Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a website on organic ("natural" or un-paid) search engine result pages (SERPs).
A successful search engine optimization campaign will have, as part of the improvements, carefully selected, relevant, keywords which the on-page optimization will be designed to emphasize. Search engine optimization services are broken down into two basic areas: on-page, and off-page optimization. On-page optimization refers to website elements which comprise a web page, such as HTML code, textual content, and images. Off-page optimization refers, primarily, to backlinks.
Types of SEO
As the colors of the types of search engine optimization suggest, there are stark differences in the approach and long-term results of white hat and black hat search engine optimization. Though both types of SEO have their proponents, most companies/websites with long-term, stable, and sustainable goals will tend to stay away from the dark-colored variety.
Here is a quick overview:
White Hat SEO
White hat SEO utilizes techniques and methods to improve the search engine rankings of a website which don’t run afoul of search engine (mainly Google) guidelines.
Some white hat SEO techniques include: high quality content development, website HTML optimization and restructuring, link acquisition campaigns supported by high quality content and manual research and outreach.
What to Expect
Steady, gradual, but lasting growth in rankings.
Gray Hat SEO
Gray hat SEO utilizes techniques and methods to improve the search engine rankings of a website which bend the rules of search engine (mainly Google) guidelines.
What to Expect
Some gray hat SEO techniques include: creation of a lot of content targeting a large variety of keywords, link campaigns which may utilize some paid (but still relevant) links, and autogenerating pages such as directories to increase chance of rankings for long-tail keywords.
Results may be achieved more quickly than using white hat SEO, but have potential to drop out of search engines once assigned low quality values by search engines.
Black Hat SEO
Black Hat SEO exploits weaknesses in the search engine algorithms to obtain high rankings for a website. Such techniques and methods are in direct conflict with search engine guidelines.
Some black hat SEO techniques include: link spam, keyword stuffing, cloaking, hidden text, and hidden links.
What to Expect
Quick, unpredictable, and short-lasting growth in rankings.
The work of most search engine optimization companies, however, operate in a gray area, aptly named Gray Hat search engine optimization. Whether by design or pressure from clients to deliver results, many search engine optimization companies try to deliver solutions and results for customers by utilizing techniques which don’t quite cross the line into black hat SEO, but are well outside of what would be considered white hat search engine optimization.
Gray hat search engine optimization is recognizable by ‘affordable’ pricing, since the search engine optimization company has to reduce cost by resorting to questionable techniques in order to deliver results, instead of highly involved campaign activities.
In the end there is really no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do search engine optimization, but those shopping for SEO services should be aware of the different types and approaches so that they know the level of risk they are taking on.
There are a variety of SEO services which offer solutions for ranking issues, and deficiencies. Depending on your goals, and needs one, or a combination, of the below services may be right for your website.
The Most Commonly Asked Questions About SEO
What does SEO stand for?
SEO is the acronym for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of helping websites improve in search engine rankings. It can also mean Search Engine Optimizer, which is a marketing expert that specializes in performing search engine optimization.
How Does SEO Work?
SEO works by optimizing a website’s content, structure, and technical aspects. The work helps search engines better understand the content of the website. Mainstream SEO is done by staying within the general guidelines provides by search engines.
How Long Do SEO Results Take?
This depends mostly on how competitive the niche in which a website needs to rank. Of course, high quality SEO is also important, but even the best SEO campaign will take time to produce results. In general, an SEO campaign will take between 4-6 months to start producing results.
How Much Does SEO Cost?
The cost of SEO depends on the level of difficulty of the campaign. The cost of an SEO campaign can range from a few hundred dollars per month to tens of thousands of dollars per month. Check our SEO pricing information for additional details.
What is Local SEO?
Local SEO helps local businesses to improve their search engine rankings. Local SEO concentrates on improving rankings for either geo-targeted or generic keywords. For example a campaign for a mechanic shop would help improve the rankings when a search for car repair services happens within a certain area.
What Are SEO Tools?
SEO tools are designed to help users find out the ways in which their website can be optimized. These tools can be useful for both large and small websites. SEO tools can be online or desktop applications. We have compiled a list of the most commonly used SEO tools used by website owners and professional search engine optimizers.
Types of SEO Services
An SEO campaign can consist of a variety of components, and be as simple as a one-time SEO audit, or as involved as an ongoing campaign that includes technical audits, content writing and development, link acquisition, and consulting services. Below are explanations of the services you can expect to encounter when selecting and SEO company.
Website SEO Audit
An SEO audit can come in varying levels of detail and complexity. A simple website audit can be as short as a few pages long. On the other hand, a comprehensive website SEO audit will be comprised of dozens of pages, picking appart even the most minute deficiency. The SEO audit would include recommendations about how to address each potential problem.
At the most basic level, an SEO service audit should address the basics covered in our Basic SEO Tutorial. With a basic audit, a website owner should expect to, at a minimum, receive a guide for how to fix major ranking issues. More comprehensive audits would also include ways to improve content, and backlinks.
Having a search engine friendly website is very important. But, it is not a guarantee for improved rankings. SEO takes time, and needs ongoing maintenance to produce reliable and stable rankings.
On-page SEO is the process of implementing the improvements outlined by an SEO audit. These changes can be implemented by the website owner (if they have the capability) or an SEO company. On-page SEO should be part of all SEO packages. It is the foundation up on which a successful SEO campaign must be built. On-page SEO deals with page titles, headings, content, and internal link structure. To find a basic list of the areas that on-page optimization should cover, refer to the WiSEO SEO Tutorial.
Like a website audit, there are basic as well as comprehensive services when it comes to on-page SEO. On-page SEO can be a one-time project which applies the fixes recommended through an SEO audit. These types of audits would target the home page, and a few other important pages on a website. More comprehensive campaigns would use initial findings to fix existing problems, and check for new issues that may occur.
Often, on-page SEO work does not need updating (e.g. when a site has evergreen content). But even in these cases, a periodic audit can help uncover, and prevent potential problems from accumulating.
SEO Content Development
SEO content refers to website content which positively impacts search engine rankings. Textual content types include articles, white papers, essays, research documents, tutorials, and glossaries. Visual content includes infographics, stock photos, and icons. There are also other types of content such as PDFs, searchable databases, and web tools. These are some common examples of web content. It is important to note that depending on the niche of your website, the type of useful content will vary.
‘SEO content’ should be more accurately described as ‘high quality content’. High quality and useful content will also attract inbound natural links. These links are invaluable for improved rankings.
When researching content topics, it is best to aim for quality instead of quantity. Seeking out ‘SEO content’ can lead to low quality articles which act as a place to include keywords.
SEO content writing services can contribute to improved rankings. This is only true if shortcuts are not taken, and content is not expected to perform magic. Content development and optimization is a slow, and time-consuming process. Well written, interesting, and useful content will get attention on its own merits. But, it also helps lay the foundation for successful link development campaigns.
Link development is a divisive topic in SEO circles. It is the topic most talked and written about in search engine optimization blogs. SEO backlinks are arguably the most vital component of any SEO campaign. They can be time consuming, and expensive to get. So, there are many services which offer inexpensive options. Unfortunately, the lower cost also translates into low quality. The low quality of incoming links can in fact be detrimental. So, it is important to stay away from such offerings. If you come across a monthly SEO campaign offering which is only $500 and includes link work, it may mean that the links will be of low quality. This is not to say that you can’t get link-work for $500 per month. But, it won’t be for a large volume of links.
Good quality link development work focuses on quality rather than quantity. A well-researched and relevant, good quality link is worth many times more than hundreds of free directory submissions.
The fundamentals of link building are based on good quality and valuable content. If there is no good content on your site to which people can link, it will be very difficult to convince them to do so.
Code optimization is part of technical SEO. At the most basic level, it is the streamlining of the HTML code of a website. The optimization of your HTML can impact search engine rankings in two ways. First, it can help alleviate code-clutter. This helps present your content in an easy-to-understand (for search engines) format. Second, it can help reduce the load-time of your website pages. This helps improve user experience which is something that plays a large role in how search engine algorithms evaluate web pages.
Depending on the complexity of your website, there may be few or many opportunities for code optimization.
SEO Consulting Services
SEO consulting is meant to provide professional SEO guidance to those who may not be able to afford the cost of a comprehensive SEO campaign. It can also be suitable for those who would like to have an SEO advisor at their disposal.
Legitimate SEO consultants would provide white hat (in compliance with Google guidelines) techniques. And, provide clients with guidance that will help their website move closer to being search engine friendly in increments.
Keep in mind that SEO is not a magic solution to your ranking problems. Some issues can have an easy solution. But, often there is the need for sustained and ongoing SEO services, either as consultation or active SEO.
SEO Proposals & How to Evaluate Them
SEO services come in a variety of forms; however, good quality work is difficult to find. Like any other industry, there are things to look for when trying to winnow the wheat from the chaff, and it is no different when it comes to search engine optimization proposals. On the surface, many proposals may look reasonable, and often similar. Knowing what to look for will make it easier to pick the best SEO option for you and your business.
Below you will find an easy-to-read list to help you pick out a good SEO proposal from one that is more likely than not going to cost a lot of money without delivering much (if anything) in the form of search engine result improvements.
Signs of a Bad SEO Proposal
Offers a Guarantee: No search engine optimization company can offer an honest guarantee for first page rankings. Generally, the guarantee is either convoluted and heavily in favor of the SEO service provider, or is based on extremely low-competition keywords which would drive little to no useful traffic, even if ranked on the first page of major search engines.
Does Not Offer Details: SEO shoppers should be weary of proposals (or conversations with a sales person) which do not offer at least some details about the type and scope of work which will be completed as part of the SEO campaign. For example, if the SEO includes Link Development as part of the service, there should be an explanation which explains the type of approaches that will be utilized.
It Offers a Set of Packages: If the proposal offers a selection of SEO packages to choose from, in some cases it is not going to meet your needs. Even though package options make the decision of picking services easier by offering upfront pricing for SEO services, they sometimes fail to address the needs of each individual business. The customization of SEO services is an important aspect of the process as it can help avoid overpaying for services you might not need, or not having a campaign that is aggressive enough to match the competitiveness of your niche.
Measures Success by Rankings: This may seem counterintuitive, since the entire point of SEO is to improve rankings; however, if rankings and subsequent traffic are not accompanied by conversions (whatever form they may take) will result in a failed campaign. The success of an SEO campaign must have multiple KPIs (key performance indicators) including ranking, traffic, time-on-site, conversions, and ROI evaluation (to make sure that the funds being invested on SEO provide a positive return on investment).
Offers Only Link Development: An SEO campaign which only relies on link development is fundamentally flawed. Even though links are an important part of ranking improvements, they are not going to provide stable and sustainable ranking improvements without the support of proper technical SEO in combination with a content strategy.
If you can keep these potential pitfalls in mind, it will be much easier to avoid signing up for an SEO service contract which will turn out to be nothing more than a money pit. If you are unsure about the quality of an SEO proposal you have receive, please feel free to get in touch with us, and we will gladly evaluate the details of the proposal for you.
What Is Possible Through SEO?
Search engine optimization is not a magic solution to earning website trafic.There is often a misunderstanding (due in no small part to SEO sales people) in what a search engine optimization campaign can realistically accomplish. As stated multiple times, elsewhere on this site, search engine optimization is not magic, nor is it an exact science where an action will have a specific and completely predictable reaction. With this in mind, no search engine optimization company can produce high rankings for its clients by simply offering directory submissions, and half-witted articles written by college dropouts who hire out their writing skill so unscrupulous SEO companies for pennies per word.
The below table will provide a means of quick reference as to what SEO can reasonably accomplish, and what it cannot.
Here is what SEO services can realistically accomplish:
Things SEO Can DO
- Improve the search engine friendliness of your website.
- Improve your website’s ranking for a well-researched group of keywords over a period of months or years.
- Improve your website’s rankings by utilizing a well planned and executed search engine optimization campaign, which will cost more than you would have guessed.
- Leverage well written, useful, helpful, entertaining, or otherwise interesting content to mount a successful link building campaign which will result in ranking improvements.
- Optimize your website’s textual content by incorporating a select number of keywords into the text (not keyword-stuffing), and utilizing the new text to develop an internal link structure which helps magnify the importance of those keywords for the search engines.
- Address potential issues with SEO friendliness which can come up during website changes, upgrades, and maintenance.
Things SEO Cannot Do
- Make your website irresistible to search engines so that it will rank for any keyword you desire.
- Improve your rankings for the most competitive keywords in your industry within a few weeks.
- Improve your website’s rankings by using run-of-the-mill services such as free directory submissions, and “article writing”, and doing it while keeping the cost no higher than your monthly budget for your morning coffee.
- Leverage low-quality content that your nephew “wrote” (i.e., copied and partially reworded from Wikipedia articles).
- Optimize your website’s content by using a secret keyword density (that only SEO’s know) and help your site shoot up in search engine result pages for your most desirable keywords.
- Future-proof your website against all possible developments in the world of organic search engine rankings.
For Whom Is SEO Suitable?
Search engine optimization is often seen as a good way to avoid spending money on advertising by attaining high rankings in the organic search engine results. Not only is this not the true purpose of search engine optimization, it can, in fact, be a dangerous way to conduct business.
Search engine optimization should never be the sole means of marketing any business, because search engine algorithms are in constant flux, and any one of (on average) daily changes can impact a website’s ranking negatively, to a point where the entire business can be put in jeopardy. So organic rankings should never be the sole source of traffic for any website that is being run as a business. With that said, search engine optimization can contribute greatly to almost any online marketing campaign.
As mentioned above, search engine optimization is not suitable for those who are looking to save money by getting away from other forms of online marketing.
SEO is a long-term process, especially if it is to contribute in a tangible fashion to the bottom line of an online marketing effort. It is a mid- to long-term solution which does require a significant investment of time and treasure in order to bear fruit. So if you have just started an online business (or one that has an online component) and are looking a way to jumpstart your website traffic, search engine optimization is not for you.
Is SEO Suitable for Me?
- I just started a website and need quick traffic and don’t have much money to invest. – No. Your effort should go into exercises which will produce short-term results for your business.
- I just started a website but have an SEO budget for at least six month. – Maybe. As long as you are not looking to ranking for the most competitive keywords in your niche.
- I am looking for an SEO company that can get me the same exact links that my competitor has. – No. Doing exactly what your competitor is doing will always keep you one step behind him. Even though your competition should be in your crosshairs in general, their success in rankings should not be the benchmark for yours.
- I understand content is important but I like my website exactly the way it is. – No. If you are inflexible when it comes to changes to your website, the chances are that your site will not be able to improve rankings by much. If you keep doing what you have been doing in the past, you’ll keep getting the same results.
- I just started an auction website. I want to outrank my competitor (the leading auction site), for the word ‘online auctions’. – No. Just like the corner grocery store that just opened is not going to be able to compete with the supermarket chain down the street by offering the same exact thing at higher prices, your new auction site will not be able to unseat the industry leader through the magic of SEO.
- My friend just signed up for an SEO service and he is getting 500 directory submissions per month. I want that too! – No. Search engine optimization is not about volume. No matter what price your friend is paying for those directory submissions, he is overpaying. Cheap SEO is worse than no SEO.
- I know I don’t sell shoes, but the word ‘shoes’ has a very high volume of searches, so I would like to rank for that keyword. – No. Even if you did rank for shoes after spending a fortune on search engine optimization, you would still have abysmal conversions since the people who search for ‘shoes’ tend to be searching for…you know…shoes! (And not the blue widget you are selling that no one wants).