What You Need To Share With Your SEO Provider Before Any Work Begins?
Not so long ago I have decided to give a project of a one-time web page optimization for one of my websites to a professional SEO agency. That was (and still is) type of a job that I prefer to delegate to the relevant experts. Had I not have the previous experience in this process being a liaison for my clients in contacts with SEO providers – easily I would be swamped into a potentially stressful process. To be completely honest it was not entirely painless exercise this time, either. I decided to share the key learnings and observations with my friends and colleagues. Discussing it with them I have quickly realized how they dislike it and how distant this topic appears to them. Even super smart people try to neglect and avoid getting closer to the subject as if the industry created the artificial sense of complex and distant area nobody wants to penetrate. So usually what happens is – everybody hopes for the best, trusting the professionals do the outstanding job for the sake of their expertise. The agency or consultant commissions the project assigns the relevant team communicates from time to time in more or less stressful to declare the job done, usually after several weeks. The time passes and your site, so it appears, does not produce expected results. Again you start searching in Google and other search engines and you realize that your company is not as highly ranked as you were convinced it was and as the agency has shown you the other day. What has just happened? Well, most probably you were not managing the process accurately.
I am of the opinion that you cannot manage what you do not measure and understand at least on the general level. In the case of SEO, the trick is not to become an expert in SEO but to follow the bombproof process that ensures maximum effects in minimum time and a reasonable amount of money. In the end, we all have our businesses to run, teams to manage and clients to pamper. The secret stands in the ability to express clearly your SEO strategy outline together with your expectations and communicate them to the SEO provider in a super clear way. The time devoted to planning and thinking over what you really desire from your web could save you multiple hours of stress, disappointment, and trials to fix what was not optimized in the first place correctly. I recommend to follow this 5 step process to achieve clarity in your thinking and manage your expectations towards the SEO provider.
Step 1 – Reflect on your SEO strategy
At this point, it would be wise to review your SEO strategy. If you want to control the process of SEO optimization you need to clear of what you really want, otherwise, the Agency or provider will be dragging you in many different directions that might cost you time and money. If you do not have the strategy yet in place I suggest you turn to my article on Critial Elements of Smart SEO Strategy
Step 2 – Make sure your brief has a written form before you hand it over to the SEO agency
It is crucial you prepare a formal or semi-formal document reflecting your needs. It does not have to be an official contract if this is how you prefer it. Well enough it could be an email. Still, it is essential to have a list of your expectations aggregated in few points. You will have the base to revert to in case of a dispute later when you will need to find common ground.
Step 2 – Start with the current performance of your website
Even if you are a total rookie in the digital world and SEO, there are tools available to support you at the general level of understanding and managing your expectations towards the agency. As a starter, I recommend using GT Metrics, a free tool that enables to see the general score of your website, reflected in ABC symbols and percentages from 1 to 100. The scores are aggregated under several areas: Page Speed, YSlow, Fully Loaded Time and Page Size. Each parameter, even if you do not fully understand its meaning, gives you the benchmark of your web score vs. other websites analyzed by the tool. As a result, you are given Top 5 priority issues, your key areas to address. The tool offers the comparison of websites, so it would make sense to run the test for your key competitors to get the perspective of your web performance. Your priority should become to get as high as possible scores – ideally A, especially if your key competitors get the C or B scores.
The site offers pdf reports, so it would be smart to have one from the date you are briefing the agency. Save it for later, as you will use the same metrics when the agency reports their job as being done.
The other tool that I recommend to use on the briefing stage is Page Speed Insights. This one concentrates on the speed of your website, one of the most important factors for Google algorithm ranking the sites. It is a free Google tool for web developers producing an instant snapshot of your site – both desktop and mobile versions. It presents the results in numbers 1-100 using color codes red, orange and green. The general goal is to be as close to 100 as possible, in both versions – desktop and mobile.
Step 3 – Concentrate on the key Google algorithm metrics in your strategy
As introduced in my article on Critial Elements of Smart SEO Strategy, the exact performance of Google algorithm is a highly protected trade secret, yet there are strategic areas strongly influential on how Google ranks particular websites. Simple actions in these areas will improve your page ranking substantially. It would make sense to concentrate first on:
- Page speed
- Mobile friendliness
- Link building
Step 4 – Verify if the SEO Agency proposal truly reflects the structure of your expectations.
You should expect the agency responds with a basic analysis of your site. Some of them might use exactly the same tools you were using to determine your site current performance. My suggestion will be to share the screenshots or pdf reports of GT Metrics and Page Speed Insights in the briefing document. It is a free tool available to anyone, so you are not disclosing any secret knowledge. With this move, you create a sense of awareness and understanding. The agency will have to respond with either paid tools analysis or comment on your performance up to day. Either way, the element of big surprise or shock could not be used on you, as you are already familiar with the situation. What you should expect and require are the SEO Audits –all three of them.
- On page
- Off page
Each audit should cover the desktop and mobile version of your site. It is important to include the mobile version into SEO optimisation as the mobile usage has already reached 70% and it is growing every month worldwide. If you are not sure if your site is mobile friendly you can check it here using another free Google tool.
The audits are certainly not cheap, but it starts to become a good practice to include the cost of audit execution(s) into the service, provided it is performed by the same agency. Sometimes it makes sense to order the site audit at the different provider to have an external, non-biased view. If you realize that the agency does not offer any kind of audit or instead of structured analysis and conclusions you got the list of chaotic and loosely connected action items or to-do lists – step away and disengage. Look for a professional SEO provider.
Step 5 – Re-confirm your brief using the audit content. Concentrate on Impact and Priority
Once you receive the audit document you will realize that not all the parts and perhaps most of its elements will not be comprehensible and clear for you. Do not panic. You do not need to read the whole document or fully understand what is what, but you need to leverage this document. It is enough to read an Executive Summary or the Conclusions at the end of each audit. You should expect the list of top priority items incorporated in this section. They should be arranged following the impact and priority rule. This will create your preference list. Use the audit content as your Roadmap, re-confirm your brief, re-send it to the agency or provider and make sure the – the improvements of highest impact get the top priority and are done in the first place. They will make a true difference in the performance of your website. It is essential to get the clarity which activities will be executed by the agency and which have to be done by your back-end website provider or by yourself if you operate a WordPress admin panel. Make sure you feel comfortable talking to the agency or provider. If you do not understand, ask for clarification, until you get it. A good agency will not have any problem offering you a relevant explanation.
Once your agency starts working the good practice will be request weekly progress reports concentrating especially on the topics from your preference list. This list will generate about 80% of your SEO improvement. Most probably the agency will not offer progress reports (or status reports) on its own. You need to request it and make it a working standard. Once in a while put your site again through GT Metrics and Page Speed Insights. You will notice the progress immediately and you will understand quickly what still needs to be done.
Should you be interested in more SEO guidelines I suggest you read first instructions offered by Google, like this one. In the end, it is Google that is evaluating your site against its famous algorithm.