Search Engine Optimisation Consultant, four words to make the heart sink. On average I get about a dozen emails a week from SEO 'experts' telling me that they can help me into the top 5 search results in Google "for your keyword phrases such as…", at which point they paste in a few phrases they think they understand from our website. I've never trusted SEO consultants to deliver medium or long-term benefits, only short-term bills. Here's why.
(If you're reading this and you work for or with Bing or other search engines, my apologies. At the moment, for 99% of businesses, Google really is the only game in town. If that makes you sad, just pretend I'm using Google as a descriptive word like Hoover or Xerox.)
Inelegant expertise beats elegant bullshit
90% of SEO is about content, specifically about writing content for your site that is true to the purpose of your business and knowledgeable about the issues that concern your potential customers. You can write this yourself far better than you can explain the entire background of your industry to someone who you've employed on an expensive daily rate. It might not end up as elegant as a professionally crafted piece but inelegant expertise wins every time over elegant bullshit. If you're really worried about how your copy comes across, hire a copywriter to tidy up the language after you've written a few drafts. Copywriters are ten a penny.
Google wants to find you
If 90% is about content, what's the other 10% about? Not being stupid. There are some basic skills you'll have to pick up to make sure that your site is receptive to the traffic and queries that Google is sending your way. The good news is these skills are available for free, here's an excellent example from Google's Webmaster Central blog on understanding and making the most of search queries using Google's webmaster tools.
Google webmaster tools and analytics are great fun, as addictive as many video games. Register, upload one small file, stick a bit of code in a page (you'll be told how) and pretty soon you'll have a mass of interesting information to play with. Google will even help you draw common sense conclusions. I'm not a great fan of Google's efforts in the hardware space (glasses? really??) but they really know their stuff when it comes to SEO and helping you do it yourself.
Google are pretty good at their job
Unsurprisingly Google know what they are doing. They're good at finding sites that talk authoritatively about the subjects those sites focus on and good at filtering out sites just pretending to. SEO companies offering you special manoeuvres to get around Google search algorithms (or anyone else's for that matter) MAY just have a way of doing so but, as most search companies tweak those algorithms every month or so, you'll be paying them to come back in before you see any measurable results.
SEO is fun
Sadly, all many consultants are interested in is picking up some of industry buzzwords and cranking the handle on the SEO machine half-a-turn. You could go on world cruise for the amount of money you'd have to pay a consultant to understand your business half as well as you can easily understand the basics of theirs. And it's fun, watching the visitor number rise (and fall) and figuring out why and how is a great way of connecting with new markets and opportunities. Putting a consultant between you and website data that you are perfectly capable of comprehending and understanding yourself could introduce translation errors that will do serious damage to your profits.