Keeping Your SEO Firm Honest – How to Evaluate Outsourced SEO
Many small businesses donâ€™t have sufficient in-house tools or people to handle the search engine optimization (SEO) of their website. As a result, a myriad SEO/SEM/social media firms have sprung up over the last decade. As with any vertical, some are great, some are OK, and some simply arenâ€™t worth the investment.
If youâ€™ve already outsourced your SEO, Iâ€™ve put together a list of free tools to help you evaluate the work done by your SEO firm. For the purposes of this article, all three happen to be provided by Google. The reason for that is Google still controls 60 percent of all web searches per most studies, so it makes sense to look there first.
What Does Our Marketplace Look Like: Google Insights
The first tool can tell us what our marketplace looks like on Google. Insights offers a glimpse into the popularity of certain keywords versus overall searches done in Google. So in other words, we can use this tool to determine if our SEOs are targeting the right set of keywords, or if, in fact, theyâ€™re leading us down the wrong path.
In the examples below (to see the graphics full size, click the graphic), weâ€™ll assume our company is selling kayaks.
So, since thereâ€™s a lot of ways we can approach SEO, weâ€™ll start picking words that accurately describe the kind of kayak we make. Here, we see â€œsit on top kayak,â€ â€œfishing kayak,â€ and â€œhunting kayak.â€ In the live version, you can use your mouse to see interest levels of any month (relative to total Google searches). Youâ€™ll see here as well that we can change the time scale, select different geographic regions, and get Googleâ€™s forecast for what these searches will look like next year.
Itâ€™s likely that your SEO provided you with a list of terms that they want to optimize for on your website to help you grow your business. By plugging them in here, we can determine if those are in fact worth the effort and expense. If they are trending downwards, find some that are trending up, and task your SEO with making you rank for the best key terms your product set will allow.
Answering So What: Google Webmaster Central
So now weâ€™ll assume we have our target list of keywords, weâ€™ve cut a check, and our SEO is busy optimizing our site for the buying traffic we want. The first thing we want to look at here is one of the famous â€œso whatâ€ questions. Letâ€™s assume weâ€™ve managed to rank for â€œsit on top kayak.â€ So what? Google Webmaster Central (GWC) can partially answer this question.
By logging in to your GWC account and applying a filter under â€œYour Site on the Web -> Search Queriesâ€ we can drill down to search terms that contain â€œsit on topâ€ and find out how many times weâ€™re appearing in Search Results for those terms. In our case, for the last 30 days, we see that weâ€™ve appeared in search just over 70 times and probably only received a handful of visits (represented by the <10 under clicks.) We also see that our average position for these searches ranges from 130 to 220! Thatâ€™s not what weâ€™re looking for at all.
So we can take all of this data and go back to our SEO and ask them about it. Weâ€™re prepared to ask the tough questions, too, such as, â€œWhy do we rank so well in Google when I do the searches, yet Google Webmaster Tools shows weâ€™re 130th on average?â€Â They SHOULD be prepared to answer those questions.
To be fair, I think the most important thing we can look at in this report is trending. Are we trending up in search engine position, or down in search engine position? SEO takes time, and Webmaster Tools is the barometer where we can measure progress.
Measuring Business Outcomes: Google Analytics
The last stop on our brief tour is Google Analytics. After doing our due diligence in Google Insights and watching progress in Google Webmaster Central, now we have to measure results in dollars and cents. We know what we pay per month for SEO. So is it worth it? Letâ€™s log in to Google Analytics and find out.
By going to the Traffic Sources -> Overview -> Keywords portion of Google Analytics, and using a simple filter for â€œsit on top,â€ we can pull a list of keywords that were directly affected by our SEO efforts. And by clicking GOAL 1 on this report, we can figure out exactly which of those key terms are generating sales. If youâ€™re an e-commerce store, you can also click on the E-commerce tab of this report to get REAL DOLLAR answers to these questions.
So this report is the tiniest portion of the funnelâ€”from keyword ideas to keyword ranking and keyword results.
Conclusions and Next Steps
Now that weâ€™ve made the investment in SEO and invested a small bit of time on our own to understand the results, weâ€™re prepared to have our weekly or monthly call with the SEO firm. I think itâ€™s important that we talk about the results that weâ€™re seeing based on the above, as opposed to letting the SEO firm direct the discussion based on ranking results or traffic results.
Here are some questions we may want to ask them, based on the above data:
- I see â€œfishing kayakâ€ is trending to be more popular than â€œsit on top kayak.â€ Should we put more effort in that area?
- Per Google Insights, all of the key terms we are SEOing for are very seasonal. What related terms should we be looking at to generate traffic year round?
- Despite the number of impressions weâ€™re receiving in Google, our traffic seems low. How do we fix that?
In taking control of this discussion yourself, you stand a far better chance of maximizing the return on investment in your SEO.