Search Engine Optimisation, aka SEO, has been around since the first ever search engine “Archie Search” came on the scene in 1990. Archie Search only looked at website title tags – not too tricky for the first online marketers to manage.
The first real search engines didn’t arrive until Atavista in 1994 and Yahoo in 1995. However, Yahoo’s rankings were manually undertaken by people and if you paid money you got to appear at the top.
Google started as a university project in 1996, Ask in 1997 and MSN in 1998…… Google became a verb and the rest is history.
In the good ol’ days – back in 2002 when I kicked off my Online Marketing career in an online travel company in the wilds of West Cork, Ireland; it was still pretty easy to rank for search terms by ensuring you had a lot of good keyword rich content on your site and a lot of internal linking. Competition was pretty low in areas like SEO and Paid Search for inbound travel to Ireland; and a few hours of SEO here and there meant we ranked well for our top key terms and drove solid organic traffic and conversions.
Let’s fast forward 15 Years to today
Digital marketing investment is no longer new, it’s now the biggest channel. In the UK, online marketing now accounts for almost 50% of total advertising spend – massive. The UK is a leader in online marketing spend, and here in New Zealand we are still a bit behind with digital sitting at 32% of total advertising spend. Despite not being world leaders; NZ companies are still investing a lot of their marketing dollars into digital, and with around 55% of that digital spend going into search advertising it makes up a huge chunk of the advertising investment of Kiwi companies.
Google AdWords has massive penetration in New Zealand and has been widely adopted by SMEs. A large percentage of SMEs have been brought into online marketing by the likes of Yellow, Ora, Reach Local and Saturn 6.
Larger organisations have been investing in SEO for quite a few years now, either outsourcing to search marketing agencies or giving the role to marketing resource in-house. What we have seen with in-house SEO (if it is not a dedicated resource) is that there is almost never an emergency to fight the fire. The result is SEO often gets put on the “I’ll get to that tomorrow” list, as actual fires in marketing are dealt with first and as you can imagine – tomorrow often never comes.
SEO investment is now mainstream
Over the last few years smaller NZ businesses have started to invest in SEO; which is great, as it is a good investment to increase their presence in the organic search results. Although there has been an increased adoption of SEO as a marketing investment, there is still a lot of opportunity for these smaller businesses to increase their SEO activities. A lot are only focusing on local SEO and on-page optimisation. They also need to invest in SEO strategies that include technical SEO, on-page optimisation, outreach to third parties and content creation.
Often the in-house resource is not an SEO specialist, with local and on-page SEO being within their capabilities but other areas are where they hit their understanding limit.
A disturbing trend in SEO
A disturbing trend we have started to see is smaller businesses that have chosen to invest in an SEO agency only to have had bad experiences. Their budgets aren’t huge and due to that the agencies have taken short cuts which are putting their entire business’ online presence at risk.
Over the last 12 months we have taken on a number of new clients that have had bad SEO experiences with other agencies. We have seen website rankings that have been negatively impacted and one client whose site had disappeared from the Google’s search results entirely – costing their business’ a significant amount in lost traffic and conversions.
What are agencies doing wrong?
Link building plays an important role in SEO, it involves reaching out to third parties with relevant websites that rank well to build links through back to your or a client’s website. It is seen by Google as a vote of trust and helps provide the website with authority on a certain subject. Obtaining genuine, quality links from third party sites takes time and a solid strategy; which a lot of agencies charging lower fees aren’t investing in.
What we have started to see more and more often is companies that have hired a local NZ agency and have then had their SEO work outsourced to an offshore company without their knowledge. Every week I receive 2-3 emails from companies based in countries such as India asking to outsource our SEO work to them. I’m not saying they are all bad – but a lot of them are.
Here is part of one of these emails below – it looks great starting at only $300 per month:
When anyone outsources offshore to third party companies you can no longer guarantee the quality of the work as you have no idea of who is actually undertaking the SEO work, or how good they are.
Often when link building is undertaken badly Google will penalise a site, either dropping the website in the search result rankings or even worse putting a manual penalty on the site, resulting in it disappearing from the search results completely.
Why does Google do this? Google does this because it identifies the work as trying to “trick” the search engine into thinking that the site is more of an authority than it actually is. This is normally due to linking from a high volume of low quality third party sites that are not relevant, which is often what you get when your SEO work is outsourced offshore.
So how can you avoid bad SEO happening to your site?
If you are going to run your SEO in-house ensure that your SEO resource has enough time to both study SEO and learn how to “white hat” SEO, and that they have time to implement good SEO. Don’t be tempted to outsource it to cheap offshore companies.
If you do decide to outsource your SEO, find a local company or contractor that has been around for a while. Ask to talk to some of their current and past SEO clients to find out if they are happy with the service received and the results attained.
Also make sure that the agency undertakes the work themselves and doesn’t outsource it to a third party company. Meet the person face to face that will be undertaking the SEO work – not just the well-dressed charismatic sales person selling it in to you.
Ask for regular reporting and meetings where you go through in detail (either face to face or via skype or phone) the work that has been completed. Ask what is the SEO roadmap they have for your business, what work was undertaken during the past month, what the results were (increased keyword rankings, increased organic traffic, increased organic conversions, links generated, and look at the actual links – they should be coming from high quality relevant websites and not irrelevant blogs that were set up a month ago) and ask them what is the focus for next month.
Probably most important is to spend a bit of time getting an understanding of what SEO is so you can ask your in-house resource/agency/contractor questions on their work and really understand if they are adding value or not.
Good SEO isn’t easy and it takes time; so don’t be expecting to pay an agency or contractor $300/mth and then start seeing great results in a few months – because it won’t happen. And if your agency says they have just generated 50 new links through to your site………that’s when the alarm bells should start ringing!
Brad has spent many years working on client side, developing digital strategies and managing teams to implement those strategies. He understands the challenges and priorities from an online marketer’s perspective the high targets, tight budgets and the education required to gain internal buy in to digital strategies. He also likes riding his Mt bike and telling stories about all the mountains he has climbed before becoming a Dad.