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3 Solutions to the Same Project

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We met with a prospective client last week to discuss their upcoming website redesign & development project.  This prospect is your typical small business where the owners make all of the decisions without much input from the rest of the staff.  There isn’t a dedicated marketing department, nor is there a “techie” on staff.  If you’re a small business owner, this situation may sound familiar…and you can vouch that it’s not easy.

Any vendor selection process is an exercise in analytical skills.  The two owners that we met with aren’t website guys.  This whole process is new to them, and while they know they need a new site, they don’t exactly know how to go about getting the best bang for their buck. 

After talking with them about the project, we discovered that we were one of three companies proposing a solution.  After a bit more digging, it became apparent that the three solutions being offered were drastically different in nature, and in price.  The decision on which firm to use is going to be a difficult one, as I’m sure we have all outlined our value proposition, highlighted strong points, and helped educate the two owners.  Here are the three solutions that are common in this situation:

                                            Different Approach to the Same Problem

​Different Paths to the Same End Goal

A Company like Marketpath

Marketpath designs and develops websites with our website content management system on the backend.  We focus on enhancing the online brand, building an easy-to-navigate website, building an easy-to-update website, and creating the best “hub” possible for your marketing efforts.  There are a lot of companies like us, some with their own CMS’s and some that use open-source platforms like WordPress, but you can rest assured that these firms are the experts in useable website design and development.  There will usually be an upfront cost and an ongoing monthly fee for hosting/support.

An SEO Company

This option is similar to the firms listed above, except their sole focus is on gaining an ongoing SEO client.  A new website that is “finely tuned and internally optimized” is the first step in their service offering, as a lot of the smaller SEO firms will claim that they need to code the website to be successful in the long run.  After the website is built, there will be an ongoing, monthly “SEO Maintenance” fee of a few thousand dollars a month.  If you like this solution, make sure you know the red flags to look for when hiring an SEO company

A Full-Service Marketing Agency

This third option is the other player at the table.  These full-service firms are typically very large in nature and can bring a lot of value to the conversation.  They care more about overall branding efforts than rankings - they try to tie online and offline campaigns together.  They are out to build you the best message possible.  While they can build you a great looking website, often times these firms aren’t experts in the web.  If you’re not planning on using them for more services, it could be overkill to choose this option.

Our Advice

During the meeting, I tried to explain to the prospect that, a lot of times, these three types of firms can work together.  If you’re looking for a local presence (as these guys are), on-page SEO may be enough to gain the rankings you’re looking for.  If you build a highly-optimized website (as we do), and don't achieve the high rankings, then you can bring on an SEO firm to help boost the efforts after you establish a baseline.  Automatically assuming you need to spend thousands a month on SEO is one heck of an assumption.  Also, hiring the mother ship of marketing to build you a website if you’re not planning on tying it all together with a major marketing campaign could result in a sub-par website.  Full-service marketing firms aren't cheap, and they are looking for clients that take advantage of the entire offering.

It’s important, as a small business owner, that you ask questions and understand why there are three different approaches to the same problem.  Understand the product and service offerings and select the best option for your company.

Have you experienced this same problem?  What was your solution?  Sound off in the comments below. 

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5 Signs You've Hired the Wrong SEO Firm

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When the time comes to hire an SEO agency to help boost your online presence and rankings, chances are you’re going to have a lot of questions.  This is okay.  I’ve been in and around the industry for close to six years and I am no expert.  Whether you’re a novice, someone who knows enough to be dangerous, or a seasoned veteran looking for some help, these 5 signs will help you eliminate a lot of so called “experts”. 

Guaranteed 1st Page Rankings

No Guarantee PleaseNo SEO company can or should offer a guarantee for first page rankings for your keywords.  I don’t care what else they say, or what else they show you, this is impossible.  Guarantees are the biggest red flag for any company and should end the conversation immediately.

Bottom Line - none of these companies work for or “have a special relationship with Google.”  It just doesn’t work that way.  Sure they may have a great track record, but guarantees are impossible to make in this industry.    

Won't Share Past Results

Piggybacking a bit off the first point, any SEO company that refuses to share their results with previous or current clients should be shown the door as well.  Any reputable SEO firm isn’t afraid to showcase their successes, their process, and even their failures.  Nobody is perfect in this industry, so be sure to ask them for examples or each. 

Bottom Line – Just because a company isn’t perfect doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.  Understanding the successes, process, and any failures they’ve had will go a long way in building a trusting relationship.

Unable/Unwilling to Give Explanations of Service/Process

No SEO Has ThisIf you hear the words “Through our proprietary process, your site will see an increase in rankings”, make sure you ask exactly what it is they are going to do.  If they are vague, too technical, or just very brief, ask for clarification.  If you’re still unclear, it could be time to look elsewhere. 

Bottom Line – In today’s SEO world, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t is out on the web.  No firm should have an ace up their sleeve, or a proprietary process that nobody else uses (if they do, chances are it’s not a white hat tactic).

No Discussion of Overall Business Goals

Today’s SEO firms should act more as overall Internet Marketing consultants more than just “We swear we’ll improve your rankings” consultants.  The days of improving rankings by implementing nothing but a technical SEO strategy are gone.  Today, it’s more beneficial to build a brand, generate content, and share it across the web.

Bottom Line – Make sure the conversation leads to overall goals for the marketing plan and the business itself.  Improving rankings on a SERP should be part of an overall plan to grow, not the only strategy.

Links to Your Site Start Showing up in Questionable Places

No Spammy Links, PleaseAdding to the last point, a red flag that your SEO firm is engaged in some naughty practices would be that links to your site start showing up in questionable places.  Make sure you have Google Alerts and Google Webmaster Tools set up.  The Alerts will help flag any event on the web that involves a keyword (your business name), and the Webmaster tools will allow you to see which domains are linking to you.  If you see a suspicious domain, don’t hesitate to speak with your SEO firm and ask what they are doing.

Bottom LineGoogle is getting better and better at detecting these poor SEO practices.  Unfortunately, SEO firms still practice them religiously, so they need to be monitored and called out when possible. 

Contracting with an SEO firm is never an easy decision, but hopefully these five red flags will help you eliminate some of the less effective companies.  Keep in mind that communication is key.  There should always be an open dialog between client and agency in the SEO relationship.

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