In the year 2019, it’s virtually impossible to have a (thriving) business, in any industry, without having an online presence of some kind. This was also true as little as a decade ago, but the definition of ‘online presence’ looked a whole lot different than it does now. Back then, it merely meant having a website and which had a home page with a decent layout.

A website is still as important as ever, but in this day and age for a business to stand out from its competitors, it needs to be accompanied by a combination of a strong social media presence, web analytics, blogs, and most importantly, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Just as the name suggests, SEO is optimising search in such a way that your website outranks others (that of your competitors) in the search results. Now, we doubt we need to say why it’s imperative that you rank first, or even just on the first page, in the results. As the joke goes: the best place to hide a body is on the second page of Google – if you’re not on the first page, you’re just not there.

SEO is a strange beast. Many will claim to ‘know SEO’, but with Google’s algorithm changing 500-600 times a year, yes, PER YEAR, the pursuit of optimisation is an ongoing one. Mostly, these changes are subtle alterations, barely noticeable. But every so often, Google makes a change big enough that people (read: SEO experts) take note. There were 4 key ‘eras’ in the SEO age, namely: Panda (keywords focused), Penguin (links and backlinks focused), Pigeon (local-search focused) and Hummingbird (AI bringing all mentioned algorithms together).

With each update, Google’s prime objective is to enhance the search experience for the user. In the early algorithms (Panda, Penguin and Pigeon) it was easy to optimise (read: manipulate) websites to rank better. By means of keywords and link farms, this didn’t always result in the best, quality experience for the user.

In comes Hummingbird, aimed at making interactions more human, in the sense that the search engine is capable of understanding the concepts and relationships between keywords. It places greater emphasis on page content, making search results more relevant, and looks at the authority of a page, and in some cases the page author, to determine the importance of a website. It uses this information to better lead users to a specific page on a website rather than the standard website homepage.

In other words, your SEO can no longer be left to chance or guess work. As a trade, SEO has become obsolete – it has become a science. And with the algorithm’s intelligence mimicking that of a 14-year-old child’s, it is crucial for the SEO analysts to at least be “older” (more intelligent) than that.

In order for you to have the best SEO, you need to choose an SEO specialist. We take a look at five steps to take when choosing someone, whether a company or an individual, to take care of your optimisation on the internet.

  • Know your goals

Before you head out on your SEO-finding expedition, you have to first know exactly what you want out of it. You get good goals and you get bad goals.

“We want more traffic” isn’t a good goal – traffic doesn’t necessarily result in sales. “We want traffic from this specific group of demographics because our research has shown search traffic from it converts well and here are the statistics.” – much better, now we can talk.

  • Ask questions

FYI, you’re allowed to do this. You’re making a sizeable, ongoing investment into something you most likely don’t fully understand. Enquire as much about as you feel fit – interrogate if needed. If the claimed expert is worth his or her salt, he or she would be able to answer, adequately, without using too much jargon that you don’t understand, or claiming there is a “secret formula” to SEO – there isn’t.

  • Google, but don’t.

We can’t fault the logic in wanting to Google “best SEO Johannesburg” and go with the first ranked site – it only makes sense. But it’s kind of a catch 22. Yes, they’re outranking other SEO services so they must be doing something right. But SEO is not a once-off exercise. It needs constant servicing. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are the best. It means that they are without enough client work. It’s not set in hard stone, the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but a good thing to keep in the back of your mind. At the end of the day, word of mouth is still the best marketing there is.

  • There are no black hats

Black hat SEO is the practice of unethical ways to achieve higher rankings. It involves breaking the ethical rules of SEO and it is heavily frowned upon. Google’s algorithms detect these tactics automatically and serve harsh penalties accordingly, which can result in irreversible damage to the rankness of your site – in short: it’s not worth it. Unless they’re Slash or Heisenberg, black hats are bad.

  • Budget

You get what you pay for, but sometimes you don’t. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the waffle of insincere SEO “experts” which could result in overpaying for things you do not need. Going with the most cost-effective option can be just as counterproductive for obvious reasons. This is where your thorough research on the agency should come in.

Sticking to a budget in any situation is difficult, more so when it comes to SEO. But your business needs to survive, and dumping all your cashflow in SEO, would not be a recommendation. We don’t like comparison very much. If we did, we’d say we can do the best SEO marketing in South Africa. But we won’t. As they say, “the proof is in the pudding”. We’d much rather just have you come and dine with us: https://bit.ly/2YesZWV.