When teaching your clients to fish for SEO, some clients that would like to manage this tactic underestimate the amount of work or expertise associated with it. Remember, it's OK to teach your clients how to do your job if it's in their best interest.
However, agencies must understand how SEO plays into the overall search strategy, even if you're handing over the keys to the castle to the client. SEO shouldn't be simply looked at as some technical stuff you do to improve a site. Let's stick with this theme of not taking things for granted and really differentiate between best practices and SEO.
This article is not intended to paint SEO as dark magic that nobody other than a level six sorcerer from the Gryffindor house can understand. Nor is it to say that all agencies don't understand SEO or that it's rocket science. Many agencies do a good job of SEO.
Now that that's settled, let me be clear: The point of this article is to help clients understand that they can't take for granted that SEO is being performed, and that there are differences between best practices and using SEO as a means to achieve the goals of your search marketing strategy.
Aren't Best Practices and SEO Marketing the Same?
No, they're not, thanks to nuances similar to the difference between getting crawled and getting properly ranked.
To illustrate, let's turn back the clock to a pre-Internet world. Imagine that you own a wine and cheese shop called Wines, Etc. You're the only store in town and you've designed a great in-store experience so that customers can see the wine selections and prices, and walk easily from aisle to aisle in a logical way. This is crawling – allowing people and search engines to easily find and navigate your "store" to get a base understanding of what you have to offer.
It's now been a year, and cheese sales are down even as wine is flying off of your shelves. So you get your agency together and ask them to evaluate possible barriers to your selling of cheese.
You think they've designed a great looking logo – let's say a store sign with red letters and two interlocking wine glasses. Their billboard shows a couple enjoying a glass of wine next to a cozy fire, and the yellow pages ad (yes people used these once) shows your hours and location.
To complicate this further, now your location happens to suddenly have five competing stores in a six-block radius. This tougher competition makes you realize something is missing from your strategy; to paraphrase and old Wendy's commercial, where's the cheese?
When you walk by the store, the cheese is hidden in a corner and can't be seen from the street. The result is that, despite having a quality store and easily accessed wine, you're really not telling people about your cheese. You're limiting the ways in which, and reasons why, consumers will find your store. You simply blend in.
So how do you break through the clutter? This is ranking – leveraging the key aspects of your business that will allow you to rise above your competitors. If you know how to make your cheese as visible as your wine, you'll see both flying off of your shelves.
In an online setting, your store is an example of best practices, but not SEO marketing, being used while designing an HTML Web site (using CSS, not locking all text into images or Flash, etc.). This stuff is what all agencies should be doing as a bare minimum, and this gets you crawled, but not necessarily ranking.
Best practices tell people that you have a store that sells wine. SEO marketing takes it one step further, helping to promote your store so that people find it and all the products that it sells, and before they find other wine and cheese stores.
Clients often believe that paying for a Web site means that it should be optimized. That's half right – there should be some expectation for basics, but not for including something requiring a degree of specialization.
When I ask my brother-in-law (Chris the electrician) to install high-hats, I expect the lights will turn on when I hit the switch. When he installed my kitchen sink, he got it in and it worked, but a week later it sprung a leak and he put the handle in the front instead of on the right side of the faucet. He's handy and he certainly did more than I could have done, but handy doesn't mean he knew all the same tricks that a plumber knows.
You can't expect your agency to truly execute an SEO tactic unless they have some expertise in it. Agencies know enough to know that SEO is more than a clean site design.
The money for SEO is typically a small percentage of the entire Web development budget. Yet I've run into several agencies passing off their best practices as SEO to clients who don't understand. Three months from now when the client doesn't rank, they will have to understand and start asking questions. Whether an agency partners with an SEO expert or brings in a third party, they will go a lot further in the long term with clients if they don't pass on SEO, which really does not require a huge portion of the budget.
At times, agencies need to break down some walls to allow other people into the Web development process for the betterment of the client. There are good and valid reasons why this is the case, not the least of which is a happier client in the long run.
Joshua Palau is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on Search Engine Watch.
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