Marketers must understand that they can't take SEO for granted when working with an agency. Part 1 of this column raised a variety of questions for readers, and even resulted in a certain degree of finger pointing in the direction of agencies.
On many levels, this perspective makes sense. Everyone knows how crucial search is to the success of a Web site.
Therefore, you'd expect that an agency you're paying should be able to build a site that's acceptable to Google. Agencies must be quick to point out that creating a Web site Google can crawl (using best practices) isn't the same as creating a site that ranks for key terms.
Search is a strategy, and within that strategy are several tactics, including PPC, SEO, local, and feeds. SEO is the only one that requires you to implement actual changes to your site, which may be why it gets forgotten as part of the marketing strategy and sent to the IT guys to handle. Once you recognize that organic listings can be used just as effectively (albeit at smaller volumes) as PPC, you'll understand the world of SEO marketing.
What's Involved in SEO Marketing?
SEO, as part of your search strategy, identifies key terms and then helps you rank for them. Referring back to our wine and cheese stores, it focuses specifically around the top 10 cheeses that you sell and not on the 50 that you have but barely sell (that's what paid can be used for).
SEO forces some unique questions. Who writes the copy for your Web site? How do they decide what words to use? Are they doing any keyword research to understand what words people search for? Are they mapping those words to the content of your site to see if there are any gaps? How often do you use the targeted keywords in content, and how are they used in meta data?
One of my favorite examples of the importance of word choice is "diabetic recipes" vs. "diabetes recipes". The two words get very different search volumes (90,000 and 18,000 respectively in Google in March). Suppose your agency chooses "diabetes recipes" because it's what you had on the previous site.
Design agencies don't typically perform keyword research that would uncover valuable opportunities. In this example, keyword research would show you that "diabetic dessert recipes" has a small search volume, but it may present an opportunity for you to write some content relevant for which you could easily rank.
If your agency isn't even involved in writing the copy, this can complicate matters further. Many companies use a separate copywriter that could have no idea how to perform the research necessary to appropriately optimize copy.
Meta data provides another great illustration of SEO marketing versus basic usage best practices. Best practices tell you that you should have a unique tag for every page, but without keyword research you could be choosing the wrong term to use in that tag.
When Does SEO Stop?
In a normal development project, SEO touches design, copywriting, IT, and -- oh yeah -- marketing. Once your agency has turned over the design, how will your IT team handle the next steps?
Aside from general coding, how do they set up redirects, or handle your three home pages that are all being indexed? Do they understand duplicate content based on the use of multiple URLs, or help you configure the CMS so that it renders URLs with appropriate keywords?
What most baffles is the mishandling of meta data. Meta data is basically paid search copy; you don't let your IT people write that, do you? This is a chance to create a call-to-action, and you must leverage your keyword research.
Remember, the copy on your best practice site still needs to target words that are actually being searched by your audience. Consistency between keywords used in meta data and on-page copy is key.
Despite the mystery behind SEO, the success of link building has never been questioned. The realities of strategy and implementation, however, may furrow a few brows.
Where exactly does link building fit into a Web development engagement? Who on your staff knows where to find appropriate links? Since you may be consolidating pages or URLs, do you understand how to funnel links appropriately? Oh, and without having done keyword research, what words do you use in the hyperlink?
Lastly, how are you handling social media and universal search assets? Videos, news, images, and blogs are all being crawled. Who's in charge of the strategy that gets all of these properties to rank and create a stacking effect in the engines?
If you're building a YouTube channel, then understand that tagging, views, and keyword research are critical for getting video content to rank. Your best practices don't necessarily cover this. When forming your search strategy, your search team will look at all of your assets and develop a ranking strategy.
Finally, think about this: The above examples could all be missed, and you could still receive a best practices-compliant Web site from your design team. The people that have and will succeed with search are those who look beyond best practices and ensure that SEO is an integral part of their online strategy.