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Consultants, How Do You Handle Ranking?

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#1 TheManBehindTheCurtain


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Posted 17 January 2010 - 06:00 PM

Given the current state of the art, in the first pitch to a prospective client, how do you talk about page ranking? Given Google's increased customization of search results, how do you talk about benchmarking and measuring progress against a benchmark?

Reason I ask: I'm sitting in on a series of proposals currently. There are two typical approaches:

- A few days or hours ahead of time, the consultant asks for the keywords the prospect wants to target and their competitors. The consultant runs a report and uses it to show where the company currently ranks and proposes some areas where he/she can help make progress.

- The consultant gives you a straight pitch on services. These seem to be "high end" consultants who charge premium rates and who are straightforward in stating that they do this to avoid prospects who simply want free consulting in the guise of a proposal.

Both seem very problematic to me. In the first case, you can't guarantee specific results in terms of ranking (of course, we show you the door if you guarantee we'll be no. 1 in three weeks), and even speculating on results can come back to haunt you. On the other hand, some execs won't give you money w/o some concrete and measurable yardstick.

Or course the real benchmark is conversions, not page rank, and I think none of us have to be convinced of that and can rehearse all the reasons why. But page rank is "easy" to understand, and many execs who don't know SEO are going to fixate on that as something fundamental that they expect the consultant to address in a concrete way.

Anyway, I'd appreciate your thoughts on how you position page rank and what you think a thoughtful and reasonable prospective client should reasonably hold you to in terms of results.

Related question: If you were to categorize how much effort you would spend on optimizing in-page factors and link building, what would the ratio be? I saw someone pitch "50 50" -- disappointingly high for the boss, and disappointingly low for me.

In case it helps, this concerns SEO for a B2B software company, selling deeply nerdy solutions in the five to seven figure range.

If any of this involves revealing competitive practices, I understand.

#2 bwelford


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Posted 17 January 2010 - 08:45 PM

This question brings to mind the old joke about the drunk fellow who was seen by a policeman to be searching frantically under a street light.
Policeman: What are you looking for?
Drunk: My car keys.
Policeman: Where abouts did you lose them?
At this point the drunk pointed off to the side of the road.
Policeman: Why are you searching here?
Drunk: Well it's easier to see things here.

I think a Search Engine Journal item by David Snyder earlier this week points out the fallacies in the SEO situation: SEO is a Brick not a House.

Traffic and conversions are the only satisfactory measures of performance and that is tough to evaluate when considering competing SEO consultants. However when interviewing candidates for permanent positions, executives usually find they can take decisions based on less than complete information. At least when hiring consultants you can fire them whenever you feel they are not performing to your satisfaction.

I believe you can certainly interview SEO consultants and as you imply, Frank, boot out any who clearly lack the necessary understanding of what is working at this time. However likely a number of them will be capable of doing a very competent job. Don't let price be the key determinant. As in permanent hires, choose the one who seems to be the best fit in working with your Internet Marketing team.

As to the PageRank, content vs inlinks, etc. stuff, here again we see our drunk at work. Inlinks get far too much attention since it is in Google's and the spam link providers' interest to see this emphasized. However if I was a search engine I would disregard a large proportion of the inlinks that some websites strive so hard to attain. I can't think the Google spiders and algorithms are all that much less wise than I am on this.




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Posted 17 January 2010 - 10:46 PM

It is very very rare that I will take a client... but... in the few cases that I have... I tell them what THEY need to do to get the rankings of their site up. And that direction is to produce a heap of valuable, unique, substative, well written, interesting, superbly illustrated content AND come up with some ideas of who will link to that content. I toss out some content ideas, show them content on other websites that they will need to beat and watch for changes in their facial expression and posture.

That will tell you a lot about their attitude and if they are up to the fight.

If they are not enthusiastic enough about their business to do what is needed to really improve their website then you might not get paid because they are going out of business for other reasons.

I think that the days of jacking a site to top rankings for valuable queries with on-page tweaking and easy-to-get links are long gone. So, if you have the luxury of picking your clients... pick the ones who will stand up and fight. Those same people will value their business highly enough to pay you well.

Lots of people think that they need an SEO when they really need someone who will help them improve their website.

#4 DonnaFontenot


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Posted 17 January 2010 - 11:32 PM

Measuring SEO....
Analytics holds the proof. Did the consultant's work cause sufficient increased traffic from search engines from relevant queries? Yes? The money you've paid the consultant was money well spent.

Measuring Conversion Rate...
Personally, I believe conversions are a separate entity, and while the consultant may also be providing increased conversions as part of the contract, it is a separate piece and should be judged separately. Of course, the proof of increased conversions is fairly easy to find. Bank account bigger? Good. :)

(Note: Of course, making one change may in fact affect both traffic and conversions but it's still two separate pieces in my mind).

Edited by dazzlindonna, 17 January 2010 - 11:34 PM.

#5 A.N.Onym


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Posted 18 January 2010 - 12:44 AM

Nowadays, I don't think anything that doesn't involve results (sales) would be appreciated.

I have myself proposed to a similar B2B company (sounds like we are in the same general niche) and simply told them that it takes time to bring results (which we both agreed were requests for quotes, but in the end, should be sales, in my opinion).

Like EGOL, before taking them up, I considered how patient and receptive they were to creating lots of great content and, luckily, they were. That being said, clients could always be more patient 8-)

Edited by A.N.Onym, 18 January 2010 - 01:10 AM.




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Posted 18 January 2010 - 07:43 AM

One problem with using "sales" as your metric is that they are in large part determined by factors that are beyond the control of the SEO. The client could have high prices that make sales almost impossible. They could have crappy conversion rates, high postage, poor usability.

I believe that the highest impact will be made when the consultant and the business work together to make pricing, rankings, content, postage, service, etc. play in concert to produce a maximum yield.

Donna... I agree that SEO and conversion rates are two different jobs. But, if two different people are working on them the SEO guys go in and optimize a page for rankings... then the conversion guys say "HEY! Who is changing our pages? GRRRRRR" ... and they change back... then the SEO guys say HEY! Who is changing our pages?.... and the cycle repeats.

#7 DonnaFontenot


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Posted 18 January 2010 - 08:18 AM

In an ideal situation, one person (or group) handles both SEO and Conversion (and usability too). But it's rarely an ideal world. Very often, an SEO is not allowed to make the kinds of changes that would be necessary to create a site that converts well and is usable. In that case, the SEO can only do what it takes to get qualified traffic to the site. What the site owners do with that traffic is up to them at that point.

#8 A.N.Onym


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Posted 18 January 2010 - 10:26 AM

I forgot to mention that, when agreeing on sales as the metric, you do need to control or affect the conversion funnel :) Sometimes, all you need to do is ask for it.

It's true that the business-side controls the conversions, but so does the online specialist by:
- defining the target audience more precisely
- targetting the audience effectively
- making sure the site content matches the target audience and it can convert the visitors

Then again, if you only control SEO, some measurement of targeted traffic should be present (or at least the site-specific conversions, such as downloads, sign-ups, etc), otherwise it's a pretty vague way of doing business.

Of course, when a SEO doesn't control the site conversion rate, the metrics quickly condense to those directly tied to SEO results, such as direct and search engine traffic and links (and maybe rankings, to a certain extent, but without a direct tie due to fluctuations).

#9 TheManBehindTheCurtain


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Posted 22 January 2010 - 11:41 AM

Hey everyone ... belated thanks for all of the thoughtful replies. It's been a long week full of meetings and I've got another later this morning.

@barry. Inlinks are a thorny business, and I've heard a range of opinions this week. I'm still leaning, though, toward a service that does (thoughtful and appropriate) linkbuilding through social networks. We already rank well for some keywords, so would you agree that the hard work of moving up after that is going to depend on quality links? If not that, then what?

@egol. Completely agree. We have to have some skin in the game, or this won't work. It's funny though. I "hear" consultants "say" this. Not in your very straightforward and candid manner (which I prefer) but in a reluctance to estimate what type of progress they'll make. They'll say "it depends" (and the attention span of some of our team begins to flag at that point) -- and they'll mention many factors, but I wish they'd just say that it depends on how much support we give them in accomplishing the work.

@donna. Yes, I think you have to get qualified traffic coming, and then it's a separate task to land them. But I think it's something we'll still work at in tandem. That does confuse the metrics though. Which effort moved the needle? (On the other hand, it's very easy to measure failure. :) )

@yura. You've nailed it: "Nowadays, I don't think anything that doesn't involve results (sales) would be appreciated." When success rates are measured only in volume of traffic, you have no way to equate that to value *unless* you tie it to conversions? And if conversions are X%, you can only scale the business in a linear fashion: Y% of additional traffic will give you that X% of additional conversions. There's no way to scale beyond that ... unless you also tackle the conversion issue.

@yura and egol. In our case, "conversion" simply means the web-generated lead is "accepted by sales" for the months-long qualification process. Once it passes that point, it is largely on Sales to convert to actual business. However, our team's responsibility then changes and we support the sales team in a different way, with good competitive materials, data sheets, white papers, personal training, sales scripts, email templates, etc. etc. to help them in that job. But that's very different from SEO.

@donna again. In most cases the reason the SEM, SEO and conversions are done by the same "team" is that the "team" is one person who also wears a few other hats. (I'm looking over my shoulder and around the corner, searching for that person, but I'm afraid he is me.)

Again, thanks everyone. It really helps to hear you all discuss these issues in your own terms. And helps me clarify some points for other folks on the team who need to appreciate these issues too.

#10 A.N.Onym


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Posted 23 January 2010 - 04:09 AM

If you provide content for sales, then it's indeed hard to quantify the contribution, unless you measure it: how often your materials were used and how many of those interactions lead to sales or kept the prospect in the loop. I haven't heard anyone do this, but it makes great sense to do it :)

To answer your 2nd question, I'd optimize around 85-95% of the site (barring only microformats and similar less effective things), but then later wouldn't touch it that much. I.e., it's best to do it from the beginning, use SEO in site and page architecture and links. Keyword research is also one of the first steps of content creation, of course.

But then I'd mostly focus on building links. There isn't enough links you can get to a B2B site. The problem is, you need not only links, but also authority, so, perhaps, being more creative in search and internet marketing would help.

Then again, a huge site with thousands of pages would indeed benefit from lots of fine-tuning in SEO. It depends on the site, really.

Edited by A.N.Onym, 23 January 2010 - 04:11 AM.

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