If your company has selected or will select an SEO vendor to optimize your corporate website for natural search, I offer you kudos for embarking on a process that can generate tremendous revenue for your business. Now, the fun part begins. You'll need to oversee and evaluate a process that is hard to comprehend, has somewhat intangible deliverables, and where the "timing of results" can't be precisely defined. Given this scenario, how can you best work with an SEO to achieve the best outcome for your website?
Make SEO a Marketing Priority. On some engagements, the SEO is almost entirely self-sufficient. On others, he or she might depend on the director of marketing, the president, the web designer or IT support to help facilitate the SEO effort. Some of these folks might not see the value of the optimization and don't view SEO related efforts as a priority. If you can let your team know the critical nature of the work (and your SEO should be willing to help in this effort), the expected results should be achieved that much faster.
Learn enough about SEO in order to ask good questions. Over time, the talented stable of Search Engine Marketing writers at Search Engine Guide have produced a large number of articles covering almost every aspect of the SEO process. Read up. Become familiar with the terminology and concepts. At minimum, you need to be conversant enough to evaluate the metrics of the campaign.
But don't tell your SEO how to do the work. Too much knowledge can be a dangerous thing for some clients because they lack the experience to place their knowledge within the context of the whole SEO process. Such clients may even feel empowered enough to tell their SEO vendor to take a course of action that will damage their efforts to obtain targeted natural search traffic. But if you have done proper due diligence in choosing a knowledgeable and ethical SEO expert, you shouldn't have any trouble staying on the right track. Your chosen professional will probably be appreciative that you've educated yourself about the process and will be glad to answer your "tough" questions. All reputable SEO vendors should be open and transparent about their methods and work process...don't work with any that aren't. And if you are comfortable with your SEO expert, the value of his or her experience should be easily discernible.
Good SEO advice can smell funny. Bad SEO advice stinks. Sometimes it has been a challenge explaining the merits of link-exchange or RSS feeds to SEO novices. Many marketing professionals have cringed when I've recommended having at least 250 words on the website home page. Fortunately, I've been able to rely upon my own SEO experiences to demonstrate the value of my advice and, if necessary, I can seek out the authority of other experts in the field to support my views. But, "rogue SEO's" have damaged many websites by convincing site owners to allow them to engage in practices such as link farms, hidden text, and cloaking that violate search engine guidelines. If you have educated yourself enough about SEO to be conversant in the terminology and techniques, you should be able to smell the odor before you step in the poop.
Well-run SEO campaigns still have hiccups. Search engines periodically change their algorithms which can be a boon or a bust for clients. Most recently, Google's "Jagger" update hurt many websites that followed SEO best practices. I have a client who had an 18-month-old domain that lost excellent Google rankings that I helped achieve in a very competitive field. I explained that based upon my research (and reported by many other SEO's through articles and forums) that Google has algorithmically implemented the following precepts: 1) It is very difficult for new domains to rank well for competitive terms and 2) Many inbound links must age for 6-12 months before they become effective. Now, it is incumbent upon me to chart a new course to help the client regain what was lost. Conversely, Jagger gave some of my clients excellent results far more quickly than I could have expected.
Measure results. A high-level web analytics solution like Clicktracks 6 (which I use and highly recommend) is essential to measure the success of your campaign. If you are spending thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on SEO, don't rely on a $10 per month web stats package. Your SEO vendor should offer advanced web analytics as part of the service...shy away from an SEO who doesn't use advanced analytics because the optimization decisions on your website will be made based upon incomplete information.
As a client, you need to view SEO as a long-term strategy that has peaks and valleys. Educating yourself about the SEO process will eliminate the "surprises" that are inherent in the process and will make for a far more efficient and productive vendor/client relationship.
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January 27, 2006
Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.
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