As I see it, there are some major advantages to taking either of the above routes. First of all, let’s look at you becoming your own web design and SEO expert. If you have worked your way through this guide to this point, chances are you’ve learned some new things. You have done, in point of fact, what professionals in this industry do, which is to research how to build a site which has the best possible chances of ranking well in the major search engines.
Bearing in mind that this guide does not cover all of the specifics, by any means, it is a good starting place if you are determined to become your own web design/SEO expert. If this is the path you want to take, you have many hours and possibly years of research ahead of you to get up to a professional level of skill. Trial and error can be the best schoolroom for the learner. You will learn, by experimentation, what works and what doesn’t. You will discover which of your pages rank well and which don’t. And, you will be cutting out the middle man in the deal. If you can become truly skilled, you will not have to pay a skilled person to help you.
On the flip side, many small businesses do not wish to wait around while they are studying SEO and web design to have their site begin to perform well. Most people want to begin seeing profits as soon as possible. Also of importance, there are some risks involved in using your small business website as a learning ground. There are mistakes a novice designer can make which can have consequences that scale from minor to major. One of the chief concerns I have when people go it alone is that there is a proliferation of really bad advice out there about Search Marketing. Follow the wrong advice and you could end up with a penalized site, simply because you didn’t know that what sounded so clever on someone’s blog is actually against Google’s webmaster guidlines.
If you decide to become your own SEO and web design expert, you gain both total control of your website as well as the burden of total responsibility for its performance. Only you can decide if it is in the best interest of your business for you to go it alone, and whether you will honestly have the time and patience to undertake this task.
If you decide to hire a pro.
Not all web design and SEO firms are created equal. A business can opt to work with a freelancer, contact a small firm like ours, or try to get taken on by a world-famous web design/SEO company. Whatever path you take, do be warned that there is currently a glut of unethical, unqualified so-called “experts” offering their services. These people may contact you via email or telephone. The fact that they are contacting you is not, in itself, a bad thing, but what is a most distressing issue is that bad companies are convincing web business owners that they are offering worthy services every day. Before you get under contract with any SEO or web design provider, please read the following list of 8 questions. A competent web designer or SEO should be able to answer every one of these questions correctly:
1) Do you know the search engine algorithms? Yes or No.
A) No! Nobody does. The genuine experts do have good theories about what the algorithms are for the major search engines, but no one actually knows.
2) Will you submit my website to Google? Yes or No.
A) No. Professional web designers and SEOs do not ever submit websites to Google. The Google submit function was created to relieve Google from having to answer thousands of emails asking, “Why isn’t my site in your results?”. If your site is built right, with a correct linking structure, Google will pick it up.
3) How many search engines will you optimize my site for? 10 engines? 100 engines? Google, Yahoo!, MSN?
A) The three engines professional SEOs optimize for are Google, Yahoo and MSN. Ask is beginning to create some waves as well. But, any ‘expert’ who says he will optimize you for thousands of search engines doesn’t know what they are talking about.
4) Are you ‘in good’ with the search engines? Yes or No.
A) Absolutely not. Search engine results can not be bought or wheedled. If an ‘expert’ claims he or she has a special relationship with the search engines, this is not a good sign. It simply is not true.
5) Which of the following is currently seen as having the most value in the Google algorithm? Meta keywords, Meta description, Title Tags.
A) Title tags are currently viewed as packing the most punch in terms of optimization. Though the meta tags are still important for other reasons, they are not keys to how you rank. If you don’t know what these things are, don’t worry. The SEO expert should, and if they tell you it’s all about fixing your meta tags, that’s simply not a good answer.
6) Who is Matt Cutts?
A) Matt Cutts works for Google. He has become a sort of public face for them in the SEO community. This is a handy question to ask an SEO expert, because it will show whether they actually pay any attention to what is going on in the world of SEO. Though knowing his name has nothing to do with how your site will rank, anyone who is up-to-date on current SEO trends is going to at least know who this guy is.
7) How often will you be submitting my site to the major search engines?
A) This is a trick question. I’m mentioning it because one of the things we see scam SEOs telling people they will do is submit their website to 900 search engines every week, or something similar to that. This is almost like the calling card of a bad SEO person or company. If you hear this, you know you’re dealing with a quack.
8) Can you guarantee my top 10 Google ranking? Yes or No.
A) No!!! I’ve saved the most important question for last here. No one (except maybe Matt Cutts!) can guarantee your Top 10 Google ranking. As SEOs, we simply have no control over the search engines. We cannot control how your website ranks. What a bona fide expert offers you is their track record. All real SEOs have their own different, yet similar, strategy for achieving optimum rankings for their clients, but not one of them can offer you a guarantee. The reason you hire an expert is because they have a proven record of getting good natural rankings for their clients. This shows you that they know what they are doing. But, they will not offer you a guarantee, if they are the real deal.
If the company you are speaking to answers all of the above correctly, chances are they’ve got some idea as to what SEO is all about. However, that’s not a guarantee. You should be able to see examples of the other work the person has done that shows that their clients are ranking at the top. You should also be allowed to speak to their other clients for references. And, bear in mind that high rankings are only one metric of success. Real success is all about conversions, however those conversions are achieved. It’s your bottom line that shows whether your efforts are profitable or not, so, to my mind, the real question when hiring an SEO is not about rank, but rather about profits achieved for past clients. Discuss this with any SEO you are considering hiring.
The benefits of hiring a skilled, proven professional are pretty obvious, but I will state them anyway. A professional has the years of experience in their back pocket. They’ve taken other companies to the top of the search engine rankings and have increased their profits. The pro is going to put his/her skills at the disposal of your small business website. Though no one can guarantee your rankings or sales, you know that the pro is going to create a website for you that is ready to be marketed.
We have now covered the basics of SEO and web design for small web businesses. Again, this guide is meant as your starting point and there is still much to be learned. At the very least, we hope that reading this guide will enable you to choose wisely if you are hiring professional help. Or, if you have an existing website, we hope this guide has helped you to troubleshoot issues on your site that may be harming its value. And, if you are about to embark on becoming a web design and SEO expert, we hope you have benefited from this guide and wish you the very best of luck in all of your business ventures.
Further SEO authority reading
The SEOigloo Blog is our company’s latest outreach to the small web business community. Each week, we publish new blog posts geared specifically toward SEO, Local SEO, and copywriting for small businesses.
Understanding Google Maps and Yahoo Local Search: Our colleague, Mike Blumenthal’s excellent blog about Local Search. Important for any company with a local service area.
Mihmorandum: Our colleague, David Mihm’s blog, covering Local Search and SEO. A wonderful read for small business owners.
Cre8asite Forums: The best and most helpful forum small business owners can join. Cre8asite Forum offers a category to which you can submit your website for review. Members will critique the design, usability, and optimization of your site in order to help you improve your Internet presence.
Search Engine Guide: One of our industry’s most respected publishers of articles for small business owners. Search Engine Guide will help you to become well-informed about optimizing your website and marketing your business.
Search Engine Land: Our industry’s premier publication, offering advanced coverage of search engine news.