What Do SEO Companies Actually Do?
If you landed on this post, odds are high you already know what SEO companies do in a broad sense. They optimize websites to bring in more search engine traffic, increase the relevance and business value of search engine traffic, and so on.
But what are the specific actions SEO companies are taking in order to achieve those goals?
The short answer is that you could easily write a book on that, and many have.
However, the work done by an SEO company can usually be divided up into these general categories of work:
- Keyword and competitor research
- Technical optimization
- Content marketing and optimization
- Link building and promotion
Keyword research focuses on identifying topics that users are searching for that are relevant for your business. It also includes assigning value to those keywords in terms of the amount of type of traffic they attract.
Technical optimization is about optimizing the meta data, site architecture, server codes, link structure, crawl rate, indexation, HTML errors, SEO markup, and more in order to ensure that search engines have the best possible understanding of the content on your site, to optimize for rich snippets in search results, and to improve search traffic.
Content marketing is very much its own discipline as a method of expanding reach and capturing leads, but when it is done in full synthesis with SEO it incorporates proper use of keywords and promotional techniques that maximize search impact.
Link building and promotion is about earning reputable links and referral traffic to improve a site or page's authority and relevance with search engines and for the business value of the links themselves.
What Is The Minimum An SEO Company Should Do?
There is a very real sense in which this question is actually a little nonsensical.
This is because the problem with poorly done SEO isn't a problem of not doing enough things, but of doing the wrong things.
It is possible for a knowledgeable SEO to make a few relatively minor alterations to a site that take a matter of hours and that result in a meaningful and lasting positive impact on search traffic or revenue.
It is also possible for an SEO firm to deliver exactly what you ask it to over the course of hundreds or thousands of hours of work or more and to actually harm your search engine performance in the process.
Another way of saying this, and to do so in a way that answers the question, is to say that the minimum an SEO company should do is provide personalized service and strategy. This means not simply promising a specific number of links or pages etc up front, but evaluating your business goals and using an understanding of search engines and the resources available to help you achieve them.
What Software Do SEO Companies Use?
The scope of an SEO company can be very broad and that means the range of software is far too broad to cover here, but here are some of the most important kinds of tools SEO firms use:
- Analytics - Virtually every SEO firm will monitor web traffic and user behavior using Google Analytics, frequently in combination with other analytics tools and marketing automation software like Marketo that can help you target your contacts with personalized marketing communications. Analytics is crucial to get a raw look at how work is impacting search traffic and other traffic sources.
- Rank Tracking - Tools such as SEMrush allow SEOs to see how well they are ranking for various keywords, as well as how well competitors are ranking, and to discover keywords that pages are ranking well for.
- Keyword Research - The Google Keyword Planner tool within Google Ads is the only tool available for SEOs to get information directly from Google about how often keywords are searched for, and to get recommendations for related keywords. Various other keyword tools are available that make suggestions based on various recommendation engines, but all estimates of keyword search traffic ultimately come from the Google Keyword Planner.
- Backlink Tools: Tools like Ahrefs allow SEOs to track which pages on the web are linking to a client's site or a competitor's site in order to track the effectiveness of link building efforts, to see how well pages are attracting links, to get ideas for link building from competitors, to identify potentially harmful spam links, and so on.
- Crawlers: Crawlers like Screaming Frog allow SEOs to crawl a site for its internal and outbound links, metadata, server errors, and more in order to address technical SEO errors and opportunities.
These are just a few of the core software tools used by SEO professionals, but even technical SEO spans quite a few more tools than this, and a good SEO firm will be putting a wide variety of more general inbound marketing tools to work as well.
What Does A Full Service SEO Company Do?
To say that an SEO company is "full service" is to say that the company has the capability to devise, deploy, monitor, and hone an ongoing SEO-centric marketing strategy. Of course, any good SEO firm will want to work closely with their client's chief officers, but a full service SEO firm doesn't play a passive role of accepting tasks from clients.
Instead, a full service firm develops strategies from the ground up by incorporating insights from their clients about their goals and vision. They actively research the competition and propose ideas and are willing and able to move forward with limited input when clients prefer to be relatively hands off.
Typically, unless a company has internal decision makers who are SEO professionals themselves, they should only hire a full service SEO agency. This is because SEO tasks are not a shopping list. SEO tasks are part of a process that is itself a marketing strategy, and should be personalized to fit into and take full advantage of any broader marketing strategies at play.
How Do SEO Companies Work?
SEO companies can work in a variety of ways, but there are some commonalities across the industry.
SEO companies generally serve clients nationally, if not internationally, rather than in a local area. Since essentially all SEO work can be done from any location with a good internet connection, SEO companies have very little reason to limit their work to a specific city or state, even when they specialize in serving businesses whose own customers are local.
SEO companies also generally employ at least some remote workers, and often have no central office. While there are some benefits to having a central office and a physical meeting location, the benefits of hiring the best talent nationally tend to outweigh the drawbacks of having a distributed workforce. Again, this owes to the fact that essentially all SEO work can be done remotely.
All of this, of course, makes video conferences and regular electronic communication a must for an SEO firm to work effectively, bother internally, and with clients.
What Services Do SEO Companies Offer?
As we discussed in the first section, SEO services typically fall under these categories:
- Keyword and competitor research
- Technical optimization
- Content marketing and optimization
- Link building and promotion
These are the core categories of service you should expect from an SEO company, but an SEO company often offers broader inbound marketing services due to the fact that the work often has so much overlap, and because of the fact that inbound marketing work done with SEO in mind is virtually always more effective. These services can include:
- Market research
- Web development
- Marketing automation, lead magnets, and email marketing
- Graphic design
- Video marketing
- Social media marketing and listening
- App development
- Public relations and press releases
- Affiliate marketing
- Media interviews
- Pay-per click, re-marketing, and other paid advertising
Bear in mind that these shouldn't always been seen as "extras" offered "in addition" to SEO, since they can and often are done in a way that enhances SEO or even falls under the umbrella of one of the four core SEO categories.
Define "SEO Services"
What all of this gets at is that it can be difficult to properly define "SEO services" in the sense of there being specific types of marketing work that fall under the SEO umbrella while others don't. Aside from certain areas of technical SEO, such as optimizing metadata for the search snippet, virtually all SEO work can and should contribute marketing value in other ways. At the same time, a large portion of broader marketing efforts, even offline, can improve SEO performance, especially if it is done in a way that is informed by a knowledge of search engines.
This is part of why SEO agencies tend to be so broad-disciplined and why they hire talent from a national pool rather than a local one. An SEO agency is offering a very wide variety of marketing services in a way that is informed by a long history of measuring directly and indirectly how those services impact search engine performance.
Corporate SEO Services
Is a company that offers "corporate SEO services" offering something different from an agency that isn't specifically offering them? It depends. Typically, to say that an agency is offering corporate or enterprise SEO is merely to say that they have the resources that make a large budget worthwhile.
In that sense, an agency that offers corporate SEO services is essentially one that offers a wide range of services that extends beyond the core services, as we've already discussed.
That said, the scale of a business does impact what an SEO agency should be prioritizing. For example, large enterprises:
- Often require less focus on building authority with search engines, since they likely already have an extensive backlink profile
- Often benefit more from on page SEO, since their existing authority makes it easier to effectively target new keywords
- Are more likely to have technical SEO problems, since more parties with differing goals have edited the site
Do SEO Services Work?
When done correctly, yes. See our case studies for some examples.
Unfortunately, much of SEO is done incorrectly, runs afoul of Google's guidelines and leads to penalties, or follows an excessively templatized approach that fails to take advantage of a businesses strengths or address its weaknesses.
A good SEO agency will have a track record demonstrating what works and what doesn't, and the business sense to make it work for your goals.
Who Needs SEO Services?
In our post about hiring an SEO company, we explained that nearly any business which relies on web traffic for a meaningful portion of its revenue should pay for SEO services in some capacity at some point if they can afford it. This is because search traffic has a higher conversion rate than any other traffic source, and unlike paid search, investing the same amount in useful SEO each month results in monthly growth, rather than a static monthly return.
But we were also careful to mention that SEO can rarely deliver short term results, that very small businesses often can't afford an SEO budget that meets the minimum requirements, and an internal SEO staff can sometimes be a better option when a very large budget is available.
What Does "SEO Expert" Really Mean?
If you've read this far, it should be clear that good SEO requires expertise from a wide variety of disciplines. So if that's the case, what does it mean when somebody says that they are an SEO expert?
For starters, it's important to recognize that having expertise in a skill that helps SEO doesn't make you an SEO expert. Being an expert developer, blogger, graphic designer, or social media marketer doesn't make you an SEO expert.
An SEO expert is also not somebody who has read a lot of blog posts about SEO. Any expert SEO will have done that, but they will also have the experience necessary to tell apart helpful and unhelpful posts on the topic.
An SEO expert is somebody who has spent years orchestrating SEO campaigns that incorporate both technical processes and marketing strategies, with measured results on organic search engine traffic.
They will have done this long enough to be able to identify which sources in the industry can be trusted to offer reliable information, and they will have run their own experiments and tested their own theories.
An SEO expert has both an intuitive feel for which actions will result in which results, and the language and data to support it.