10 Questions to Ask When Hiring an SEO Consultant

If your website doesn’t show up on the first page of search results on Google, Bing or Yahoo, your potential customers might not even know you exist. Better search engine visibility can be critical to boosting visits to your website, which can lead to increased brand awareness and higher sales and profits.

But what if you lack the time and technical expertise to improve your site’s search engine ranking? It might make sense to hire an experienced, reliable search engine optimization (SEO) consultant.

Here are 10 essential questions to ask when considering prospective SEO consultants:

1. May I have a list of current and past clients? 
A reputable SEO consultant should be open to sharing a brief list of current and former clients and his or her contact information, says Vanessa Fox, author of Marketing in the Age of Google (Wiley, 2012) and founder of Nine By Blue, a Seattle-based SEO software provider.

These references can help you gauge how effective the candidate is, as well as verify that the person did indeed work on specific SEO campaigns. Clients may not provide specific analytics, Fox says, but they should be able to at least tell you if they saw a positive impact on their search ranking, especially in conversions and in gaining an audience, as a direct result of the consultant’s efforts.

2. How will you improve my search engine rankings? 
Steer clear of SEO consultants who won’t freely discuss their methods in detail, cautions Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz, a Seattle-based internet marketing software company and co-author of The Art of SEO (O’Reilly, 2012). They should explain the strategies they would use to drive up your website’s search engine ranking, as well as estimate how long it could realistically take to achieve the SEO campaign goals you agree on.

Make sure the candidate’s proposal includes an initial technical review of your website to weed out any problems that could lower your search engine ranking, including broken links and error pages. Consultants also should provide “on page” optimization, a process to make your website as search engine friendly as possible. It involves improving your website’s URL and internal linking structure, along with developing web page titles, headings and tags.

Also, ask consultants if they provide “off page” SEO strategies to raise awareness of your content on other websites, often via blogs, social media platforms and press releases.

3. Do you adhere to search engines’ webmaster guidelines? 
You want a consultant who strictly abides by Google’s publicly posted webmaster best practices, which specifically prohibit 12 common SEO tricks, including automatically generating spammy content and adding bogus hidden text and links. If a candidate doesn’t follow those guidelines, your website could be relegated to a dismally low search results ranking. Or, worse yet, Google could ban it from search results altogether.

Bing and Yahoo also post webmaster best practices that consultants should confirm they follow.

4. Can you guarantee my website will achieve a number-one ranking on Google, Bing and Yahoo? 
If the candidate answers yes, Fox warns, “Turn and run in the other direction as fast as you can.” Although it’s impossible to guarantee a number-one ranking on any search engine, she says, some unethical SEO consultants do make such bogus guarantees.

Consider it a red flag if the candidate claims to have an insider relationship with Google or any other search engine that will get you priority search results rankings. Only Google, Bing and Yahoo can control how high or low websites appear in their search results.

5. Are you experienced at improving local search results? 
Appearing in the top local search engine results is especially important to small brick-and-mortar businesses trying to attract nearby customers, Rand says. You’ll want a consultant who has expertise in local SEO techniques.

If your website is optimized for what’s known as “local SEO,” it should appear when someone nearby is searching for keywords that are relevant to your business. To achieve that, a consultant should add your business’s city and state to your website’s title tags and meta descriptions, and get your site listed on Bing, Google and Yahoo’s local listings, which are online directories of businesses that cater to a specific geographical area.

6. Will you share with me all changes you make to my site? 
Search engine optimization will most likely require a number of changes to your existing web page coding. It’s important to know exactly what adjustments the consultant plans to make and on how many web pages. If you would like the candidate to get your permission before accessing and altering your website code, be sure to say so.

For example, will consultants add new title tags to your existing HTML code or modify the existing ones? Will they provide additional copywriting content highlighting your products and services to beef up the number of visible, on-page keywords relevant to your potential customers? And do they plan to redesign all or some of your website navigation or add new pages to your site?

7. How do you measure the success of your SEO campaigns? 
To gauge the success of SEO efforts, you must track exactly how much traffic is being sent to your website and where it is coming from. Consultants should be experienced in using Google Analytics to track improvement in your site’s search engine rankings, the number of links from other websites driving traffic to yours, the kinds of keywords searchers use to find your site, and much more.

Be sure to ask how often they plan to share these important analytics with you and how they would use the data to continually improve your search engine rankings and website traffic.

8. How will we communicate and how often? 
SEO consultants’ communication styles and customer service standards vary. You need to find someone whose approach best fits your needs. Ask if the candidate prefers to talk in person or via phone, Skype, texting or email. And find out how often will he or she reach out to you with status updates.

9. What are your fees and payment terms? 
You need to know how much you’ll be charged, of course, and also whether the consultant gets paid hourly, by retainer or by project. Project-based payments are the most common in the SEO consulting industry, and they can vary widely, depending on a project’s size and complexity. Most contract projects ranged between $1,000 and $7,500, according to Moz’s 2011 pricing survey of more than 600 SEO firms.

The study also found that the most common retainers ranged between $251 to $500 a month on the lower end and $2,501 to $5,000 a month on the higher end, while the most common hourly rates ranged from $76 to $200. Fox said consultants who specifically serve small businesses often charge less per month and hour.

Other important payment-related questions: How often are invoice payments due — every 30, 60 or 90 days? Is there an interest charge for late payments?

10. What happens when we part ways? 
When your contract expires or if you terminate it early, you should still maintain ownership of all of the optimized web content you paid the consultant to provide, Fox says.

Accordingly, you’ll want to make sure the contract states that when you part ways, consultants will not change or remove any of the content they added, modified or optimized on your behalf. You also should ask consultants whether they charge any fees for early contract termination, and if so, to specify them in the contract.

Ecommerce Web Design – Homepage Best Practices

When it comes to building a website that will be used for eCommerce there are a number of best practices that always should be followed to ensure that the site garners as much attention and creates enough revenue to be viable. With that in mind here are 5 best practices that, if followed on your website, will safeguard that it is a money maker.

Place promotions in the sweet spot. What this means is different for every web page but, on the home page, the sweet spot is the spot where all of the eyes will be moving towards and, normally, is in the top left corner of the page where Americans are used to going whenever they start to read something. Of course if you think about it the center of the page is also a good idea but, whatever you do, don’t bury your promotions at the bottom of the page because some browsers might not show it unless scrolled and some people just don’t take the time to do that.

Use slideshows if necessary. Slideshows can be very powerful and allow you, without the help of a spokesperson or a lot of technical programming experience, to show your audience exactly what they need to know, in pictures and words, in order to make a purchase. If a picture is worth a thousand words a slideshow is worth 10 times that and can increase greatly your conversions and sales. It’s also something that someone can refer to if they recommend your company to a friend but don’t know exactly how to explain what your do or sell.

Include features of the product. If you’re using lots of pictures but few words to sell your good and services you may be selling your business short. Prospective customers need to know what the product can do for them and a great descriptions can also build a desire in the heart and brain that a picture alone might not be able to do, depending on what you’re selling.

Always provide nest action step. This is a best practice that everybody seems to break until they get smacked in the head. You really need to lead your customers to the purchase and, if you don’t have the next step written down for them or a button to lead them or a bell to notify them, they are going to stop dead in their tracks and never make a purchase.

Use action-oriented words. This is another best practice that is sometimes forgotten. If your product is the fastest, the strongest, the most durable, the softest or the most delicious you need to tell prospective customers that in the very same way. ‘Our chocolate is so delicious it will melt in your mouth’ is much better than ‘Our chocolate tastes good’, don’t you agree?

So, the next time you’re building an eCommerce Website, keep these 5 best practices in mind and the result will be a much more powerful eCommerce site that converts and sells much better.

10 essential tips for your company’s web design project

This article comes courtesy of http://venturebeat.com/.

Re-launching a website is a massive, multi-layered task for any business.
You have make decisions not only about design and branding — a re-launch requires a seemingly endless checklist of tasks: benchmarking, content strategy, audience research, SEO, back-end hosting … the list goes on. Plus, as a business every decision is hinged on ROI: What impact will the remodeled website have on your business’ traffic, engagement, and conversion?
Your business’s flaws and weak links are often exposed when it comes time to reinvigorate your web presence.
Whether this comes in tandem with an organizational restructure, a change in services or products, a reinvigorated brand strategy, or simply after realizing that your current website is not converting customers at the level you’d like, every business should re-convene on their web strategy at least every few years.
I co-founded iAcquire, a NYC and Phoenix-based digital marketing agency, and recently re-launched our agency site to reflect our evolution as an industry and as an agency. As a 15-year veteran of the digital marketing world and a captain of our agency’s recent remodel, I have gathered years of insight into necessities of a website relaunch.
These tips can serve as a blueprint, checklist, and guide for your enterprise’s future website remodeling plans.

1. Get everyone on the same page
Talk to each and every stakeholder about the impending re-launch. Meet with colleagues (within your department and cross-functionally), shareholders, clients, board members, industry mentors, and other key parties as you embark on your re-launch planning.
Ask each group similar questions:
What is missing?
What do you like about the current site?
Do you think it’s the right time to re-launch?
Do we have the capacity to do this as a company?
Do you think we will come out better afterwards?
Do we want a re-skin, which impacts the overall design aesthetic of the website, or a re-launch, a total overhaul?
Answering these questions early on – and getting buy in and feedback from all parties — will help you in the long run. When relaunching iAcquire.com, for example, multiple departments within our agency combined forces to create a vision for the website. Doing this helped us define scope, high-level direction, budget, requirements, and most importantly goals — all essential for the beginning strategy documents of a website redesign.

2. Allocate a budget and bandwidth
Your overall budget for your website redesign will frame your bandwidth. If your budget is in the tens of thousands of dollars, you have the budget to utilize a big agency to create a new website for your enterprise. If your budget is smaller ($7,500-$15,000) you may be able to utilize outside help on a consulting basis.
Either way, a large chunk of change will be needed for a website redesign. Hosting isn’t free either, so even if you do everything in-house you’ll need a budget.
Also, consider the project scope and if your in-house team has the capacity to complete such a large-scale project. Creative, content, promotion, SEO, and developers will all need to commit a large part of their workload to the project. For example, our marketing and strategy team dedicated a good solid three month to the project.
CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, and legal need to be engaged from the beginning as well. And project status should be communicated at least one time per week to high-level stakeholders.

3. Ensure benchmarks are in place
Create benchmarking documents to track the current website’s design and content, layout, as well as audience targeting and current website analytics (visitor interaction and conversion) so you can accurately measure success after the new site launches. Define your current and future KPIs and keep track of them. Keep in mind that these may change as your organization grows, so be inclusive and collect as much as you can.
For iAcquire, we use the following key performance indicators:
Leads
Time on site
Share of voice
Number of links
Organic search rankings
Impressions
Traffic

4. Define or redefine your key audience personas
Consumers are getting savvier and savvier by the minute and modern technology allows users to tune out various messages. With that being said, it is crucial to craft your remodeled website around your converting, engaged personas.
Once you define audience personas, you can better direct:
The tone of the copy
The website’s overall design/look
What type of content (images, copy, videos) resonates best
Calls to action – where the are placed, what copy to use, user path
Creating audience personas helps all creative, content, and allows marketing stakeholders to maintain uniformity. Leverage audience market data, survey results, and need states to create personas and user stories. Use this template and create your own three to five personas. Utilize market research tools like Experian, Nielsen, Facebook data, and even Google Analytics to get to the core of your visitor base.

5. Plan as much as you execute
Draft a creative brief that includes all project requirements – from copy and SEO to technical hosting and color scheme requirements. This brief will serve as the blueprint for all parties working on the redesign. The plan can be as long as 30 pages, though the length is not important; the content is the important part. If it helps you, then delegate specific sections to different leaders within your team. Come together and review the plan, and then from there start executing your strategy.

6. Consider your copy
A shiny, well-designed site is great, but like your looks it’s the first thing to go with age. If your content isn’t great, neither is your site. And it’s not just about well-written prose; it all has to be planned out, persona-driven content, created by understanding your key audiences and how they behave online. Develop a roadmap for content strategy and your copy will fall into place.
Within iAcquire, we know that governance and establishing an editorial calendar is just as important as setting up the content framework. Without structural guidance organizations can fall into content paralysis. These processes defines the players, topics, and requirements necessary to curate and publish content.

7. Keep the bot in mind
Within your re-launch two key “audiences” need to be kept in mind: your visitors and the search engine spiders. Search engines have a very detailed algorithm for ranking pages, and with your re-launch you want to make sure that you stay even or above in your rankings. Here are three key considerations you should have for SEO:
Redirects

If specific URLs are no longer active, or you are changing the site architecture, make sure 301s redirects are in place. Non-existent redirects can lead to a “docked” search position.
Conversion end-points

Your re-designed website will probably not have the same conversion funnel or path as your last site, so make sure someone is dedicated to checking the conversion points on your redesigned sites to make sure they are a) working, b) properly migrated, and c) tracked.

On-page keyword analysis
Target two to three keywords per page and intertwine them organically throughout the copy and metadata. If your organization previously targeted a list of keywords, look at them again as competition and volume changes from year to year and even month to month.

8. Who’s your host?
Consider where you are going to host your site.
Is it going to sit on a server that your enterprise owns and maintains, or will it live with a hosting company? Is your hosting bandwidth enough? Consider what frameworks you will use on the front end, and what Javascript libraries you will use, such as MooTools or jQuery. PHP, .Net, or Rails? WordPress or Drupal?
All of these decisions need to be made early on.

9. Utilize Google Webmaster Tools
Once your website is in development, have your organization set up a Google account (if you don’t already have one) and get acquainted with Google Webmaster Tools. This free Google tool can tell you any problems with site/page indexing and even click-through rates. If the content is being rearranged on your new site, it could be buried deeper, making it harder for search engines to crawl, which leads to a non-indexed area.

10. Strategize a post-launch plan
Your job isn’t over when your redesigned site launches. Create a plan to promote the new site on social media, PR outreach, and blog announcements. Plan on pushing marketing messages through these channels for at least two weeks past the launch. Connect with key influencers on social who can push your message further.

Then create a plan to organize, develop, curate, and publish new content so you keep luring new visitors in: inbound marketing at its finest. On an internal communications front, make sure that your organization is kept in the loop as well. Inform all departments of the re-launch. Be clear on what has changed and how they can utilize your “2.0” or “3.0″ website to optimally conduct their respective jobs.

While every organization has needs, adopting a process is a crucial element. Use this list as a guide, and customize it to meet your organization’s unique challenges, and develop a website that reflects your company in a way that is beneficial to you and your customer.

How Google is making SEO easier for small business

Google’s algorithm updates, Panda and Penguin, are making it easier for small businesses to compete with larger competitors.

For small businesses it has been a constant battle to compete with the big brands online.

Many choose to invest large sums in search engine optimisation (SEO), seeing it as the best way to generate leads and sales. I know one small business owner who employed three SEO agencies on three different websites all linked to the same store – sadly within two years that store had closed. It simply could not compete in the retail environment it was in – too much of the marketing budget went into SEO that ultimately failed to deliver.

Prior to recent Google algorithm updates, called cuddly names like “Panda” and “Penguin”, websites that needed a boost in search engine rankings could achieve it with a combination of two things – link building and onsite work. The latter included adding the necessary search engine signals and signposts into the website itself.

This worked – until increased competition for that prime piece of real estate on page one of Google meant allocating more and more of the marketing budget to SEO to keep up with the competition. It even led to some turning to unethical so-called “black hat” ways to cheat the system.

For a small business, taking on someone full-time to do SEO was and still is cost prohibitive while big businesses could afford a whole team working full time. Outside contractors needed to be better than good to compete.

The main currency in the old days was backlinks and if you could find ways to get lots of them and in greater volume than your competitors, you stood a great chance of getting to the top. As an SME in a competitive niche, however, there was one big problem. Link building in volume either takes a lot of time or a lot of money.

Things began to change when Google decided to start demoting some websites that appeared to have an unnatural link profile and reward websites that displayed greater link diversity.

This started as early as 2011 in the case of large US retailer J.C. Penney. This company established for more than 100 years had unwittingly taken part in what appeared to be a paid linking scheme with colleges and universities when they used an outside contractor.

For those that need further proof of Google’s intent, its writers removed a reference to linking between websites – even high quality ones in its ranking article within the Webmaster Tools help documentation as highlighted by this Search Engine Land article.

Paying for links is now frowned upon. The main currency of SEO has depreciated dramatically. Further updates are having a more subtle effect on websites looking for shortcuts via press release distribution and even paid guest posting.

While press releases and article distribution still have value in raising awareness of a small business brand, it is now advisable to handle any linking between websites with care and avoid overloading articles and press releases with too many anchor text links targeting the same keywords repeatedly.

So with these short cuts now exhausted you would be forgiven for thinking SEO as an industry is dying.

That was until good readable content began to be rewarded with a more visible presence on search engine results pages (SERPS). So too were those websites that had been doing things the natural way.

This combined with the rise of Google Authorship and the positive results being reported for websites using it has actually revived SEO and in turn has helped small businesses who focused on their content marketing rank better and avoided some of the old short cuts. It has, in other words, levelled the playing field.

Many of these small businesses can now outrank much larger competitors because they have shown that they can genuinely connect with their website visitors.

So the sea change in the way Google rewards good content means that businesses in competitive niches should be using some form of content marketing or ideally a mix of all forms including video, blogging and image sharing and, most importantly, a strategy to connect with customers.

This can even be done in-house at relatively low cost these days and – dare I say it – without the need to pay an outside SEO contractor.

Google has received its fair share of bad press in recent months but the fact is, as its algorithms evolve into a more intelligent aid to searching online, the old unethical practices used to get ahead will soon die out if they have not done so already.

The hope is that this is not just a brief window of opportunity for SMEs before big businesses with big budgets figure out new ways to beat the system.

Increase Traffic To Your Website With An Effective Design

Keeping clients beats acquiring new ones, that’s what many companies believe in. There’s nothing wrong with enlarging your market and extending to new clients, but because companies depend on the patronage of their customers, they make it a point not to lose any of them. In online business, this is also correct. Getting new visitors to your website is good; it means they have acknowledged that you exist. However, you will also keep on dropping them if you don’t have anything absorbing to offer them. Make your website design fascinating enough to get them to come back.

Although visual design has a huge role in the web industry, an effective website design is much more than stunning pictures and appealing hues. There must be substance as well. Give your site with fitting content and update it on a regular basis. So if there’s a web surfer who stumbled upon your site when he’s looking for particular data, he will keep on repaying to you if there’s something different you can provide on your website.

Keep your website design current and absorbing to make one-time surfers frequent clients. Even if you are selling the same old service, keep the pictures up to date, give more details, and present new information on how they can aid readers.
Maintaining your website regularly can also help remove obsolete texts and dead links, which frustrate visitors and discourage them from even trying to browse the rest of your web pages anymore. Clean those out by altering the content and design of your website frequently.

Still, website design does little effect to the traffic of your website if it isn’t supported with a good SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Simply adding fresh content and layout won’t rank high on search engines, like Google and Yahoo. So before you can have visitors come back again and again to your site, you have to stay visible on the first pages of search engines to let them know that they can surf your website.

In today’s really aggressive online market, merely setting up a site doesn’t help you get customers. The keys to staying on top are continuous website design upkeep and great SEO.

The Interrelationship of Quality Principles and Web Design

The technique of web design is an important aspect of utilizing the opportunities of the Internet as it is today and as it will be tomorrow. Without the Internet web design technology would not even exist today. It has become an important part for any business in communicating their products or services around the world. For individuals it can be an avenue to market their expertise. Authors find it an enormous opportunity through establishing a website to gain exposure for their writing. The technologies we have today keeps changing and through web design websites have the capability to adapt as web design programs evolve in this ever changing world. Quality principles as they are applied to the concept of web design is critical for several reasons which will be discussed in the subsequent paragraphs of this article

The first quality principle as part of any activity whether it be face to face or through a website is providing for communication and feedback. This principle is a key ingredient which all websites need to successful. In reference to web design programs the methods of communication with visitors or customers must be easy to navigate. The tools with respect to this capability may vary from various web design programs but the outcome is the same.

Another important principle is a website and the web design program must be user friendly. Part of this involves efficiency and navigation. Websites must be efficient in how they are structured. The capability of navigating through various parts of a website can result in a positive experience if the methods used are easily understood and recognized. Another aspect associated with being user friendly involves the capability of searching for information within the content of a website. Often the subject matter a visitor may be looking for is available on several pages of a website and they must be able to find those pages.

Defining a mission or purpose utilizing a web design program is the first step toward creating a website. There must be a defined mission to be achieved with a website and a web design program plays an important part of identifying the mission or purpose for visitors. The purpose of a website establishes the content to be included while the mission provides the connection in how the purpose will be achieved.

In terms of consistency there needs to be a consistent approach in conjunction with the purpose and objective for which a website was created. This includes using the proper fonts throughout a website. Fonts can be different sizes but they need to be consistent throughout a website in relation to how they are being used. Another important fact for websites is the need to keep it current. If a website is created and there are no changes to it to either add information or update the information already on it visitors would have no need to access the information being provided.

The perception of a website in terms of the quality of the information and structure will also play an important role in the success and ranking assigned to it. Businesses that have websites provide opportunities for customers and potential customers to communicate their opinions on services and products which they have purchased. Websites also provide opportunity to purchase products and/or services without the need to enter a physical store. Some of the basic characteristics on which websites are evaluated include the structure, quality and user friendly characteristics to name a few. Many businesses have websites for the same products/services. Any websites must have distinct characteristics which separate it from others providing the same products or services.

One last point to make is quality must be engrained in the structure and content of a website in conjunction with the purpose and mission established. If no connection exists it presents the perception that it is unprofessional. The consequences of a poorly structured website with a poor design will find that visitors will not be impressed and will not return. Losing visitors means losing potential customers. Poor web design will also have consequences in less traffic and ranking in search engines. Examples affecting good search engine ranking include the quantity and quality of visitors, quality backlinks and quality of the overall website and the content it provides. Poor design in these areas will have detrimental impact in search engine results and ranking.

CMS – Have You Heard People In The Website Industry Talking About CMS? Reasons Revealed

CMS – Picture the scene . . . You currently have a website for your hairdressing business. All of a sudden, you choose to do a colour sale and need to update your website to help promote this offer. You contact your current website designers; they have a 4 day turnaround on website amendments, your website does not come with a CMS and due to the turnaround period you loose out of 4 days promotion via your website. This is where the power of a CMS could have come into play.

You probably get contacted on a regular basis about your website, does it need updating? Does it need a redesign? How is it currently working for you? And most importantly does your current website have a CMS? Not all website companies really explain the power of CMS and what it actually stands for.

CMS stands for Content Management System; it is a highly powerful tool that works alongside your website. It gives you the ability to go into your website and amend the content, text, graphics and sometimes even lets you add additional pages into your current website for free. You take control over the messages you want to promote for your business, without having to go through the hassle of contacting your designer and asking them to do it for you.

Here at Ask Web Design all of our websites come with a CMS by default. We do not use jargon that is hard to understand and we try to make your website needs as straightforward and as user friendly as possible. You know your business better than anyone, and you understand the needs and wants of your website better than anyone too. Once your website is live, we believe you should have the ability to change the content at will. Our CMS can help with this.

This leads us nicely into Google and your websites Google Rankings. Google loves sites that are ever growing and ever changing, they see these as non-stagnant sites, if the content on your website is updated or changed, Google see these changes and help with your Google Rankings. We’re not saying this is the best Search Engine Optimisation route to travel down, or one of the most effective, but it does help a little.

Why not give us a call on 07624 475 265 or visit our website Ask Web Design for more information. We’re here to help your business succeed on the World Wide Web.

And don’t worry if you are not the most ‘techy’ of people, if you can use a computer, can use Microsoft Word, you can easily use our CMS.