operating ethically and within the ‘rules’. The following questions will help you establish this. Anyone who declines to answer fully or avoids the issue should be regarded as suspect and you should seek another provider. – says Dean Signori from UK Web GeekZ
What strategy do you use to improve ranking?
This is basic but essential. A good SEO consultant will go through this with you step by step and explain precisely how they intend to boost your ranking. There are various ways of doing this within the Webmaster Guidelines as set by Google (the biggest search engine, with over 70% market share) but some SEO experts try to find ways around this using ‘Link Schemes’. While legitimate links to relevant sites are used to increase trust in your own website (by allowing search engines to verify how important a site is within a particular niche), some people use methods that go against the guidelines and try to bypass Google algorithms. These Link Schemes include buying and selling links, excessive link exchanges, using automated programs to create links to your site, or using any type of ‘unnatural’ link that manipulates ranking algorithms (like PageRank).
Any scheme or strategy that breaks Google’s guidelines carries the risk of incurring a penalty. Your site will be effectively dropped from the rankings and you will be left with the task of clearing up the mess. This fact stresses the importance of securing an expert in SEO; it is very easy for a well-meaning business owner to unintentionally break the rules by tinkering with their site themselves in an attempt to save money.
What type of links will you use?
Not using links is as bad as using Link Schemes! Your SEO consultant should be able to explain what links they will use when they will apply them, and how often. Anyone reluctant to do so may be involved in ‘black-hat’ methods of SEO (unethical or underhand) and may result in being discovered by a Google algorithm called Penguin, which will downgrade your site’s ranking.
Good links will carry a ‘trust & authority’ score, measurable through tools such as Majestic SEO.
Is my website’s content the first stage in your strategy?
With SEO, content is key! Some of the algorithms introduced by Google have purposely sought to create this environment in an effort to cut down on spam-filled sites, and this can only be a good thing for all of us.
Creating good content doesn’t have to be complicated, however. Through simple tweaking of the layout, keywords, re-sizing of diagrams or photographs, or even changing the font or size of the text, you can immediately boost your ranking before moving onto more complicated issues.
Despite this apparent simplicity, any business that is serious about SEO should never be tempted to hire the cheapest agency. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Obviously, the size of the business is a factor, but generally speaking, good SEO will cost at least £250 per month. This isn’t set in stone, however, as many agencies prefer to quote per project. You can find SEO agencies that advertise rates as little as £50 a month. For that money, you will be getting the bare minimum and you may as well do it yourself. Your business is worth more than this – don’t take the risk.
What to avoid
Once you have asked the right questions, you should look out for some of these issues to help you discover whether the consultant or agency is right for your business. If they offer features or make bold claims like the ones listed below, then it’s wise to give them a miss.
- Guaranteed Rankings – No matter how confident they sound, this claim is false. An SEO expert can use knowledge and experience to boost ranking, but there are far too many factors and variables involved to give an accurate prediction of ‘guaranteed’ rankings, especially if they claim they can get your site to the top.
- Mass Links – with ‘backlinks’, quality is definitely better than quantity! A couple of good links from reputable sources is worth far more than thousands of unreliable ones.
- Automated Link Building – to be frank, Google’s algorithms (hummingbird, RankBrain, Panda, Penguin) aren’t stupid. They can track IP addresses, times, individual computers and sites – basically, a ‘footprint’ of activity. They can determine whether it is automated or not, and automated links are often associated with spam. Using this will most likely land you with a penalty.
- Claims of ‘Overnight Ranking’ – another risky strategy that could result in a penalty – and that’s even if it works! A good, reputable SEO expert will know this and stress that SEO is a dynamic, fluid process. It takes time and is a long-term strategy.
Covid19 has changed the business landscape, probably for good. Search Engine Optimisation may cause business owners a headache, but it is more important than ever to employ a thorough, professional and comprehensive SEO strategy – especially for SMBs that are determined to survive this tough period. It will become easier over time, but you will need help. As you search for a reputable SEO agency, keep these above points in mind to guide you through the process of ensuring that your website is performing to its best advantage. This investment will raise your chances of surviving – and thriving – in the ‘post-covid’ era.