Whether in the “real world”, or online, business owners want to see a measurable return on their investments. It’s only natural, and monitoring the effectiveness of a marketing campaign is one of the keys to any business’ success. Search engine optimization and content marketing is no different. Business owners expect their SEO teams to produce easily measured results that can be weighed against their overall financial investment. However, like the Hydra, SEO is a many headed beast, and focusing too much on one aspect of the campaign can lead business owners and SEO professionals into a Herculean battle that they can not win. Like Hercules, business owners, and the SEO vendors they employ, must give due attention to every aspect of the campaign, and avoid focusing too intently on any single given metric.
Measuring SEO Results
SEO does have a range of measurable elements, such as anchor text and number of incoming links, blog posts, press releases and directory listings, all of which work together to achieve the desired results. Too often business owners, in their quest for verifiable metrics, will get tunnel vision and put too much focus on a single element of their SEO campaign. Moreover, in an attempt to justify their employment, SEO firms may give the bulk of their attention to techniques that can be easily manipulated as a way to demonstrate their value and to show progress on a monthly basis. Quite often this manifests itself in two key areas – link building and online business citations.
Link Building by the Numbers
One of the ways SEO firms prove their worth to business owners, particularly inexperienced ones, is by showing them a monthly accumulation of links for a given website. Links are an important part of any SEO strategy, and handled correctly can produce great results. Unfortunately, the demand to create links quickly and in abundance can lead to pitfalls. Google, and other search engines, are looking for high quality, organic or editorial, links. If your SEO firm is showing a monthly progress report that relies too heavily on link building, chances are good that the links they are delivering are low quality. Your SEO may be buying links, trading for links, or linking to so called “bad neighborhoods”. This is the type of link building that Google is trying quash with their latest Panda and Penguin updates, and while they may give you a short burst of attention online, ultimately they will hurt your website and could well damage your brand. The best strategy for building links is employing a variety of marketing techniques that generate naturally occurring, organic, links. When it comes to link building, being too aggressive can backfire and have you chasing these links for removal. Not good.
Local Business Citations – Can Too Many Can Be Too Much?
One of the other most common metrics SEO firms use to demonstrate their progress, is local business citations. Again, online citations are good for businesses and are one of the factors search engines use when assigning page rank. There are two basic types of citations, structured and unstructured. Structured citations can be found on business listings like yellowpages.com and yelp.com, and contain all of the business’ pertinent information. Unstructured citations can appear on blogs, news feeds, or random websites. Citations are a relatively easy get for SEO firms, which is why they are so often used to prop up a monthly progress report. But again, the value of a citation is in direct proportion to where it is located. Citations on a government website have more intrinsic value than those on a business directory, and citations on a business directory have more value than those on a website that is unconnected with your industry. To keep it very simple, only high authority and relevant links count! If your SEO firm is showing you a long list of citations as part of their monthly progress report, ask yourself which ones are of value and which ones are simply there to take up space. Business citations should only be one part of a balanced SEO campaign, not the major player.
The Balanced, White Hat Approach to SEO
Business owners have every right to want to know what their SEO vendors are doing on their behalf. But there are many different elements to a successful SEO campaign, and it is important to take a balanced approach. Putting too much emphasis on a single metric can ultimately lead to a failing SEO strategy. Website owners need to look at the bigger picture, and should demand that their SEO team avoid the tempting loopholes that only provide quick results. Those quick results, that make monthly progress reports look so pleasing, may ultimately only serve to reduce a website’s page ranking and damage its overall online integrity quickly. Business owners need to hold their SEO vendors to a high standard, and review their work closely. The success of your website, and the reputation of your brand, may well depend upon it.