There is an old adage: "You get what you pay for." It's a common saying that has become cliché enough that some people tend to forget that it is usually true (but not always). Here is another quote, which you may or may not find useful: "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." That's from Oscar Wilde.
So... what is the point, you might be wondering. My point is that, more often than not, saving money is a good thing; however, when choosing a Web-design or SEO firm for your business's website, you could be doing yourself a disservice if you choose based solely on estimates of price.
Quite simply: if you are looking for a website that is designed to convert visitors into paying customers or potential customers and you are banking on search engine optimization to bring you targeted visitors, it does not pay to take shortcuts.
In fact, choosing a low-cost solution can often cost you more in the long run.
So how do you choose? Well, chances are, you are not a Web designer or SEO professional and that is why you are looking to hire an expert. So it's understandable you likely won't know what separates a good firm from one that's not.
Here's what you need to know.
Not All Estimates Are the Same
Every day, businesses like yours are looking for a quote on website design or SEO—or both. Though you may have provided your requirements, what you get back in estimates can drastically vary from company to company. What is and is not included in the proposal can be different from estimate to estimate. If you select your Web developer based on the bottom-line price only, you could end up eventually paying more for your website and online marketing.
Think of it as if you were building a house.
One builder's quote does not include door handles. Another builder's quote is missing a bedroom. Another quote has all low-end finishings whereas another includes custom everything. The finished products would be drastically different, at drastically different costs.
At the end of the day, what are you looking for?
Set up parameters of your requirements and then review each estimate with the firm to ensure your Web development requirements will be met in the finished product.
What to Look For
When you set up parameters, you can make better comparisons—apples to apples. The following items are not offered by all Web designers, but they are a part of a good-SEO website design program:
- Preliminary market research and onboarding meetings
- Keyword research and recommended top keywords
- Planning, sitemap, and page/content planning
- Content creation (determining who will provide it)
- Content optimization for SEO
- Content entry
- Content styling
- SEO programming
- Goal-tracking in Google analytics
You should never be guaranteed organic search engine results; if placement results are promised in a quote, you should consider that a warning sign.
In addition, any mention of proprietary tricks of the trade should ring your warning bells.
Not All SEO Is Actually SEO
SEO is common on Web development quotes these days. For many firms, the SEO process involves simply installing a plugin such as Yoast and then auto-filling in the titles, descriptions, keywords (TDK: these days, this is the meta-title and description that search engines read to see what a page is about).
You'll likely save a lot of money by selecting a firm that does SEO in this manner. But your site might never rank for the high-quality, high-traffic keyword phrases that could be bringing you in the majority of your leads.
Even the most experienced of SEO firms will vary in their SEO process; however, a well-developed SEO strategy takes time to properly execute; it is a long-term goal, and a variety of elements are built atop each other to achieve eventual success. Generally, SEO should start with a consultation and keyword research, which will then form the basis for the website architecture. SEO is not a plug-in after the website design is completed.
SEO plays a big part in the quality of content on your website. Ongoing management and maintenance involve reviewing the website analytics regularly and then making the necessary adjustments based on the results.
You can't get around the fact that SEO takes time to achieve results. You can't slap it together; not implementing a proper SEO strategy will cost you potential leads in the long run.
Think about it this way: An experienced SEO firm may charge an upfront fee and monthly maintenance while advising you it could take six months to a year to see top results; so, instead, you choose the Web development firm that promises you SEO is included in the price. They tell you they've chosen keywords and optimized your website. A year later, your website is still underperforming. By that time, you realize you need a more experienced and specialized SEO company. Once again, you're told it could take six months to a year to start achieving results. So now you're now looking at two years from when you first started before you start to reap the benefits of SEO.
Don't give up, though. The majority of good, targeted leads come from organic search, so having a well-defined SEO strategy is the way to achieve success.
Cheat Sheet: How to Choose a Good SEO Professional
So, now that we know not all SEO is the same, how do you determine which professional is right for your business? Which SEO firm will be the right choice for you, from the start?
- Experience. SEO has been around since the late '90s. The companies that have extensive experience have been through a variety of changes in the industry; they have withstood major search engine updates and are still around to tell the tales. In other words, they have innate knowledge to make key decisions based on experience rather than on articles they have read.
- Team. A team approach to SEO is a wise approach. Generally, there will be strategy, keyword research, content planning and creation, and technical items that all need to be carried out in unison.
- Portfolio. Although there are some SEO professionals who specialize in a specific industry, many of the good SEO professionals can work within any industry because their strategy and practices are sound. When looking at an SEO portfolio, you should have a good idea of their successes: Have they been able to achieve successful results in competitive industries? Do they have experience in a business such as yours?
- Personable. Your SEO professionals will be working hard for you. It is important that you like them and you are able to build a relationship with them. You need to work with someone you can like and trust.
Not All Web Design Is Equal
WordPress has made it easy for people to develop and build websites. A lot of these template websites are beautiful and funky. They look great, and it is easy to be wooed and wowed by all the bells and whistles
Generally speaking, everyone wants a website that looks great. But, more important, your website needs to work great for the visitor. Looking great and working great can be two very different things.
- Planning. SEO Web design is based on the sound practice that planning for SEO comes before design. That means market research, keyword research, and site planning are based on SEO principals and help guide the build.
- Site structure. SEO principals will guide the structure of your website. It needs to be uncluttered and it should properly move your visitors through the website.
- User flow. Websites should be designed for the visitor and they should be based on what the targeted visitor are expected/want/need to do once they're on the website.
- Site speed. A lot of the bells and whistles can add bloat to a website, which translates into poor speed. Your visitor will leave if the site is slow. In addition, you may see decreased performance on search engines.
- Mobile-first indexing. Google has moved to mobile-first indexing, which means it's important your site work properly (and look great) on mobile devices. If your website is not attractive to your target audience, or takes too long to load, you could be losing valuable leads.
Poorly Written Code
What do some of the top templates and inexperienced Web developers have in common? Poorly written code. That increases your website's chances for bugs later on and can damage performance. Code should be clean and easy for search engines to read while also being understandable for other coders, as well.
There are a variety of tools out there that can assess a website's performance. Web.dev is an SEO tool provided by Google that provides a great overview of potential programming and SEO problems that can hinder a site's performance. Google's Webmaster Tools and W3's markup validation can also help.
Are You Getting the Features You Require?
Not all businesses require custom Web development, but you do get what you pay for. When you are working with an inexperienced Web designer or a designer who is not a developer and therefore cannot create custom features, you will be restricted by the level of their abilities. They may lead you away from features you are looking for, simply because they do not know how to create them.
In the end, if your website isn't serving the needs of your target audience, capturing their attention, and providing them with innovation or uniqueness, you may find it is harder to retain your visitors and turn them into leads.
That isn't to say all templates are bad or that inexperienced Web developers do not deserve a chance to succeed or are not capable of delivering top results. Rather, quite simply, there is a cost associated with selecting the wrong firm for your needs. That cost comes in the form of lost time and lost potential revenue.
Moreover, it is important to determine which features are included in your estimate. Feature creep is real. It happens when additional features are added throughout a build. Sometimes they come from the developer or SEO professional who has a good idea, and other times from the client. Bu you don't want to be in for a shock when it comes time to pay the bill!
Cheat Sheet: How to Choose a Good Web Developer
How a website looks and how it functions are two separate things. It is easy to tell whether a website looks good, or innovative, or fresh. It is much harder to determine whether a website functions as it is supposed to.
- Experience. A Web developer with experience will have seen the pitfalls of many website and SEO trends and should know how to build a site that can withstand them.
- Templates. It is important to know beforehand if your website will be based on a template.
- How you will update the website. Some websites are built from scratch using html and can require some work for a layperson to update. Others are built in a content management system such as WordPress or Drupal and have built in WYSIWYG editors. Others are a hybrid of custom code within WordPress, for example.
- Features. If using WordPress, for instance, there are many features in the form of plugins that can be added to your site. Unfortunately, sometimes those plugins can also really weigh your site down and cause it to slow down (Google doesn't like a slow site!). A good Web developer can determine when a plugin is the best case course of action and when a more custom option is required.
The Bottom Line
If part of your business model and goals is to succeed on the Internet, properly setting yourself up for success the first time is key. Choosing wisely now will allow you to start taking advantage of the potential opportunities sooner.
Businesses are on a budget; however, selecting a Web development and SEO partner based solely on the bottom-line price rarely pays off in the long run.