Articles by Aaron Douglas

Questions to ask yourself about SEO

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Over time we’ve developed a list of crucial questions for prospective SEO clients, covering everything from website history to organizational structure. Although our lengthy check-list of questions help us screen, select and evaluate potential clients, we realized there are fundamental assumptions we make about a client’s knowledge, goals and expectations that inevitably create problems down the line. Instead of trying to enroll clients as quickly as possible, we take the time to have a conversation about the relationship we’ll be entering together. The questions below are an attempt to provide a focus point for that first crucial conversation.

What do you know about SEO?

It may seem an abrupt question to start off with, but a client’s quantity and quality of knowledge and experience is a critical and often overlooked element of engagement. We frequently field calls from prospects wanting to “get some SEO” for their website. Prospects often don’t understand that search engine optimization isn’t a “thing” that you add on after the fact, an accessory for your website. Its a fundamental strategy for online marketing. The vast majority of customers use the web, and they use search to navigate it. Appeasing the search engines requires your website to present clear, concise information and adhere to standards of compliance and accessibility. Failure to do so results in the inability to access the majority of your prospective customers. Clients need to understand the complexity involved in optimization and be educated on the difference between effective tactics and flashy tricks.

Why do you have a website?

What is the purpose of your website and what are your trying to accomplish with it? Your website should be the central component of your online marketing strategy. This is not a separate endeavor from your overall marketing plan, but the digital extension of it. Not only does search expose you to the greatest amount of potential customers, but it gives you the opportunity to engage your prospects, encourage behavior and measure the outcome.

What do you want from the SEO company?

While managing client expectations can be challenging, asking for their expectations up front can make the process much easier. Its difficult to convince a prospect that they don’t want something, and finding out what they do want provides valuable insight into their vision. Clients who expect to be #1 in Google for anything and everything won’t be happy with the typical growth curve. Clients who think a bunch of links are all they need may not be aware of the complexities inherent in attracting visitors, engaging users and converting them to customers. Clients who believe SEO is a “set it and forget it” activity may not be committed to sustainable success. Those clients who do have a reasonable expectations from the outset provide ample opportunity to exceed those expectations along the way.

What do we do now?

This is the collective “We”. Both the client and the agency need more information to engage in work, and if the previous questions have been thoroughly discussed, both parties now know whether or not moving forward makes sense. The agency no doubt needs specific information to begin the process. Clients typically need a proposal of some sort, an estimate of price, and some sort of reassurance, be it case studies or references. Every project has its own set of circumstances that make it difficult to determine how much work needs to be done, so having a standard initial engagement to establish the opportunity and scope of work helps mitigate the risk for both sides.

Aaron Douglas is President of Deep Ripples (www.deepripples.com, an Indianapolis-based professional SEO company). He is a self-described good husband, decent boss, and crappy graphic designer. He can be reached at 317.426.8001.

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A Taxonomy of Optimization: From SEO to CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization)

Monday, March 7th, 2011

When explaining our search engine optimization services to a potential client, there inevitably comes a point in the conversation where we have to inform them that search engine optimization isn’t enough. As SEO is usually the reason we’re talking in the first place, what typically follows is an awkward pause and a quizzical look. That’s when we have to tell them The Truth.

The Truth is SEO is only the beginning. Occasionally we work on a project where the client has developed such an awesome sales funnel that increased visibility is truly all they need. The upside is it makes a job easier – build some links, improve the ranking on key terms, and voilà – happy client. The downside is that pure link building tends to be perceived as a commodity. Eventually the conversation devolves into questions of volume and cost rather than quality and effectiveness.

We have seen examples of high rankings and increased traffic having little to no effect on a client’s bottom line. The problem may be traced back to flaws or gaps in branding, marketing or sales strategies, but it’s an egregiously bad agency that takes the stance of "not my problem". Contract or no, professionals take on some measure of accountability for their client’s success (assuming the client is willing to get out of their own way!).

Over the last year the popularity of conversion rate optimization has infected the world of SEO. CRO gurus like Tim Ash have made us aware that conversions are where the money is. This is the metric that matters to most clients. If rankings and traffic are the definitions of our success, even the smallest dip prompts a phone call. When we help our client increase actual sales or leads, they are only mildly interested rankings and traffic.

The silver lining in some of our less-than-successful experiences is that unhappy clients turned out to be a good thing. We started looking at projects through a wider lens. We learned more about their business strategies, goals and processes. We looked to a user interface design company to learn more about personas and user engagement. We dabbled in A/B testing. We sought to understand the underlying psychology of search. The goal wasn’t to become experts in everything as much as it was to become more conscientious about why we were doing SEO in the first place. We started thinking about the people, not just the search engines. We realized SEO and CRO are bookends to online success. All we had to do was figure out what was in the middle.

The infographic below is our attempt to create a more elegant visual model of what optimization really is (or at least what it is to us). It is an effort to represent the process by which we can produce real, meaningful results. The pairing of profiles and metrics keeps us focused on the people as well as the data. By observing a broader range of data we began to make sense out of the process from a user’s perspective (Google’s Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics provide valuable data about click-through rates, visitor engagement, and goal conversions.


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