I create this guide for people who don’t have any SEO experiences, such as business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketing managers, to understand the essentials of SEO (non-technical part) to effectively manage the SEO aspect of their digital marketing and grow revenues through this channel over time.
The article doesn’t cover much information on SEO techniques such as submitting an XML sitemap, PageSpeed analysis, content readability, unique TITLE tag, etc.
Reading this SEO guide will help you understand the hidden benefits of SEO, how it improves your bottom line, the popular SEO vendor services, pricing, and SEO routines. I’ve created four videos and you can watch them below if you prefer videos to text (about 70% overlapping content).
Now, let’s start with the basics.
Basics of SEO
Online users use search engines such as Google and Bing to look for information and land on SERPs after entering the search queries. Some of the listings are paid ones (SEM or PPC) as indicated with “Ad”, incurring cost to advertisers whenever clicked on, and the others are not, often referred to as organic listings. Visitors and visits to a website through non-paid listings on SERPs are organic traffic.
To get an idea of the dollar value you could save if you convert SEM traffic to organic traffic (an average cost per click times total clicks/visits), check out the Google Ads benchmark here.
There are still many businesses who never benefited from search engine traffic; if you are one of them, you might be wondering maybe you can ignore the search engines. Well, you probably can’t; or, shouldn’t.
Hear this: the major search engines account for 70.6% of all website traffic according to SparkToro. And, 94% of clicks in the SERPs go to organic results, which accounts for over 40% of revenue across Retail, Media & Entertainment, Business Services, Technology/Internet, and Hospitality industries.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is an operation to improve your website ranking on SERPs for the relevant search queries to the top 3 or the first page. 75% of searchers never go past the first page of search results. Top 3 listings get over one third of the traffic.
In order to rank high on search engines to drive “free” traffic to your website, SEOers work on:
- On-site optimization: optimize ranking factors on the website
- Off-site optimization (mainly link building; more details below)
Ideally, everything your target audience searches for could be your target content to create and attract them via search engines. These search queries (keywords) are not only related to your product and industry but also some that are not directly related. But, for most businesses, you probably shouldn’t target “everything” as it requires a lot of resources and budget.
Instead, you want to target different phases of your buyers’ journey related to your product or service. Users use different types of keywords while in different phases of the decision journey. Make sure the person developing your SEO strategy has this part well planned and covered.
Keywords are typically categorized into information keywords, navigation keywords, and transaction keywords. You shouldn’t just target one and ignore the other.
Lastly, when a user clicks on organic search results, it doesn’t incur any cost to the company or person behind the website, comparing to paid search or PPC. But, don’t see it as “free traffic” because in reality it’s not. The person or company you hire costs you.
What you should also be aware of is that no matter how well your SEO is executed, you need to maintain it (though it usually costs much less to maintain a page’s ranking than the initial optimization), which costs money too. I shared 5 strategies in this video to revive lost traffic.
And, a lot of people ignored this; if you can remember this, it’s going to save you a lot of money.
Bonus tip: Updating a page’s organic search ranking is often more cost effective than creating a new page for the same traffic growth. You should allocate some of your internal resources to updating your old content. You don’t need people with SEO skills to do this though some training definitely helps.
SEO vs. SEM
I know it looks obvious to some people. But, believe me I got asked about this question many times. So, I think it’s worth clearly stating their differences.
SEM can drive very fast results, in terms of traffic and conversions. For most experienced SEM specialists, a simple campaign can be set up within minutes. Every time someone clicks on the ad (listing on SERP), you pay; so, it’s also called pay-per-click or PPC. When you stop your campaign, SEM traffic immediately stops.
Organic traffic (SEO) usually takes time, very often several months though it’s possible to apply advanced techniques to boost SEO traffic within a few days. After SEO work is done, you can expect organic traffic, which continues to come even if you stop your efforts on SEO (but it will gradually decrease).
The full value of SEO
The essential value of SEO is not free traffic.
SEO drives more than “free” traffic but targeted “free” traffic. In some industries, high ranking organic listings project higher trust and credibility.
Search engine traffic, either paid or organic, is keywords-driven, or purpose-driven. Hence, the traffic is very targeted and has a higher chance of converting visitors to customers because when someone searches for a specific topic, he or she is open and ready for the relevant information you deliver through search results.
Some online users skip and don’t click on ads (PPC) even if you had an unlimited budget. And, remember I told you 94% of clicks in the SERPs go to organic results?!
In addition, highly ranked organic search results (if relevant, you should target top 3 or the first page) project higher trust and credibility.
I’ve seen many marketing managers and business owners who didn’t think it through and had no idea how much sales their SEO project delivered. Only knowing SEO is very important is not enough.
You should not spend money on SEO if no one is taking care of converting your organic traffic to leads and customers. In addition, get an estimated ROI of doing SEO with the vendor.
Some argue that the ROI of SEO cannot be measured. It’s not entirely wrong; but, I’d recommend you consider another vendor who could give you an estimated ROI.
Even if your website were new and didn’t have historical data, your SEO guy should still give you an estimate of what your SEO could deliver in terms of sales or leads. And, also make sure they map your SEO to the sales funnel. If you need one consultant now, contact me here.
Depending on your exact situation, you may need different SEO services; let’s take a look at the common ones below.
Marketing managers and business owners should know the types of SEO services available in the market, why you need them, and what you can expect from each service so that at the end of the day, your business can ultimately benefit from investing in those services.
SEO operations are generally categorized to on-site SEO (optimization on the domain and web pages that you own) and off-site SEO (external optimization outside the target domain; building external links pointing to your priority pages is the key part of off-site SEO).
If you have an existing website, you should start with an SEO audit, either a paid one of a free one to identify any potential problems you may have and areas of opportunities.
If you are to launch a new website, it’s best you have your designer and developer work with an SEO consultant so that when the website is launched, it’s search engine friendly.
If you are revamping your old website, changing your domain, moving servers, merging websites…, you need an SEO consultant. It’s best you get the consultation if you are to make dramatic changes to your website.
I came across a business that changed its brand name, domain, and design; and, they didn’t take care of the SEO side and lost all traffic and all online revenues (over US$200,000/month). You don’t know what you don’t know.
If you have been optimizing your website for organic traffic, you may need a maintenance package such as monitoring your website for technical and other issues, creating new content, building external links, etc.
Let’s go into some details of the popular SEO services.
SEO Audit is a very common service offered by agencies and individuals to audit and report on a website’s organic search performance including on-site and off-site ranking factors as well as user journey analysis (from my experience, the last part is often not included in Singapore and China but critical to your conversions).
Depending on how large the website is (in terms of the number of pages) and how comprehensive the audit is conducted, it should usually take less than one week to complete.
SEO Audit is in most cases conducted using software or SaaS with, in some cases, manual audit and review by an experienced SEO professional.
A complete SEO Audit should crawl 90%-100% of all pages of a website and feedback on the following diagnosis:
- Search engine console setup and analytics integration
- Domain level issues
- Domain authority, measured against your top 3 competitors
- robots.txt check
- Page-level errors and issues after crawling all pages of your website such as (request for an Excel file listing audit results for each page):
- HTTP Status Code
- broken links
- the title tag (unique title tag under 60 characters for each page is very important)
- meta description
- Markup data
- AMP-related issues
- image attributes
- Google PageSpeed Score for desktop and mobile of your top pages
- crawling and other technical issues
- content analysis for your top pages (readability, thin content, duplicate, SEO content score, etc.)
- slow pages
Internal linking structure analysis
- You want every page reachable by users within 2 steps; and,
- the most important pages linked the most from other pages of your website
External links analysis, comparison with your competitors and new opportunities
- Links from other relevant and quality pages and domains will help with your rankings
- Links from spam sites could hurt you
- Keywords and content analysis: strength, weakness, opportunities (mapped against your sales funnel)
Ask your vendor to prioritize the recommendations of the SEO Audit with the level of importance and urgency so that you will understand whether you want to deploy resources for certain optimization. SEO audit should not be a one-off task; I recommend you check your overall SEO performance report on a monthly or quarterly basis.
Keywords Ranking Monitoring
Keywords ranking monitoring monitors your domain’s ranking in SERPs against the specified keywords so that you get notified the instance there are any changes.
Organic ranking changes are usually caused by:
- Your own optimization effort or other website changes, or
- the change of competition status (one of your competitors’ optimization effort), or
- the search engine algorithm changes
So monitoring the ranking of your domain against the keywords ensures you take timely actions to minimize the negative impact of any drop in rankings, especially the high-traffic and high-converting keywords.
Please note when you perform optimization for your website, you do it on a page level, not keyword level. That means instead of updating your page based on specific keyword, you should target multiple keywords for that page.
On-page SEO involves optimization of various factors on the website including headings, meta data, SEO copywriting, URL, headings, internal linking, etc.
On-page SEO is not about stuffing keywords in places such as title tag, meta description, or the content. I still see people doing SEO in this ancient way; and, this is not helping your ranking at all.
After the on-page optimization, you should expect to see higher organic traffic. If performed on specific priority pages, you should monitor the organic traffic (visits or sessions) of those pages.
SEO Copywriting Services
SEO copywriting services are part of on-page optimizations. It’s usually only worth it for you to just hire someone or an agency to do SEO copywriting for your important pages that could add value to users on your conversion funnels.
It’s much more than repeating target keywords on the page content. Experienced SEOers use advanced tools to analyze the competition and identify areas of improvement for content.
If an SEO copywriting is well done, you could potentially expect:
- The page adds more value to the target audience. You should be able to immediately tell once it’s done
- A longer time spent on the page starting from the following month
- More organic traffic, in 1-3 months
- More social media sharings; almost immediately
Link Building Services
External links, you think of them as some kind of vote, play an important part leading to your website ranking in SERPs. Imagine a page on a government website talks about the effective products to use and link to the relevant e-commerce site pages; to search engines, that’s a thumb up.
Link building is the activity to proactively drive more external quality links to your own target page.
What is considered a quality link? Not every link has the same weight increasing your rankings. In general, the government domains (such as sec.gov, mom.gov.sg) and education institutions (such as ntu.edu.sg) are more powerful.
But, how do you measure the efforts of your outsourced link building services?
You need a report that covers the destination pages that contains visible links to your website. These pages must have relevant content. For example, a page about food for the keto diet is much less useful than a page about boxing techniques for linking to a page selling boxing gloves.
Before you select your service vendors, make sure you understand their link building strategy and make sure they have processes to identify the relevant sites and pages.
Guest posting is a common tactic for link building. If they show you this option, you should be on alert as Google officially asks all guest post links should be no-followed whether it’s a paid post or not. “nofollow” is a value that can be assigned to the rel attribute of an HTML a element to instruct some search engines that the hyperlink should not influence the ranking of the link’s target in the search engine’s index.
You should be clear about the link building objective, the progress of their efforts, and the end results (measured against the objective). This is an example:
- Objective: improve traffic to Keto Recipe pages with relevant and quality external links
- Progress & Results
- Month N: x external links (spreadsheet attachment), ranking changes y, organic traffic changes z
Local SEO Services
Local SEO services help promote businesses to their local audiences and prospects. The objective is often to improve the ranking of your business listing and drive interactions.
In addition, local SEO services can also solve duplicates, inconsistent data, and conflation issues with an audit.
The results of local SEO will be limited if you don’t have a physical exercise or you don’t meet with your customers face-to-face.
Your free Business Profile lets you easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps. It drives brand awareness or offline visits so you want to rank high. As shown in the illustration above, a user searches for “haircut near City Hall” and sees only 4 listings among about 160 business listings.
With local SEO for your website, you receive local traffic regarding the relevant search terms; that means if you provide local service in a country, online users searching the same terms in other countries are much less likely to find you on search engines.
Local SEO is very important for businesses. Let’s take a look some facts about it:
- 97% of consumers search online for a local business.
- 46% of all Google searches are local.
- 70% of consumers will visit a store because of the information found online.
- 28% of local searches result in a purchase.
- 78% of local mobile searches result in an offline purchase.
Here is the official guideline for representing your business on Google.
Multilingual SEO Services
Multilingual SEO services are necessary for websites in multiple languages. And, it may require experiences from non-Google search engines such as Baidu for the Chinese market.
If your website is only in English, you could deploy this strategy to boost your traffic (especially if your website is well optimized): localize your content in other languages. More applicable to digital products or SaaS.
If you provide physical products or services, you need to conduct your research and identify the markets you have higher chances of success before you choose a language for localization (this is different from translation services).
Integration between channels is always important and crucial for omnichannel marketing. Whether your SEO operation is outsourced or done internally, keep the communication open and frequent between different parties in charge of different marketing channels.
SEO Consultant Services
Sometimes you need custom SEO solutions for different needs, including situations but not limited to:
- When you need to change domain or URL structure
- When you change website design
- When you are to adopt a new brand name
- When your competitor ranks above you over a blackhat trick
- When you want to protect your reputation in the SERPs
- When you want to optimize for featured snippet or a specific structured data markup
- YouTube SEO
- Video SEO
- Audio SEO (Podcast)
The list goes on and on. Remember this, before you make any changes to your website, being either visible or invisible to the users, you need to consult your SEO expert.
SEO Routines (4 strategies)
Depending on how aggressive you are on SEO, you should adopt different SEO routines into your day-to-day operations.
1. Do nothing. You act and operate like SEO doesn’t exist for you. The minimum consequence is that your existing organic traffic will likely decay day after day.
2. Maintainance strategy. Y don’t lose the organic traffic you already won by monitoring the keywords ranking and top pages by organic traffic of their traffic changes.
If your existing pages traffic drop, which is most likely, you should optimize it accordingly. The top actions to take under this strategy:
- Set up Google Search Console and receive notifications
- Do one SEO audit and fix critical problems & adopt content creation best practices
- Monitor the rankings of your top keywords
3. Growth strategy. You develop a 12-month plan for how you drive sales via SEO targeting different phases of the customers’ decision journey. In addition to the monitoring mentioned above, you need to have content creation and link building campaign routines.
Top actions you should take under the growth strategy:
- SEO Audit & Health auto-monitoring
- Develop your content strategy with keywords mapping, targeting different phases of your customers’ journey
- Content calendar
- Monitor target keywords (not only your existing top-performing keywords in the maintenance strategy)
- Link building & branding campaigns (minimum quarterly)
4. Aggressive growth. You want to dominate Page 1 of SERP for all or most relevant keywords. This strategy normally requires a lot more effort in content creation and link building. And, you should also implement branding routines.
Your website needs to be periodically crawled and audited for its organic traffic performance. Here is an example list of KPIs for SEO (if you want to go less technical, focus the first 3):
- Overall organic traffic and conversion growth
- Total number of organic keywords ranking on page 1
- Visitor engagement (time per session, pages per session, bounces, etc.)
- Keywords visibility (%) of different level of keywords (top, middle, bottom-funnel)
- Organic traffic of top pages
- Top keywords ranking changes
- Pagespeed (top pages)
Depending on how aggressive you are on SEO and organic traffic growth, you want to focus on a set of different routine tasks. But, the minimum effort you should make is to monitor the critical errors and overall organic traffic.
You want to avoid per keyword based pricing or pricing for a specific number of keywords. To me, this way of pricing shows they come from the last century and don’t really understand SEO; you want to avoid working with people who send you a proposal which ties a keywords quantity to a price.
It’s very common in China and some SEO vendors in Singapore also charge clients with a number of keywords. In Singapore, it’s a sign the person you’re dealing with does not have a good understanding of SEO.
Good SEO services not only target search engines but also user experiences. Google’s algorithm can now easily detect keywords stuffing or unnatural repetition of the same keyword or phrases.
The SEO pricing should be tied to the benefits (potential keywords volume and revenues). Targeting one keyword could be far more expensive than targeting ten or even hundred keywords.
You also want to avoid guarantees of first-page ranking. It’s short-sighted and often deceiving.
What you really want is to generate free organic traffic from search engines and convert traffic to sales and revenues. Ranking #X is not your goal.
Why could this type of offering be deceiving?
The keywords proposed by some SEO vendors are long-tail keyword (LTK) with very low or no search volume, such as “the best travel insurance agency in Singapore”; they look relevant, but few or no users use them to search for information online. So, targeting these LTKs is very easy, which leads to no or little traffic growth.
I’ve seen some businesses paid for thousands or tens of thousands and got nothing in return. You definitely don’t want that.
And, Google officially alerts companies to stay away from companies who claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google.:
No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.
Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.
The list of client portfolios may not help unless you know someone working in one of those claimed companies.
I came across an SEO agency owner in Singapore years ago who claimed a top airline as their client; and, this client turned out to be a client of his previous employer; even so, he wasn’t an SEO client.
You can ask detailed questions to verify their qualifications and experiences. In addition, check the references. But it has limitations.
Selecting SEO Vendors
What I found really useful is to sit in a presentation for their SEO proposal and understand the ROI as well as how they plan to achieve that. I’d ask them to include a case study of a similar operation (not necessarily similar industry).
I’d also request the person in charge of the project if they won the contract be there for the meeting so that I can get a real feeling and check on his or her qualifications.
The least you should understand before selecting an SEO service vendor are:
- How much you will invest in SEO
- How much more organic search traffic you will get from the SEO efforts
- The corresponding leads or sales
- Total revenues and ROI
You can commit small and gradually increase SEO spending if they deliver and hit the estimated returns.
In general, SEO pricing is either based on project, time (hourly rate), or retainer (a few hundred to several thousand per month).
In SEO services, you can’t simply say a $10,000 one is more expensive than a $5,000 one. What if the $10K service delivers you $20,000 extra revenues (ROI 100%) while $5,000 only returns $6,000 (ROI 20%)?
When you ask any company or consultant on the rate of their SEO services, you should have them send the estimated traffic and revenues too. Make sure they break down how they derive the figures.
SEO agencies in Singapore charge from a few hundred Singapore dollars a month. The five-million population Singapore is a small market so if you target local audiences only, be very clear about the traffic potential.
Again, it really depends on the deliverables before you could make a judgment on the fairness of the pricing.
Now you have some understanding of what SEO is and how to realize the value of SEO beyond traffic.
Your SEO services and operations could start with an SEO audit to identify the existing problems and opportunities, followed by on-page SEO optimizations and link building campaigns.
Choosing an SEO vendor can’t depend on the claimed clientele; talking to the SEO guy with detailed questions could be helpful. And, start small and gradually increase your spending on SEO.
If you have any questions not answered above that could help you manage SEO better, please leave in the comments below.