Just getting your small business started with SEO and trying to find SEO help, whether it be through an in-house professional or through an agency, can be overwhelming to say the least. There is tons of information out there, everyone is an expert, and everything is always changing.

The truth is that who you end up working with and putting your trust in will make a big difference. If SEO is done wrong, you could spend months digging yourself out of penalties just trying to get back to where your started. We asked the women in SEO this question to try and get a good feel for what they’ve learned in their careers regarding this topic:

What advice would you give to small business owners just starting to weigh their options and look around for SEO help? Have you ever worked in an SEO agency and/or as an in-house SEO expert? Tell us about your past experiences and what you’ve discovered to be the best route to get a strategy going.  

Some of these women have worked in an SEO agencies, some on their own, and some in SEO departments, so they know the ropes. Check out what they had to say below:

What Have You Learned In Your Experiences about Finding SEO Help?

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpJulie Joyce is the Owner of Link Fish Media.

If you’re looking around for SEO help, I would absolutely not go and search the web for something like “best SEO expert” first of all. I’d ask for a recommendation or go dig around in the big industry sites and see who’s writing for them, and contact those people. By saying that I’m not trying to be self-promotional but I do think that really quality sites aren’t going to have scam artists writing regular columns for them. I wouldn’t choose a company just because they’re a mile away either, and I’d ask a lot of questions to make sure that they had expertise in what I needed, that they were transparent about how they’d be doing things, and that I just got a general good vibe off them.

I’ve worked as head of SEO for an agency and worked in-house for a company, and now I run my own company. Working at an agency was fun and it’s where I got my start so I’m thankful for that, but I’d have to say that it was my least favorite in terms of my SEO career. I kind of got thrown into it quickly and had to figure a lot of things out for myself which was a fantastic learning experience. Working in-house was fun but the interdepartmental issues weren’t. Running my own company is amazing and terrifying at the same time, but even on my worst days, I’m happier being in control of how I do things.

I think the best way to get any strategy going is to advocate your ass off. You need to research what you want to do, see what’s been said about it, what’s good and what’s bad, etc. You need to then just take the chance and run with something, and even if it fails, take it as a learning experience. I’ve certainly had some horrible ideas that didn’t work out, but I’ve had many ideas that did and some of those came about after another one failed and I knew what not to do. Don’t be afraid to test things, but always, always be honest with your clients about what you’re doing. If there’s one thing I cannot stand, it’s when people aren’t honest with clients. If you can’t tell them what you’re doing and explain why you’re doing it and have them back you up, you shouldn’t be doing it.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpElisa Gabbert is the SEO and Content Marketing Manager at WordStream, a provider of search engine marketing software and services. She manages the WordStream Internet Marketing Blog.

Before joining WordStream (where search marketing is part of the culture), I worked at an online media company when SEO was first becoming a buzzword – around 2005 – and people were beginning to realize that you couldn’t run a web company without search engine optimization. However, there was a lot of internal resistance at first. (We employed a number of former print journalists who didn’t want to change the way they wrote headlines, for example.) It helped a lot to have a few SEO evangelists – people who really bought in, got educated, and were willing to share their knowledge. Even if you can’t afford to hire a full-time in-house SEO, it’s a good idea to elect an SEO point person who is willing to stay informed and think about the SEO impact/implications when it comes to business decisions that involve the company website. Moz offers a free beginner’s guide to SEO, which is a great introduction for newcomers.

SEO can get pretty complicated, but I’d recommend that a small business start with these three strategies as a first step to getting more search-friendly:

  • Do a keyword audit of your site: Use keyword research tools like the AdWords Keyword Planner or WordStream to discover keywords relevant to your business. (For example, if you operate a food truck that sells Korean food, search around terms like “food trucks,” “LA food trucks,” “Korean food trucks,” “Korean restaurants,” etc.) Look at what keywords are on your competitors’ websites. Make a big list of relevant terms, then check to see if they actually map to pages and content on your website. The keywords need to appear in crawlable text, not be “hidden” in flash pop-ups or images.
  • Start a blog: A blog is one of the easiest ways to add fresh new content to your site on a regular basis. You need this so you can show up in the search results for relevant queries, as well as to attract links, which are a signal to Google that your site is high-quality. These blog posts should be relevant to your business and keyword topics, and genuinely helpful to the type of people who might want to buy your products or use your services. Going back to the food truck example, you might try sharing your recipe for kimchi, writing reviews of other local food trucks, answering questions like “How is Korean food different from other Asian cuisines?” etc.
  • Get social: Start accounts on all the big social networks – Facebook and Twitter at a bare minimum, but I recommend adding Google+ and LinkedIn if you’re B2B and Pinterest and Instagram if you’re B2C. Use these accounts to get your content out to interested parties: share new blog posts, announce new menu items (for example), etc. You’ll drive traffic and raise awareness. If prospects ask you questions via social media, answer, but also use those questions as ideas for content generation – blog posts and FAQ’s.

These are some very non-technical ways to get started. As you get comfortable, look into more advanced techniques. Just get started, then learn as you go.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpTamar Weinberg is an established digital sales, marketing, and strategy professional and Owner of TamarWeinberg.com.

I am sure many SEO agencies can all say “hear, hear!” to the fact that not every single SEO client contract will be a tremendous success. They have certainly had failures. I think the issue lies in those cases in communication. Unless your agency is 100% certain and aligned with the goals of you as a small business owner, you’re going to be unhappy. And also, as a business owner, you need to understand that this is not an instant goldmine. Results can take time–if you’ve ever been promised otherwise, BACK AWAY QUICKLY. They’re not selling a legitimate service and it could ban you from the search engines.

The right company is someone you will feel a good synergy with from the phone calls to close of the contract. You don’t necessarily need to go to a full service shop if they can recommend a partner who can do something better. However, having a provider who can do everything for you makes it easier for you to keep everything centralized and streamlined based on their communication. Plus, sometimes companies need to talk to other companies to get things done and you don’t want any bottlenecks.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpAna Hoffman is the owner of Traffic Generation Cafe.

“No matter how I look at it, if you really want to get any search engine traffic from Google now or in the future, here are your options:

    1. Do it yourself (learn what and how in my SEO Guide 2014 for non-SEOs here) then cross your fingers hoping it’ll be enough. Just being completely honest and transparent here.
    2. Become an SEO expert and REALLY learn what it takes to stay on top of your search engine rankings. Unrealistic for most of us, since we simply won’t have enough time to actually run our businesses.
    3. Hire a REPUTABLE SEO company. Yes, it’ll cost you, but at least you’ll have a much better shot at Google traffic, which might be a very healthy move for your bottom line. Personally, I’d look for a company with several years of past experience and happy clients; usually, it’s a good indication that they’ve been up and down with Google algorithm changes and know how to adjust their SEO tactics accordingly.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpKelsey Jones is Managing Editor of Search Engine Journal.

My advice for small business owners would be to educate themselves enough so they don’t get taken advantage of. Just because you don’t have an interest in SEO doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grasp the basics. I have seen so many shady agencies con small businesses out of thousands of dollars simply because they don’t understand what they are signing up for.

I worked for 2 separate agencies, both with experience in B2B and B2C social media and seo campaigns. The agency side is definitely different than in-house. Dealing with multiple clients and industries at once requires you to learn about so many different things, which definitely keeps it interesting.

The #1 thing I’ve learned is that the company and the SEO’s main point of contact has to care. If they don’t care about SEO as a whole, that’s fine, but they have to care about how the company is being presented online. Companies that are engaged with the whole SEO process will get a much better outcome, because they are able to help the SEO do the best job they can.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpKaila Strong is the Director of Client Strategy at Vertical Measures.

I’ve worked on the agency side in SEO for almost six years now. I can tell you during that time I have seen just about everything and anything as it relates to SEO clients. From the high powered executive who thinks they know everything there is to know about SEO, to the solo business owner who is a newbie to it all, each of these individuals has a special place in my SEO heart. Why? Because they are interested in the benefits SEO has to offer! It’s my passion too… and really is that first step: have an understanding of what this SEO stuff can do for you. Ask yourself what you are looking to accomplish, what are your goals and KPIs (key performance indicators) for this campaign? Only until you figure that out can you get started with the next steps.

After determining goals I’d encourage business owners to start figuring out who the experts are in the space. This doesn’t mean Google to check out a few websites and see what they have to say about their own services. Check out what others have to say about them, their company’s expertise shown on industry interviews and blogs, what are people saying about them in forums and reviews online? Do some recon work and see if they have their own SEO ducks in a row and you’re working with an expert, not a self proclaimed “guru”. Once all the information is gathered send along an RFP (request for proposal) and start chatting with some folks. Half the battle is having a working relationship with a vendor who communicates effectively and sets your expectations appropriately. Be wary of SEO companies who make outlandish promises. Don’t get tempted with a company simply because they have lower prices. Ask a ton of questions!

Many SEO companies today will provide you with an upfront strategy before you even sign a thing. See what kind of proposals your RFPs come back with. Which of the strategies most align with where your SEO priorities lie and your own philosophies? Hiring an SEO whether an individual or an agency is a huge undertaking. Know that it will take time to find the best partnership, but when you do the benefits can truly revolutionize your small business.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpKathleen Garvin works in content development and PR at SEMrush.

At my last job, we were hounded by companies vying to be our SEO service provider. While we had developed a web presence – the product began as a print trade journal – no one in the office knew much about SEO.

A common pickup artist technique is to “neg” a prospective date. (Example: “Why does a pretty girl like you look so sad?”) It’s a practice designed to make the other person feel self conscious or inferior.

Well, communications companies can be negged, too. One caller told my boss, “You have a great site, but a really low Alexa rating.” (As I frantically crowd-sourced the validity of such a dig.) Others used similar scare tactics.

My advice to small business owners, especially those new to SEO, is to choose a company that makes you feel valued. Like a pickup artist, any company that tries to devalue you off the bat is not the one you should partner up with.

julie Ask the Experts: The Women In SEO Speak Up about Getting SEO HelpAnn Smarty is Community and Brand Manager of Internet Marketing Ninjas and Owner of both MyBlogGuest and SeoSmarty.

That’s something users often ask at SEOchat. With so much bizarre SEO rumors, public case studies, etc, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. I have never had to look for an SEO, here’s what I’d do. (1) Search the web, ask on Twitter, Linkedin, etc for recommendations and collect 5-10 candidates (2) Get in touch in touch with the company and evaluate: (1) The response rate and tone (2) The flexibility (3) Their pricing… After that I bet you’ll have no more than 2 options left 🙂 Now go ahead and try both for one month but for different types of tasks (depending on what they offer).
As a small business owner, I’d also dedicate a week of my time to actually read the basics to understand which questions to ask, to understand red flags and know what to expect.

I’ve worked for two agencies so far. I can’t say I’ve been too much involved into creating the strategy at either (I usually shy away from the client work) but from what I see happening at Internet Marketing Ninjas, the best ways are:

  • Weekly strategy meetings on the highest level (involving CEO)
  • Brainstorming and tactical meetings involving the “front line” (Sales, since they were talking to the client first, and the actual managers who will be involved in the operational part)

This way strategy is customized: You don’t take the same approach with each client but instead create the flexible “road map” (that’s what we call the strategic plan for the client) where the client understands every part of it and can see where he may need additional help, what the timing of each item is, etc.

Your Turn

Do you have any questions for these experts? Feel free to leave a comment below and we’ll make sure you get answers!