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The Ultimate Entrepreneur’s SEO Checklist for 2014

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Swim With the Sharks - Entrepreneurs SEO Guide

For entrepreneurs looking to swim with the SEO sharks; think of this business rule:

Always ask yourself how someone could preempt your products or service. How can they put you out of business? Is it price? Is it service? Is it SEO? Is it social?

That’s an inspired lesson that Dallas Mavericks owner and "Shark Tank" co-host Mark Cuban shares in his book "How to Win at the Sport of Business".

Taking Cuban’s business advice to the murky waters of the SEO world, entrepreneurs should ask themselves:

  • Is my SEO and social media marketing playing at junior varsity levels compared to the competition? 
  • Who is in charge of my SEO team and how much skin should I have in the game? 
  • Do the same search engine optimization strategies work like they did in 2013? 
  • How do I score more traffic to my website? 
  • How do I build an effective social media fan base?

Depending on who you ask, you just may get different answers ¬– and results!

Here's some advice for business leaders looking for the ultimate entrepreneur SEO checklist for 2014.

Entrepreneur SEO Checklist

Hire In-House or an SEO/Social Agency?

Depending on who you ask, the pros and cons to hiring an in-house SEO or dedicated social media talent versus an agency or consultant may vary depending on opinion, budget, business plan, and industries.

Let’s face it, the number of self-proclaimed SEO "magicians" and social media "gurus" can be disenchanting and cause more digital injuries than any entrepreneur can imagine. But hiring the right talent and having a team that follows best SEO practices and delivers the level of social media punch that your community cares about can be key to beating the competition.

What should an entrepreneur know when hiring an SEO/social agency or search professional? Bruce Clay, president of Bruce Clay Inc., offers this checklist:

  • Never hire any agency selling links as that will lead to penalties. Links should happen because you earn them, and never because you negotiate them.
  • Be sure to check referrals from clients.
  • Be sure that the agency is mentoring you on their changes instead of vague descriptions of what they are doing. And remember that the cheaper you want it, the cheaper you get it – marketing that beats your million competitors is never inexpensive.

Don’t just ask for references, interview those references. "The biggest mistake businesses tend to make is acting too fast," added Duane Forrester, Bing's Senior Product Manager. "We need to move this forward, or get started on this work ASAP is a common frame of mind. Plan in time to interview an agency or consultants references."

Social Media Agency Wanted! Now What?

It might feel good to stay with the familiar faces of tradition, the marketing agency your old boss used and loved or the one in business for the longest number of years. But buyer beware.

There are more PR and traditional ad agencies than ever jumping on the search and social bandwagon ready to take a bite out of this new business opportunity.

"Shopping for a social media agency can be a tricky process because so many poser firms have hung 'social media agency' shingles. I find it extraordinary that some agencies making that claim have little background or depth actually executing social," said Marty Weintraub, founder and evangelist of aimClear and ClickZ Live speaker

Use this checklist of questions to screen for social media fakes, phonies, and posers:

  • How many years of history does your agency have actually providing social media services to clients?
  • How does your social media management result in SEO success (social signals, links, SERPs)?
  • Please provide examples of standard social media reports. Where does the data come from?
  • Explain why Google+ is important and describe how your agency proposes to use Google+.

"Poser agencies have pretty websites claiming social media services, but they’re actually old-world firms staking a claim as a recovery tactic for the obsolescence of that agency’s previous service focus," said Weintraub. They’re often entrenched PR, SEO, or link-building companies searching for new relevance.

The SEO Checklist and the Path of Least Resistance

Cuban, a billionaire entrepreneur who made part if his fortune with an Internet-based business solution, reminds entrepreneurs in his book:

Make your product easier to buy than your competition or you will find your customers buying from them, not you...this is why websites do anything they can to game the system on search engines top ranking. They know that no one is going to page through the thousands of results returned. Users pick from the first page or they pick from one of the sponsored pages.

Like in any business venture, it can be difficult to resist the immediate gratification of a paid search campaign and the flashy promises of an aggressive SEO campaign with short-lived ROI. Who better to ask than the person that helps manage Bing Webmaster Tools to debunk the SEO myths and misconception of SEO? Forrester offers entrepreneurs looking for search engine growth strategies this SEO checklist for inspiration in 2014 and into 2015:

  • SEO isn’t an overnight success story or a one-time effort. Like wealth-building, investing in SEO takes time and continued effort to earn full benefits.
  • Research targeted keywords, create a targeted list per page, and use them in multiple places (in key meta tags, folder and file names, etc.).
  • The title tag is one of the most important tags for SEO – put most valuable keywords at start, write unique titles for each page.
  • Write one keyword-rich H1 tag per page to serve as the page’s headline.
  • Write compelling meta descriptions for SERP snippets – this is what converts SERP impressions.
  • Every page should offer crawlable text for bots to create more keyword relevance.
  • Never put content to be crawled inside images, JavaScript, Silverlight, or Flash – search engine robots can’t read it.

The Sport of Business SEO in 2014: All Marked Up With Severe Penalties to Go

Forrester tells entrepreneurs:

  • Schema use by the engines is growing. By marking up a website, we gain a better understanding of content, enabling us to create richer search experiences that can lead to greatly increased click rates in the SERP. Win-win. But it starts with marking up your content. Skip that step and it’s a lot tougher getting an invitation to the ball.

Clay said:

  • Entrepreneurs need to beware of severe penalties that will block the businesses’ marketing playing field.
  • SEO damage control has become a new set of service offerings.
  • Incompetent SEO is resulting in a new set of service offerings for top-shelf agencies to repair the damage done by prior SEO services.

Avoid Search Penalties at All Cost!

"We have seen massive service business growth because of the closing of many inept SEO companies, and the need to perform services that will not get you into trouble. Playing safe and by the rules is now the only way for business to survive," Clay said.

So how do you survive and swim the SEO sharks? Entrepreneurs can take the advice from the search and social experts as well as this checklist inspired by Cuban’s business book:

  • Expect the unexpected and always be ready. Don’t just set up your SEO and forget it! Ask for reports, pay attention to webmaster tools, and stay engaged with the industry following blogs.
  • It’s not whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, it’s who is pouring the water. Control your SEO destiny by staying in touch, having the right team behind you, and putting your customers first.
  • You only have to be right once. Getting found in search by the right investor, prospect, or media outlet can be that one business game-changer.

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