Hiring an SEO company

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(Disclaimer: This is a post written by family-run SEO company Design Your Way)

First thing’s first, do you actually need to hire an SEO company? Whether you’re just starting a new business or moving your brand/activities online, then it’s important to think about which resource you have in shorter supply; time or money?

If money is scarcer:

Then most likely the best thing for you to do at the moment is focus on using a website builder tool such as Wix, Weebly, WordPress or any other tool to just get an internet presence first and foremost. This gives you an opportunity to sit down and create an experience for potential customers. You can choose whether the first thing they see is reviews from other customers, a call to action to get in touch, photographs of your work, or anything else you feel important.

When it comes to the SEO side of things, Google has changed the online world to one where marketing matters much more than technical tools and coding. Google is much more likely to put human-written, great-sounding copy in a higher position than copy that is made to “game” the tools. It’s also more likely to put websites where people spend a few minutes browsing it above websites where people stay on it for 30 seconds then leave.

If you can create an experience that gets people enjoying your site, spending time on it and sharing it out to their friends on social media, along with following the more technical steps laid out previously in this blog, then you’re well on your way to having a website that reaches the top of Google within a few months to a year, depending on the niche!

The downside to this approach? Unless you have lots of time to spare updating the website constantly with content, being good at writing engaging sales copy and making it shareable, or time to spare learning these skills, then you’ll just end up with a vanity site that no-one is seeing!

If time is scarcer:

Then hiring an SEO company to build you a website, or take care of yours and push it in front of more potential leads is the smartest investment you can make in the current era. The internet and search engines – particularly Google is only becoming more prolific in our lives and reaching its tendrils everywhere. If you are at the top of Google then you are dominating your competition by orders of magnitude.

How to choose an SEO company?

There are many, many, SEO companies out there, so how do you choose the right one?

Relationship with the SEO company

The most important thing is to make sure you choose a company that you get on well with and feel you can have a good relationship with; same as any other company you would partner with.

An important thing to note there is the use of the word partner, the best relationship with an SEO company is more like a partnership, they should want to help your business grow and enable themselves to grow with you. As your company can handle more of a workload and expand, they should be ready to expand with you, and in kind you should reciprocate.

SEO can take a long time to work, normally from 2-3 months to over a year depending on the strength of your competition, so you are building a long-term relationship with a company that will be doing work you may feel looks like magic, or completely opaque, or at times even like they aren’t doing anything! While in this time, they’ll be busy reaching out to influencers, blogs & website, changing code to keep up with Google’s updates, placing your business into directories for citations and any other number of things that aren’t updating your website or social media!

Expectation setting

Another way to separate the wheat from the chaff is whether the company sets expectations for you upfront or not. Before meeting with you/talking with you, they should have done their research on your niche (and if they haven’t, then don’t even think about using them!) and they can tell you how long they think it’ll take for your website to start ranking. This will really depend on your competition, but at least 3 months is normally a good amount.

i.e., if you’re a new plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills, things will take an extremely long time (up to two years) to work, but if you are a tree surgeon in a local area where none of the other companies have got online yet, then you can be at the top of Google within a few weeks!

Reviews from previous clients

A very important thing in the industry – and for you! – is whether a company can get results or not. The prospective company should be able to provide you with references from previous happy clients and if they can’t, then it’s probably a sign that either they don’t have the experience required to do a great job, or have left previous clients with a bad taste in their mouth.

Always ask for references, and if you like the sound of what you hear, then go ahead!

Contracts and package deals

Another tell that a company does a poor job is if they want to lock you into a long-term contract of 6-12 months with no break clause. This is normally emblematic of a company that knows they can’t retain clients for whatever reason – whether it’s because they do a bad job of SEO, communication, reputation or anything else. It means they aren’t confident they can keep you as a client more than a few months, so this should be a great red flag!

We’ve found the best happy medium is a rolling contract every 3 months; this gives SEO enough time to start working to a real degree, while also not being long enough that it will break the bank for the company. The price of this normally ends up being the same price they would have paid for a newspaper/magazine advert for the area size of their niche – local, national or international. They can choose whether to continue and we go from there!

The last red flag is one-size-fits-all package deals. If a company offers these, it means they don’t offer a tailored experience to your niche and this is a real problem. Real SEO work requires researching your niche, your competition, your customer base and potential customer base and plenty more besides. Before meeting with you they should know just what and how long it will take to help you out and price accordingly. If they don’t, it’s normally a good sign that they aren’t detailed and are most likely an agency that does cheap, useless work!

We hope this guide has been a great help, and if you’re thinking of hiring an SEO company, then we’d really appreciate it if you checked us out: http://www.designyourway.co.uk/

Thanks for reading!

And the winner of our backlink competition is…

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We’d like to thank all the businesses and organisations that got in touch with us about our backlink competition, but there could only be one winner:

Earthcare Gardens: Landscape Designers in Wallington!

The reason we chose this company is that we like their ethos of being a family-run business committed entirely to providing value to their customers, not just in financial terms, but also with guiding their customers through not only what would make the customer happy now, but also in the future and making an eternally beautiful and useable garden.

It’s also a funny coincidence that they’re based very close to Surrey and sounds a lot like the company we’ve been using in our SEO basics posts!

We’ll keep fortnightly updates with how much more traffic and higher ranking they get to their website through Google thanks to this new powerful backlink. We really want to show the importance of high-power backlinks, and while our site isn’t exactly the BBC, we do have some juice (enough to help their site out anyway).

What you should see is that when Google indexes it in a few days, it will take a week or two to kick in, but they should rank higher for certain keywords, appear for new ones and gain more views as a result. Whether or not people click on their link will depend slightly on their meta descriptions and titles as we talked about in our blog post on on-page optimisation, but we expect an improvement either way.

We look forward to their success!

COMPETITION!

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NOTE: This competition is now over! Click here to find out the winner!

As part of our mission here at Tokopen of helping small businesses and providing them with knowledge, we thought we’d have a little competition!

In our previous post we wrote about the importance of backlinks to sites and we want to show just how much difference they make. So, we are going to offer one company a FREE backlink from our site!

All you have to do is e-mail us with the details of your company and the site, why you feel you should get the backlink and also be willing to provide some follow up of how your rankings and traffic improve – don’t worry if you don’t know how, we’ll talk you through it!

Good luck to all the entrants, and we’ll pick the winning company in a couple of days!

SEO Basics for a Small Business – Backlinks

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Welcome to our last post in this series on SEO basics for Small Businesses! In this post we’ll talk about the importance of gaining high-value backlinks from other websites in order to improve your web presence.

At its core, the internet is just a lot of pages all connected to each other through links. Nowadays almost every page gets linked to from Google so they are all connected through that, but Google also realises that pages like to connect to each other, and this becomes one of the biggest factors in you rising through Googles search engine rankings.

Why are backlinks so important?

Everyone talks about backlinks, but it’s hard to realise their importance if you don’t know what they symbolise.

If you’ve written a great piece of content, if you’ve broke some very important news, have a funny cat video or anything similar, then people will talk about it and link to the page it appears on. If Google sees lots of sites pointing to another one, then it will realise that there’s a lot of fuss being made about that site, so there must be something important, valuable or authoritative on that page. Google will analyze the keywords used in the pages linking to that other site, figure out what the site is about and then raise that site in its rankings to get it in front of more people.

Lets take a real world example following on from our Garden Landscapers in Surrey. We keep a blog on our website and one day decide to write a 4000 word article about the materials used in hard landscaping. Word spreads about our blog post and other sites start to link to it. Material suppliers link to it for more information on the materials they use, other landscapers link to it as an example of valuable knowledge, DIY forums link to it to give people more information on what materials they should buy for their projects.

Google then sees all these different websites suddenly pointing to our blog post, talking about materials in hard landscaping. Google realises it’s valuable content for people looking into hard landscaping, and wants to put our site in front of more people, so raises our site’s rankings for people searching “hard landscaping”. Suddenly we start to get lots more traffic and potential leads. This also has a knock-on effect of other keywords on our site rising up the rankings as Google can see it as an authoritative source.

Google also places higher importance to link from sites that lots of others link to. An example would be if we got a link from the BBC News site, Google knows the BBC is a very important corporation, so a link from there would serve as a very important reference for how authoritative our site is. One BBC link would be worth hundreds or thousands of links from smaller sites.

How do I gain more backlinks then?

Short of going viral for something funny, outrageous or connecting to a world event, gaining backlinks takes a fair amount of work, time and patience. You will have to spend a lot of time figuring out what content and writing style works and what doesn’t, and when you feel you have a great article or post that others can refer to for more information when they need it, THEN you should start outreach.

Get in touch with other companies, blogs and important players in your industry and let them know about your content, ask them if they can link to it in exchange for a service or work from you, figure out what value you can provide them, and exchange that for a link from them.

This step can take weeks to months depending on how popular your niche is, but it’s definitely worth it in the end when you’re sitting on top of google for Landscapers in Surrey or whatever your industry is in. You’ll be dominating your local market online, which means you’ll be dominating the industry in that area and having to expand because you’re so busy with leads and work.

Your next steps

So now you know what you have to do to start getting some leads and customers from the internet, it’s time to actually start doing some work to get them! The first thing you should do is get a website built if you don’t have one, using the right keywords that we talked about in our first post, and make sure when the site is being built, the designers follow all the good rules of on-page optimisation. While the site is being built, you should also make sure to build local listings and optimise them fully to appear in local searches, then once your site is built and you’re updating your blog, when you feel you have a great piece of content, follow the steps in this post!

We hope this post series has been helpful for you, and if you have any questions for us, be sure to get in touch with us!

Other posts in this series:

SEO Basics for a Small Business – Optimizing Local Listings

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Welcome to the third post in our series on SEO for small businesses! In this one we will explain the importance of optimizing you local listings in Google, Apple maps etc.

Local listings are of the utmost importance for any small, local business, especially those that serve at their location such as a bar, restaurant, or bookshop. When prospective customers search for a local business, search engines now like to place their local listings (Google and Apple maps) front and centre of the search results. They know that if people are looking for a business, it converts more searchers into leads by showing them exactly how close a business is to them, as well as reviews from other people in the community.

20% of all desktop searches have a local intent (people are looking for a business close to them), on mobile, that number jumps to 50%. That’s why it’s so important to make sure when customers search for a business like yours, your local listing is as strong as it can be. While every search engine now boasts local listings, we’ll just focus on Google My Business in this post.

Optimizing Local Listings

The first thing you’ll want to do if you don’t have local listings is to create them! First, search for your business name or phone number and check if it isn’t already listed – if it is, scroll down a paragraph to find out what to do! Search for Google Business and click ‘Get On Google’, type your business name and then on ‘Add Your Business’. Then fill in your business details and make sure to click on ‘Verify my business’.

Sometimes, you’ll find that your business is already listed even if you haven’t done anything to create one, this is because advanced Google users and reviewers will sometimes place a listing in themselves in order to review it. In this case all you have to do is claim it by clicking on the link saying ‘Claim this business’.

As for the local listings themselves, you want to make sure you input as much information as possible about your business. You should make sure your address and phone number are correct, as well as having many, eye-catching images of your business, your work, your team and anything else you think would be interesting and show your business’ personality. We recommend at least 20 images. You also want to ensure your business’ opening hours are correct. You don’t want people searching for your business only to be told incorrectly by Google that you are closed!

Also ensure you are under the correct categories, you have keyword rich descriptions that also sell searchers on your business, and link your local listing to your business’ Google+ page if you have one.

Citations

The next important thing is to make sure you validate your business to Google. The way you do this is by placing your Name, Address and Phone Number (NAP) into listings across the internet such as Yelp, CheckATrade, Yellow Pages etc. The more often Google sees these across the web, the more validated your business becomes to Google, showing you are a legitimate business.

Reviews

These are another critical component in your arsenal against your competition. When your prospective customer searches for your service, they are given an idea of the reputation of your company through Google’s reviewing system. In the local map pack, those businesses that have 5 or more reviews get a graphic start rating appear on their local listing. Take a look at the image below and have a think about which listing stands out more.

Only two of these have graphic star ratings, and they obviously stand out more than the Surrey Creative landscapes. At the same time, Surrey Scapers only has 5 star ratings, which looks rather suspicious, and these two factors are part of the reason Surrey Hills Landscaping is at the top of that search.

In summary, making sure your local listing is as optimized as possible, linked to your website and social media and appearing in many different places across the web, is an incredibly powerful way of improving your online marketing and getting more customers calling your business!

Other posts in this series:

SEO Basics for a Small Business – On page factors

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Welcome to the second part in our series on SEO basics for small businesses! In our previous post we talked about the importance of keyword research and choice, in this post we want to talk about what specifically you need to do on your website to help Google improve your rankings and get you in front of more qualified leads.

There are many factors to bear in mind when thinking about on-page optimisation, so it can be a bit overwhelming to think about when figuring out the basics of your SEO, however, there is a simple way to break it down into bite-size chunks of information.

  • Site structure
  • Titles, headers and descriptions
  • Images
  • Content

Site Structure

You want to make your site as easy to navigate as possible for people visiting your site. Luckily doing this has the added effect of becoming easy for search engine crawlers to navigate, figure out and display! Firstly, it’s important that pages link between each other, so users are never stuck on a page where their only option is to press the back button on their browser (very bad!).

Another thing to bear in mind is the way your site’s URLs look. It’s much better to have them read as www.YourWebsite.com/Page-Name, than www.YourWebsite.com/index.php?id=1, or something equally non-sensical. Not only does this read better for users, but also search engine bots, as they can then match the URL: with the content and the titles on the page.

Another very important thing to bear in mind is to set up something called auto-redirects, so that if a user accidentally accesses a page that you’ve taken down, or a mis-typed URL, they will automatically get redirected to your homepage or another part of your site.

Titles etc.

Titles and Meta Descriptions are the parts of a web site that show up in search engines when people are using them. 

The blue link is the title that you set on your page – this can be changed very easily in most site builders such as WordPress or Weebly, otherwise it can be done directly in the site’s code. The green text is your URL, notice how the checkatrade link has a URL structure that’s easy to understand for a reader, so search engine bots see it the same way. The black text is the ‘meta description’ that the page has, this is something you can also set on each page in most website builders.

These are very important to write effectively and efficiently. You only have around 67 characters for your title tag, and 155 characters for your description. In those short bursts of text, you not only have to inform users of what is on your site, but also tell Google what is on it so that it can reference it with the content on your page.

If your title and description say the site is about underwater basket weaving, yet the content talks about landscaping in Surrey, this will confuse anyone clicking your link, and Google looks at it the same way, and will lower your sites rankings in search. At the same time, you want your title and description to entice and sell people to click on your site. It’s a very delicate balancing act, so some time should be put aside to devote to this. There’s not much use being at the top of Google if your sites tags don’t convince people to click on it!

Images

While people can see your images, remember that search engine bots can’t understand what images show. The most important thing to do with images is make sure all of them are titled with what the image is, and each of them have an alt-text, which describes what the image is of. That way search engines can be told what the image is of and understand it within the context of the page.

Content

Of course last, but by no means least is the content on your page! Thsi is the actual writing you’ve put on your page which is used to describe, inform, sell or discuss with people visiting your site. As said above, if your content is about a completely different subject to your title and description tags, as well as the image alt texts, this will confuse users and by extension Google.

Another thing to bear in mind with your content is the keywords you’ve chosen for your site. The more you talk about your keywords in your content, the better. However, over-optimising your content by adding the keywords into every sentence will get you slapped by Google. Their bot is clever enough to understand when you’re sacrificing the quality of your writing for the sake of fitting your keywords in unnaturally. It is also clever enough to know what your keywords are if you’re using related keywords, plural or non-plural, and similar subjects.

The best advice we can give for your content is to make it as natural for people to read as possible, filled with value and preferably longer than 600 words. Do this, and not only will your users engage with it, but Google will reward you greatly!

Other posts in this series:

SEO Basics for a Small Business – Picking the Right Keywords

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We understand that if you’re a small business owner, figuring out your own SEO and online marketing can feel like a tidal wave of information hitting you and after a short while, you haze over, unable to understand anything and you put it off for another few weeks. In the meantime your competitors are steaming ahead of you and dominating your market. We hope to change that in our first series of blog posts on SEO!

SEO mainly comes down to 4 things:

  1. Picking the right keywords for your site
  2. Getting your onsite SEO optimised well
  3. Optimise your local listings
  4. Gaining backlinks from high-value or high-traffic sites

In this post we’ll focus on how you can pick the right keywords for your business to help target as many people in Google, with as little competition and specifically to people as close to buying as possible.

Picking the right keywords

Picking the right keywords for your website is vitally important. While you may believe that Landscape Designs may be the best keyword for your landscaping company, as that’s what most people would say out loud, when searching, people may surprise you by inputting a different phrase.

The best way to find the right keywords is by using Google’s Keyword Planner tool available here: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner. For the above example, I’ve researched what the best keyword would be for a landscaping company in Surrey.

Surrey Landscaping keywords

Notice how the original suggestion of Landscape Design has on average 10-100 searches and has high competition? However, Garden Design has the same amount of competition, but an average of 10X the amount of searches! Then you have the simple keyword of landscaping that has the same amount of searches but medium competition?

If you were a landscaping company in Surrey, then Garden Design or Landscaping would be what you want to go for. it’s also very important to think about the keywords people type when they’re just curious about a service and when they’re ready to buy a service.

Think about the difference between a person searching “Landscaping” and someone searching “Landscaping quotes in Surrey”. There’s a very big distinction in that the first searcher is just curious about designs, while the second searcher is actively looking for a company to work on their property. You want to be in front of the second searcher, who is on the verge of buying, but just need that extra little push from you and your website.

This comes down to what are called long-tail keywords; phrases that are 3-7 words long. You want to write content on your site that specifically deals with the keyword you want to rank the site for, but if you also drop a few longer-tail phrases in there, it will help your site reach more people that are inputting detailed searches.

Another good way of finding exact search phrases that people search for are by looking at Google Suggest. This is where if you are on Google’s search page, or Google Chrome, when you start typing a search, suggestions will pop up. If you start to type in “Landscaping in Surrey”, you will start to see suggestions pop up. These are what you want to look at, as Google doesn’t include them in its keyword planner since they’re longer-tail, but they are the most popular ‘real’ searches that people input, rather than abstract keywords.

Landscaping in Surrey Google Suggest

The third way we would suggest you find great keywords is to steal your competitors’! Tools such as SEMRush, allow you to see what keywords your competitors are ranking for, and how much traffic they’re getting from each one per month. This is especially useful to find gaps in the market they haven’t targeted, keywords that you would find very difficult to rank for against them, and where you can take market share from them.

While there are more advanced tools, we would suggest you stay away from them as you can get all the data you need from those three places. Spend a few hours figuring out the best keywords for you, and build your site – and preferably buy a domain, around that keyword, and you’ll be well on your way to dominating your local market!

Other posts in this series:

The Tokopen Blog

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This is the new Tokopen site: It’s a blog about the latest developments in SEO, how businesses can reach more of their potential customer base and we’ll recommend some great tools and companies that can help you out!

We’re all about providing value here, so if there’s anything you’d like to know about and we haven’t covered, then do let us know!