What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Simplest answer: Helping your website rank highly for the right searches.
Elaborated answer: Taking intelligent steps in both improving the organization and content of your site and the encouraging of other trustworthy and relevant sites to link to your own.
Long-winded answer: Search Engine Optimization seems to alternately be presented as religion or science. On the religious side, scrupulous e-mail prophets may already have knocked on your inbox with a promise of infinite success for your hopeful website, based on some kind of magic Google-winning ritual that they will do for you in exchange for a considerable sum. In contrast, if you wade into a twenty-page academic exposition on "Latent Semantic Indexing," the science of SEO may lead you to quickly return to the safe, comprehensible confines of your Facebook window (I actually like reading something like that, but this isn't the place to brag about eccentricities... that's also for comprehensible confines of a Facebook window). Where is trustworthy information that doesn't require both a Computer Science and Modern Poetry degree? Well, let's try Google's own SEO advice for starters. Here's one interesting bit:
"If you're thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better. A great time to hire is when you're considering a site redesign, or planning to launch a new site. That way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site." Yes, Google, I agree. That is good advice. What else?
"Some useful questions to ask an SEO include...."
They then go on to list a bunch of questions, which I will now conveniently answer for you.
Can you show me examples of your previous work and share some success stories?
With modest pride, yes - my clients will allow me to e-mail you a little data-backed bragging of how much I've helped. Just ask.
Do you follow the Google Webmaster Guidelines?
You know the "All Employees Must Wash Hands" Sign? Visitors to my bathroom are advised on the appropriate length for Title Tags.
Do you offer any online marketing services or advice to complement your organic search business?
All over the place. As my clients asked more and more questions about their online businesses, I did more and more research. I can compliment organic search with advice on social media campaigns, niche expansion plans, website development, micro-sites, landing page creation, conversation rate optimization, paid search, how to use organic search to drive product development, and so on...
What kind of results do you expect to see, and in what timeframe? How do you measure your success?
After agreeing with a client about the keywords that would be most profitable to rank for on Google and most worth the effort needed to rank for them, I issue monthly reports giving the site's rank on Google and, optionally, on other search engines. I then compare this to previous months as a measure of some success - but, ultimately, the measurement of an organic campaign's success is how many valuable customers it brings in, and I measure this, too, via a monthly report comparing total organic traffic, and the % of it that turns into sales, with the site's history. Other metrics I consider indicative of a site's overall "organic health" would be its Google PageRank, indexed links, and the number of queries it's found for (the mysterious "long tail"). The time-frame for results vary based on competitiveness and how established of a website we're working with, but for new sites, I usually expect as long as 6 months for substantial results, while for established sites who aren't rumored to hang out with online gambling or drug sites, it should be less. I don't think any honest SEOs offer an exact time-frame for results, but they do give a justified best guess, and I promise to always offer that based on our agreed-on goals.
What's your experience in my industry?
Good question. What's your industry? Tell me!
What's your experience in my country/city?
I know the best food trucks in Durham and Chapel Hill, and my experience in America is as pluriform as Benjamin Franklin's.
What's your experience developing international sites?
I've set up a small international paid search and organic campaign for Spain and France, working with multiple translators and implementing the sites according to Google's recommended best practices. Though the field of international SEO seems complex, I feel capable of working with a client on this and enjoyed my previous experiences.
What are your most important SEO techniques?
Making a good cup of coffee at 8am, and then read these sites ! But, I would say that the most dramatic changes I've seen in my own SEO work have been from making improvements to a client's site that do not just benefit SEO, but also benefit the customer's experience and generally make a more intelligent site. I would consider good initial keyword research alongside careful planning of objectives with the client, followed by a site review and list of actionable improvements carried out quickly, bolstered then by the co-development of great and relevant website content to be placed both on-site and used to acquire links off-site, and a steady regimen of analytics and application of findings from them to be my main set of techniques and the ones that I think make up the core of most good SEOs. As I said in the start, though, reading as much as possible is a good idea!
How long have you been in business?
I have been working freelance with companies in Raleigh-Durham for over 3 years, and before that, I was an in-house SEO / Paid-Search Marketer for a company I am still enjoying working with today. 3+ years may not seem long, but when one considers that the SEO techniques of 5 years ago were primitive and would be deleterious to even think of employing now, it seems a little more reasonable...
How can I expect to communicate with you?
I'm a friendly phone-call or e-mail away :) Meetings are fine, too - as often as you need.
Will you share with me all the changes you make to my site, and provide detailed information about your recommendations and the reasoning behind them?
Absolutely. To the degree that you may have to ask me to stop. I sometimes over-justify what I do because I want you to be as confident as I am about the decisions I'm making in a field I enjoy. You can ask me to stop, though. It won't be the first time.