It’s a fair assessment to say that most SEO blogs are written for people who have a current vested interest in SEO – mainly, a website. Our readers either have a website, work in some form of web based industry, or are our peers. But what about the business owner that isn’t on the web? Believe me, they are out there and many of them just don’t have time to be a Web Developer and SEO Pro on top of running a company. For this reason, I’m writing about how to hire the right people to do it for you (and do it properly). The good news is, you have advantages when creating a site from scratch. If done properly from the beginning, your SEO journey will be easier going forward.
Let me preface by saying, this isn’t a beginners guide to SEO. I’m not going to tell you how to optimize your site. What I am going to do is give you the tools to protect yourself from investing in the wrong website. I’ll give you the knowledge to find the right people to accomplish your goals and make your first jump into the web a successful one from an SEO standpoint. First and foremost, this is going to cost you. I can’t say how much but it won’t be free. Developer prices vary as much as the quality of work does. You can get good work for low prices and bad work for high. What you want is to find great work that fits your budget – easy enough.
As I mentioned before, you’re have a real advantage in that you can get your site designed with the core elements of SEO right off the bad. The only downside is that site history is a component of search engine rankings and you currently have none. With that said, you’ve got to start somewhere and now is the time to do it.
The first thing you should be doing is research. You’ll want to know enough to talk with SEO pros in their language. There are a lot of developers that don’t know the first thing about SEO so even a basic understand can help weed those from your potential hiring pool. Anyone can be intimidated by technical jargon so get the lingo down and have a basic strategy in mind first. I’m not saying become a guru, but if you don’t understand what to ask for, it’s more difficult to get what you need. Content is king but link building, keywords, meta data, site structure, and internal linking should all be areas of initial research. You should be able to easily grasp these topics in a week by investing an hour or so every night. While researching, prepare some questions to ask potential developers.
Once you know the basics, the next step is to research your competitors websites. Think of the two or three main keywords or phrases you would use to describe what you do. Type those keywords or phrases into Google and study the top sites that pop up. Recognize the elements of SEO you learned while researching and see how the top sites in your industry implement them. Try to find areas on each of the sites that you like. Take notes to eventually show your developer but screenshots are better. If you notice something you like but aren’t sure if it’s SEO friendly, do additional research. For example, if you see a video that seemed to work, do some research on Video SEO.
One of the most important aspects of your build is implementing an SEO friendly Content management System (CMS). Understand what it is and why it’s important. With a good CMS in place, you’ll be able to handle the majority of your content additions going forward and won’t have to rely on a developer to make simple updates or changes. Even if you don’t have time to do these updates yourself, it’s easy enough for an employee to handle it on the occasions something comes up. That’s the beauty of CMS.
OK, so you’ve done your research and can talk the talk. You aren’t a pro but you aren’t scared of SEO either. What do you do now? The point of all of this is so you can scout the proper development team. Go find a developer that knows what they’re doing and has a strong background in SEO. Ask them about their SEO strategy and if it doesn’t match up with what you’ve learned in your initial research, move on. Remember, SEO is an ongoing process but you want to have the proper foundation to build upon. Make sure they are grounded in the basic principles you researched. Those aspects I highlighted need to be at the core of every website.
You’ll want to look into some of the sites they’ve built and see how they are ranking in the search engines. Ask them to show you their work and ask specific questions about the SEO strategies they used on these sites and where the sites rank for their keywords. If they have high ranking sites – meaning sites with several target keywords in the top 10 results – find out what was involved in putting them together. You want to find people who are able to work with minimal direction so they don’t take up all your time. If you find their sites rank well but they don’t do creative, keep in mind you’ll have to put a similar team together or go someplace else. Perhaps they can recommend the creative team that was involved in that site build that is ranking well? Either way, having to put a team together isn’t a bad thing but having the option to one stop shop has its advantage in saving you time and gaining their experience working with each other.
Regardless of if you’re team comes from the same shop or several, discussing creative is the next step. Talk through the areas that are involved in SEO, specifically on the content side of things. Look into their keyword strategy. If you sell shoes and they recommend ‘shoes’ as your main keyword, it’s probably not a good idea unless you’re Nike, and even Nike doesn’t show up on the top results page when searching ‘shoes’ (although their site isn’t the most SEO friendly). Sometimes the competitive environment is too strong to battle for broad keywords. Finding a good balance of search results and competition is what you’re looking for so find someone that understands the concept. You’ll want a strong keyword strategy from the onset so you don’t have to fix it later.
One last thing you should cover is the visual element of your site. You want your site to look pretty but it’s important to understand how images affect SEO. You could have the best looking site in the world but if people can’t find the site, what have you accomplished? The battle between creative and SEO is hard fought but there is a good medium and you want to find the person who understands it. If their work looks good and is highly ranked, it’s a fair assumption they know what they’re doing.
Once you find a developer and creative team you feel comfortable with, bring your notes from your competition research and collaborate towards a great site, which will allow you to stay on top of your SEO goals. It’s important to understand that building a site is just the first step but I’m a firm believer in doing things right the first time. If you find you don’t have time to keep up with your ongoing optimizations, you can always hire someone to do that as well. Unfortunately, that’s a whole other blog post.
Robert is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.