“I need an SEO Agency near me, but do agencies actually help? If you have ever asked that question then you’re not alone. I am the founder of the SEO Un-Agency Deathground and I walk in your shoes. You want to improve your Google ranking but feel a little lost. So here’s what you need to know.
If you are looking for a solution to a lack of sales online, then head below next:
What do most SEO Agencies do?
For a range of prices, usually somewhere between £199-£499 you’ll see companies touting their service. Why that price range? Goodness only knows, but it seems the go-to offer level. They will write a blog post or 4, change your meta details and make some heading tweaks. Essentially work you could do yourself, and importantly you know your sector. Asking someone who has no knowledge of your industry to know what to write about or focus on, is a dangerous game. A dangerous game we get so tempted to play. Who doesn’t want to outsource something we don’t understand, right?
You’ll be told, however, that they will help you rank on page 1 for that sum each month. Then, as months go by and you see little but small change, you question it. Should you stay or should you go? We often then conflate natural organic traffic growth, with their input. Ie: is it their work, or work you did before. Leaving their service seems scary, you don’t want to lose what they have done right?
And there is the trap.
Take it from me
There is little that most agencies do, that you couldn’t do yourself. But then if you just want some part time work focusing on SEO, that’s fine. And that works for many people. BUT – and this is the kicker, most don’t just want that. They want to see significant page traffic growth with their spend. In truth, real traffic growth happens with sustained technical improvements to the site, PR and outreach. I will go through what those things mean, but importantly, if everyone in your sector is all using the same agencies and have the same SEO plug-ins, why would your site rank high?
Take it from me, I’ve downloaded every SEO app in the book. It took me years to realise, what I know now, that so has everyone else.
Myths about SEO – 5 Things that don’t REALLY help
Most agencies will offer to help with a range of areas that we think are of trifling importance. Here are 5 common areas that really just serve you up a myth.
1. Regular Blogs
Blog marketing, content marketing is amazing. We know, it’s often our only way we can generate traffic in some sector. BUT it really isn’t the number of blogs that matter, it’s the quality of them.
Surely it can’t be bad for SEO to have lots of quality blogs???
That is not what we are saying. We are highlighting the fact most agencies offer to churn you out ‘carefully crafted’ blog posts to help your SEO. SEO is a broad term and producing tons of low quality, brief, poorly linked posts will do little for you, but saturate your link juice.
Want to know more about link juice? Read our ranking equity guide here.
The best-ranking blog posts are those that have lots of backlinks from other websites pointing to it. Building those links takes time and getting high-quality sites to reference you isn’t a simple endeavour. The point of a backlink is like a vote of confidence. Google scores your article on a number of factors, an important one being, backlink score. So if you are producing a blog a day, how are you going to get sufficient links to see these effectively ranked.
So is that it? Only blogs with backlinks rank?
Not necessarily, for example, many sites should start with cornerstone blog posts. These are grand pieces of high-quality content that hit at core topics. These should be the posts you spend time building backlinks for. It is from these pages you can then link internally to smaller more specific topic posts, sharing the link equity that the cornerstone blog is earning.
So in essence, it is better to nail a handful of authority posts first, work on building their backlinks AND then you can supplement them with scores of smaller posts. But even then, you need to consider the value of those posts. Eg: the time spent doing them, paying for them and the likely return on that investment. I have seen company’s transform their fortunes with one well-ranked product collection page. It’s a lot easier to win big on one page than making the same value of overall win across hundreds.
The key then is not producing tons of blogs, nor paying someone for them. But to win on a few key pillar pieces. You want to know the following from an agency:
- Why are you writing this blog post?
- What will be the purpose of the post? Informational, transactional etc
- Which will be the keywords used and why?
- What is the traffic volume of that keyword per month?
- Can you get the backlink strategy for that post?
- How many backlinks will it take to rank and how long will it take to achieve that?
- Where will the post sit in the site hierarchy?
As you can see there is a lot that goes into the strategy behind content marketing. Quickly you realise that you probably aren’t going to get all that for a 3 figure sum per month from someone who doesn’t work in your sector.
2. Meta Titles boost your SEO
So this one can be argued both ways by nitpickers. But on the face of it, simply dumping in your keywords into the meta boxes on Shopify or WordPress will not boost your ranking. A quote from Search Engine Journal states this:
Google continues to maintain that meta descriptions, don’t help with rankings whatsoever. (Search Engine Journal)
How often have you been told by an SEO company that they will edit your meta keywords, titles etc to boost your SEO?
So what do Meta titles and descriptions do then?
So this is more about abbreviating what your site is and whom for in a way that can display in search results. You have the power to edit the information shown. From the length of the title to the words shown. Now imagine the following two titles for a sports shoes retailer that shows up when you search for, say Nike.
a: Sports Shoes Shop Online Shoe Trainers Sneakers Nike Adidas Ree…..
Or an alternative
b: Latest Nike Sneakers in Stock NOW | You like Free Shipping right?
So version A, which is what you commonly see with smaller retailers or those trying to tick every box, its just messy keyword stuffing. It’s been written that way in the hope that it will help SEO on multiple keywords. It’s incorrect knowledge and if you see those two listings appear in that order, you’re clicking version B. Why? Because it appeals more directly to the search intent. Moreover, it actually tries to close you on the reason for clicking.
So what happens in real life?
In real life, let’s imagine version A is ranked higher, but B gets more clicks when displayed. Google will assess this ‘Click-through rate’ and see that more people are driven to B. If your site is getting limited clicks for its rank, Google will think your site is not as relevant. Therefore B will likely see a bump in its rankings. This is what we call conversion optimisation. Improving the chances of a user doing something with our display. This is the danger when Search Engine Optimisation companies tell you they can improve SEO with the meta. The truth is, you don’t need clever keywords in the boxes, you need clever copy.
3. SEO Apps help your ranking
Sorry guys and girls, how can an app you grab on the Shopify app store, downloaded hundreds of times by competitors in your sectors help you?
“But if they have it and I don’t, then I need to even up the odds, right?”
Excess apps on your website, be it Woocommerce or Shopify add additional https requests, extra script, extra file size, longer page load. In fact it’s more likely that the app is doing more harm than good.
But let’s imagine there is a value to be had – all things being equal Google is going to look for a way to differentiate between you and your rivals. That would be items like page speed, time on site, conversion rates and backlinks.
ADMISSION: There are some advantages of these apps for tidying up what you can be penalised by. So while we wouldn’t say they ‘add value’ they stop the leak of value. For example, SEO King on Shopify:
- Addition of organised alt tags
- Better image file names to products
- Image Sitemaps
This means it speedily reduces your file sizes, indexes them in Google and ensures they are named in line with your keyword. This is an efficiency tool where you haven’t already done these steps. Do these help your ranking? Well lower file sizes and quicker page loads certainly help SEO, while appearing in Google images can help score new traffic. So there are some apps that offer benefits, but some of the best apps aren’t SEO apps.
We love Virthium, the team are amazing and they have a system that encourages reviews through cash rebates. This means more reviews and more regularly updated site content specific to niche pages on your site. That’s a great thing where it is often only so much you can say about particular items. Where they really stand out is the creation of backlinks as these reviews are hosted off-site. You might think this is just a sponsored plug, it’s not. We use it on our ecommerce site and once removed the app. What then happened was the loss of thousands of backlinks and with it a sharp fall in our page ranking. We lost vast amounts of traffic almost overnight and it took years to repair the damage.
Needless to say, we have re-added the app and now appreciate it for a much greater value. Virthium doesn’t pitch itself as an SEO app and it’s these ones that offer real value.
An SEO app being downloaded is not the golden ticket
In short, most don’t do more than each other. It’s so often I see app lists on client’s sites that are stuffed full of them. This excessive app load does more harm than they help. But in small instances and used sparingly there is time-saving value in using them. Just don’t think that adding one will in and of itself make you rank high. An SEO app being downloaded is not the golden ticket, no matter what they say.
Another option for an app that is talked up for rankings, is the AMP focused sector. AMP means Accelerated Mobile Pages, with the intention that it can speed up your site. You can read more in our piece:
4. Buying backlinks doesn’t work
The controversial topic here. Paying for backlinks CAN work, but you need to know what the term ‘work’ means for you.
Can buying backlinks on major online publications help you better rank for a certain keyword phrase? Of course, it can, despite what others say. What won’t help, is buying useless links from sites that have no relevance to your topic. Worse still is if those backlinks originate in other regions to yours, different languages and have zero traffic. If their page authority (Listen to our podcast on backlinks and page authority below) is low then you are paying money for magic beans.
To some degree, everyone pays for backlinks. Whether it’s your time and labour to hunt them out, or paying an advertorial fee to get a company mention in a major blog post. Money is always involved somehow and it’s why it rankles when broad terms are used. It doesn’t take much googling to find out you can secure backlinks in high ranking sites for a sum of money. These sites can add serious firepower to your backlink profile, providing they are ‘do-follow’ links and are relevantly placed.
What’s the takeaway then?
Well, when an SEO agency offers to do backlink outreach for you, without money being paid of some level, you aren’t going to get far. Ask the agency to elaborate on their process.
NOTE: Everyone can list their business in free business directories. Its a bit time consuming and is quite data entry focused, but do you need to pay a marketing agency to do that for you? Or could you just do that yourself? A true marketing agency with their head in all these great visions probably isn’t a company that would want to spend time doing this. So will they even be doing it? It doesn’t add up and it’s why we suggest these are tasks you can do yourself.
Beyond those business listings, what will the agency be doing for you? Ask for evidence and set a level of expectation that if they don’t meet, you are reimbursed to some degree.
Our podcast above gives a great snippet that you can do while sifting through the spam box. Check it out.
5. Business owners can pick the keywords
Sorry folks but this one kills me whenever I see it on pitch sheets from agencies. You are looking for an SEO agency near you – you are therefore possibly without some of the intel. Those in the game use tools such as Google Trends or Ahrefs keyword explorer to find the right words. These tools are fantastic resources to know what you can win at. They help you stay in your lane.
Let me expand this a bit more. If you sell shoes and tell a digital marketing agency that you want to rank for shoes, the correct answer is – wake up. You do not have the page authority, the traffic etc to have hope. Better is for you to drill down and spot some niche phrases. We call these ‘long-tail keywords’.
Long-tail keywords are keywords or key phrases that are more specific – and usually longer – than more commonly searched for keywords. Long-tail keywords get less search traffic, but will usually have a higher conversion value, as they are more specific. (Yoast)
This means rather than you telling the agency what words you want to rank for; they tell you what you can. But in order to be able to do that, a clear understanding of your market is needed before the research is done. What items are worth targeting, what has the right margin etc.
Back to those shoes…
So back to the shoe site. You tell me you want to rank for shoes, I tell you to rank for Ladies Red Air Max 95s size 6. That kind of thing. you can bet your bottom dollar, you are more likely to rank for that AND convert than just ‘shoes’. How do we find these angles, we research using tools such as Semrush, Ahrefs etc. These sites show us what the difficulty scores for ranking are and the volume out there. They are critical in making the right keyword choice. This is the work that needs to be done when prioritising time allocated to collection descriptions, products, blog posts and more.
So now, all this said, do you really think that SEO agency can do all this for you for a few hundred pounds a month? Save the money, do some yourself.