UPDATE: They just changed the schedule, so, if you got my schedule off here before 11:30 am Pacific Time Friday, it has changed. It's now how it's shown below:
Friday, February 27, 3:30 - 5 pm: Miva Merchant 5.5 using Skins and Dreamweaver, Room 6
Saturday, February 28, 3:30 pm - 5 pm: Using Store Morph Technology, Room 2
Sunday, March 1, 11 am - 12:30 pm: Store Morph Technology Simplified - Customizing Your Store, Room 6
Come join me! It's all hands-on so we'll be answering your questions to the best of our ability.
Be sure to find me at the back of the main conference room (where the keynotes are) at the MerchantTutorials.com booth and introduce yourself.
It takes some confidence to call yourself “The SEO Queen,” but Nikki Patrick has the skills to back it up. I’ve worked with Nikki on a few projects and have been impressed with her wide knowledge of search engine optimization. In preparation for her speaking engagement at the Miva Merchant User Conference in San Diego this week about how to hire an SEO consultant, I asked Nikki ten questions about this issue.
1. The SEO industry is plagued with scammers and amateurs with inflated resumes. It seems like every other person online is saying he or she is an SEO expert. How does a site owner find someone honest and truly skilled in SEO?
That’s a great question! I’ve run across a lot of business owners who have been burnt or left unsatisfied with their results. The first and most important thing you should do as a site owner is research the SEO company you are considering hiring. Treat an SEO firm like any other vendor you would use for your business. A good SEO firm will have a strong Internet presence in their local market. For instance, my company is in Tampa. If you Google “SEO consultant Tampa,” we are the first four listings. The SEO firm you are looking at should at least be on the first page of Google, Yahoo or MSN for either SEO consultant, SEO services, Internet marketing or Internet marketing consultant, and then whatever the local market is.
Next, ask to see results for other clients. A good SEO company should have a list of clients they can refer you to. Not only should you be able to see who their clients are, but they should also show you the keywords they are ranking for. I’ve come across many websites that say they offer SEO and list clients they have optimized. They have even gone as far to say what keywords they rank for. The important thing to look for here is whether those keywords are being searched for. It’s easy to get a client to rank for a keyword that has little or no competition. What you need to do is take those keywords and throw them into Google’s keyword research tool so you can see for yourself if those keywords are being searched for and are targeted for that website’s market.
I would also ask how many years of experience they have in SEO and how did they learn SEO. Ask if they use all white hat or above-board techniques for long lasting search engine success. Then ask when you should realistically expect to see results, since SEO isn’t a quick fix.
You could get really advanced and ask what their process is for keyword and market research. What industry tools do they use to find their information? How would your team be required to work with their team (because YOU WILL need to be involved in the process)? Also, ask what kind of link building or offsite campaign they offer. A good SEO firm knows that you can’t just optimize for a few keywords or pages. They should understand that every page on the site is a possible entryway for your visitors and therefore each page needs to be optimized.
There are many more questions you could ask. Just remember this, there are no guarantees in SEO. If a company is guaranteeing top rankings, then they are “full of it.” No one owns the search engines except the search engines themselves so no one can guarantee #1 results.
2. Isn't SEO really just good meta key words and description, and having decent content? What does an expert know other than that?
Back in the day, i.e., a few years ago, the keyword meta tag was a big deal. You used to be able to put the keywords you wanted to be found for in the meta keyword and description tag and BAM!... you were at the top of the search engines. That is no longer the case. Since so many people abused the keyword meta tag, Google lowered its relevance to almost nothing.
Now it’s just a great place to put your main keywords for the page, misspellings and geographical information like your city or surrounding areas you service. If you look at SEO as a big pie cut into 100 pieces, the keyword meta tag would count for only one sliver. Tip: Only use 10 to 15 keywords in the keyword meta tag. Those keywords need to be focused on that page or you could be flagged for spamming the search engines.
The description tag holds a little more weight because it actually shows up in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) most of the time. I say most of the time because the search engines ultimately decide what is going to show up in that area, but will use it the majority of the time. Be sure to complete this tag with keyword-rich descriptive content focused on the page they will be landing on. Remember, only 165 characters will show in the SERPs, so you want your main keywords to be toward the front. Don’t keyword-stuff here either or you will be flagged for spamming the search engines.
CONTENT IS KING!!! It’s the most important thing on your site so be sure that you work on this or hire a good copywriter that understands SEO. It’s well worth the investment.
An SEO expert should know all of those things. In addition, they should know that there are over 200 ranking factors that Google uses to determine whether your site is worthy of top rankings. They don’t have to know what all 200 are, but they need to be aware of the important ones. There are also 60 things that need to be or can be done to each page of your site to fully optimize it for the search engines. They should have a good understanding of inner linking and page sculpting. They will know and practice “White Hat” or above-board SEO techniques, so you won’t get flagged and penalized for spamming the search engines. They will always start with keyword and market research, and they will or should have a good understanding of not only how to get people to your site, but how to convert those people into sales. We often tell people that if you’re ranking at the top of the search engines and getting lots of traffic, but you’re not converting, then it’s probably your content.
3. SEO consulting rates are all over the place. There's really no way to compare apples to apples. What is your advice for deciding what is a good value versus a bad value?
I first want to start by saying “you get what you pay for” here. Don’t be mad when you aren’t showing up in the search engines because you wanted to be cheap about things. I wrote an article last year called, “Can I Afford To Be Cheap About My Internet Marketing?” I was inspired to write it after countless sales calls where the potential client thought a $7,000 starter package was too much for a website. Often I would say “you’re not getting ‘just’ a website, but also an online business designed and built to bring you sales for years to come.”
One of the first questions I ask a potential client is what kind of budget they have for their online business. The majority say they don’t have one, which tells me that they look at their website as an expense rather than a profit center. Just like any other marketing channel such as radio, billboards, magazines and newspapers, you have to have a budget for your online marketing.
When you sign on with an SEO firm, whether it be for consulting or a full implementation, more than likely you will be in a relationship with them for six months to a year. If done correctly, your optimization should last for a long time with only minor tweaking and adding of content so you stay relevant. You should ask yourself, “how much do I have to sell in order to get my ROI?” Just out of curiosity, I looked up what the standard rate is for an SEO. I found it ranged anywhere from $50 an hour to $250 an hour, depending upon experience and results.
I would suggest doing your research on each company you are considering, and then choose one whose prices fall right in the middle of that hourly range. We charge $125 an hour for our SEO services, which I think is very fair since it takes so much to correctly optimize a site. When all is said and done, all of our clients rank on the first page of Google for some if not all of their keywords, and we can prove it.
Remember, SEO is the foundation that makes all other Internet marketing aspects work. Look at it this way, you wouldn’t take the cheapest route when having your house built, would you? So why would you be cheap when having the foundation of your online business built?
As far as “good value versus bad value” goes, it really depends on the size of your site and the industry you’re in. If you have an ecommerce store or database-driven site, then you should expect to pay more. You also want to take into account the level of experience the SEO firm or consultant has. Resist the temptation to cut corners on this one, it’s too important.
4. Is Pay Per Click (PPC) part of what you do or a separate sector that requires its own expert?
Pay Per Click is a separate service from SEO. However, Pay Per Click requires optimization, keyword & market research, and landing page expertise. There are plenty of SEO firms that handle both SEO and PPC, including us. There are also companies that deal specifically in this area. My suggestion would be to do your research and find a company that can show good results. PPC doesn’t work for everyone and can drain your bank account if not set up properly. However, if it is set up correctly, it can drive a ton of traffic and make you a ton of money.
5. What is the hardest part of working with clients? Is it not getting their cooperation in writing content, or something else?
I would say the hardest thing about working with clients is having to explain to them why the way THEY want to do it won’t work. I find clients often think that people use the web just like they do, which is a skewed perspective. Trying to get a client to understand why a page has to be set up a certain way can be daunting. I often have to tell clients that we can do it the way they want, but if it’s not best practice or what I recommend, then you can’t be mad when it backfires.
Trying to get the client to understand that they have to be involved after they hire us is also a challenge. Internet marketing has changed dramatically over the past few years and continues to evolve at an accelerated rate. If you want to rank these days, you have to be EVERYWHERE. That means not only ranking organically, but having a blog, being involved in social media, using pay per click, email marketing and user generated content.
Most clients think they hire an SEO or Internet marketing firm and they’re job is done. That’s not the case. You have to be actively in touch with your buying audience, and who knows your buying audience better than you? I would say to anyone who has an online business to trust the firm you hire to make the right decisions and take their suggestions to heart. A good SEO firm should be able to justify to you why they are suggesting you do things this way. That’s not to say there won’t be compromises, because there will. It just means you, as a business owner, will have to be actively involved in the decision making process. A good SEO company will want your online success just as badly as you do, so give input and suggest what you would like, but take the advice they give to heart. You don’t want to miss the forest for the trees.
6. How does one become an SEO expert?
They say an expert in anything is someone who has logged over 1,000 hours in their field. That’s like 5 years if you work a regular 40 hour work week. However, with the vast amount of SEO training available and the ever-changing field, you can become an expert in about half that time. You could opt for the hands on training course where you sit in a classroom and learn SEO. I work for the Tampa SEO Training Academy, where we offer hands on SEO certification courses every six weeks here in Tampa. These classes are great for anyone who wants to learn SEO quickly, since it’s a 5 day course. That course comes with 6 months of mentoring so you’re not left alone wondering if you are doing it right.
There is also a plethora of websites that offer SEO training. I have had training from both the hands-on course you physically attend as well as online training sites such as Stompernet and SEOMoz. All are great ways of learning SEO, however the Tampa SEO Training Academy offers certification courses that are backed by continuing education units, which makes us very unique in the market of SEO training. Each has its pros and cons, but what makes someone an expert is the ongoing daily work that is done when optimizing websites.
When you learn from any of the industry experts I just mentioned, you are participating in what is called “Learned Knowledge”. Learned Knowledge is what you get when you attend school, college, training or any other form of learning via someone teaching you. Then there is “Activity Knowledge,” which you get by doing. What I think makes me an expert is my mix of learned and activity knowledge. A good SEO will be practicing in the field daily, as well as continuing training in a classroom or online environment.
7. Do you prefer to take on every aspect of a site's SEO, off site and on site, content and key words, or do you accept specific partial projects?
I prefer to take on every aspect of a site’s SEO. But our company does both. The reason I feel this way is because in today’s competitive market if you’re not doing everything, you are going to come up short. We get a lot of people asking us to just build them a website with no marketing. We always turn them down. In my opinion, there is no point of having an online business if you’re not going to market it.
The reason our company does both is because not everyone can afford a full SEO package. So, we recommend a starting point that is strategically designed for their particular needs. If someone has a tight budget, we may recommend starting out with PPC, or just the onsite optimization. If their site has had some optimization already and looks good from an SEO standpoint, we may recommend starting with offsite optimization. It really depends what they have in their budget.
8. Is what you do an ongoing relationship, or do you optimize and get out?
It’s definitely an ongoing thing. We contract with clients for 6 months to a year, but have had some of our clients for several years. They are on maintenance plans now and every so often we recommend a fresh new design and a fresh approach to the keyword research and optimization.
I probably get more involved with the client than I should. I’ve been known to be up at 11:00pm on a Sunday night with a client because Monday is launch day and we have to get everything finished in time. I also treat my client’s business like it’s my own. It’s the only way I can truly market their business. I have to study their market, get to know their buying audience and product line. I talk with the client weekly and sometimes daily so we establish a relationship. It’s just too hard not to care after all that.
Their success becomes my mission. In my opinion you should look for those qualities when hiring an SEO.
9. How much time do you spend each week studying and keeping up with the latest news and techniques in your industry?
I try to get in an hour a day reading the blogs I subscribe to and studying the latest changes and events in the industry. Sometimes that isn’t always possible so I try to do a mix of things.
I subscribe to Planet Ocean’s Search Engine News, which comes out once a month and offers the latest in search engine news. I regularly read Matt Cutt’s blog to keep up with Google, and I’m always attending webinars from Search Engine Workshops which is our parent company’s SEO training site for online training. I also attend our 40 SEO optimization courses, and aid the head trainer, Steve Scott, in the classroom every 6 weeks.
10. Why did you decide to do SEO?
Wow! I never imagined this would be my career in life. It took me until I was 27 to finally figure out what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” I came to Tampa 5 years ago from Maryland to go to college for graphics and web design at the International Academy of Design and Technology. While I was still in my second year of school, I started working as a graphic artist for the employment guide. I realized I didn’t want to be in the graphic design field. Around that time my web design classes started and I loved them.
At that point I still wasn’t thinking anything about SEO. Then one day my father was shooting pool with his league and decided on his own to ask around and see if anyone needed a graphic artist or web designer. It just so happened that Steve Scott, the owner of the Tampa SEO Training Academy, overheard him talking to someone else and said he was interested in talking to me. He gave my father his card and the rest is history. Steve hired me and taught me everything I know about SEO. I fell in love with it. Now I can’t imagine doing anything else.
000080;">Nikki Patrick has been actively practicing and training in Search Engine Optimization and Internet marketing for the past 2.5 years. She currently assists at the Tampa SEO Training Academy where one can become certified in Search Engine Optimization. She also runs an SEO Tips and Training blog that is geared towards helping people who are new to SEO and Internet marketing get a solid foundation for their online business. Nikki Patrick, AKA The SEO Queen, is dedicated to teaching and training proper implementation of SEO for a long lasting solid Internet marketing presence. Follow Nikki on Twitter @seoqueen.
We are sponsoring the Miva Merchant User Conference in a couple of weeks. If you would like to market your products or services to the hundreds of fellow Miva Merchant users at the conference, I can help.
I want to give a prize to one lucky attendee. If you want to promote your products or services, you can donate a prize for this package. It needs to be something free, not a coupon. If you participate, I'll put your info on the display sign and the prize-description flyer, as well as put business cards or flyers on my sponsor table. This is only open to Intermediate or Advanced subscribers. If this is of interest, email me at email@example.com. Hurry, though, as the conference begins February 26th.
Miva Merchant User Conference
If you're attending the conference, please let me know. If you're thinking about it, but not sure, I strongly suggest you go. It's so worth it.
Rick Wilson, Executive Vice President of Miva Merchant, explains very succinctly how you can impress your visitors and turn them into customers. With Rick's videos on yBCTV, you always get a lot of information in a short time. This video is about using website interactivity to enhance your online business sales strategy titled, "Interactive Store - Set Yourself Apart." Give it a view.
Are you going to the conference later this month? It's still only $299 through February 15th:
If you are an Advanced MerchantTutorials.com subscriber, and you're going to the conference, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll have a special fun gift for you.