Ask an expert: Top SEO Questions Answered
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an essential part of any digital strategy, so I decided to ask an expert — Keith Vera from DeltaV Digital — some direct questions that may help you with your own SEO plans and strategy.
Kate: Hi Keith. Tell us who you are please.
Keith: I have been in the digital marketing space for over twelve years. I’m based in the Washington, DC area, and have spent most of those years working for, and with, smaller digital agencies. I’ve been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work with some of the best digital talents and partners across the country, and have been able to work with some fascinating clients during that time. What I enjoy most of all about working in a small agency is the great relationships and connections I have made. When you work with the best people and clients who all share a true partner mindset, you are able to accomplish truly amazing things.
Kate: What company do you work for and what exactly do you do?
Keith: I am a cofounder and partner at DeltaV Digital, a full-service digital marketing agency focused on digital research, strategy, and execution. Day-to-day I help lead digital strategy teams that are orchestrating multi-channel integrated digital marketing programs, including SEO, SEM, social advertising, digital display, and website design and development. Some of our more intense and interesting projects involve enterprise website and content migrations to help insure SEO viability while mitigating brand loss across the major search engines.
Kate: What did you do prior to cofounding DeltaV Digital?
Keith: In 2006, I was the first member of another DC-based digital marketing startup, EyeTraffic Media. In 2011, EyeTraffic, was acquired by Penton Media, where I served as VP of Digital Marketing for the external agency arm of Penton Marketing Services.
Kate: Alright Keith let’s get into the direct questions and our topic at hand and start with the obvious. What is SEO?
Keith: SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is an online marketing methodology to increasing your website rankings on search engine results pages (SERPS) across major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. SEO is an extremely important digital marketing channel, as clicks to your website properties from organic listings are “free,” and traffic from organic search clicks is generally highly-relevant to your product or service offerings. SEO is about catering to both your audience through things like website content quality, clarity, and organization, as well as the search engine algorithms and overall user experience through strong website architecture and performance.
Kate: Do the old school things such as meta keywords and meta descriptions still matter?
Keith: Absolutely. Although meta descriptions and keywords do not affect search engine rankings, they can be used by the engines as indicators to understand what a specific website page is about. Your page meta information is also where marketing overlaps with SEO efforts. Your page title and meta descriptions are what the engines use to create your organic listing and links displayed on SERPs. You should think of these areas as your marketing opportunity, where you can influence users to click on your organic listing instead of your competitors’ listing. A better written, and more relevant page title and meta description will help garner a better click-through-rate (CTR) which is yet another factor in engine ranking algorithms. Additionally, meta descriptions and keywords usually have an impact on internal search tools such as the Google Search Appliance or Elastic Search, so well-tagged pages could impact your internal search results and experience substantially.
Keith: Yes, there are certainly still black, white, and gray-hat types of SEO strategies to try and get strong rankings across Google and the other engines. Over the last couple of years, the engines have made substantial strides to clean-up SERPs from non-relevant results from their indexes, and overall they’ve done a great job. There have been some companies that have been hurt pretty substantially by these updates, but in most of those instances there were some of those “areas of gray” in their SEO execution (either known or unknown) that caused the penalization. People are always looking for new ways to manipulate search engines, and the engines continue to get smarter about understanding and mitigating these tactics. The best solution is start with SEO best practices and work to build on them across your content strategy, looking to provide true value to your audience and, of course, follow developer guidelines for your site.
Kate: What is more important, on-the-page tagging or back-end site building adjustments?
Keith: I would say that depends on the site and the content strategy. For large publications or content-heavy sites with new consistent and relevant content, the back-end architecture of the site is going to make far more of a difference to SEO rankings and success than looking at hyper-specific page tagging. With the proper site structure in place, the content by itself will likely deliver some good SEO success. With that said, page tagging is a part of site taxonomy, an important site architecture SEO component. Strong page tagging and addressing other on-page SEO elements will impact pages getting indexed and SERP rankings, help CTR on rankings you have already achieved, and your internal search functionality.
Kate: Is link building still important?
Keith: Link building is still important, but the type of links you should be looking to build and how those programs work has evolved substantially over time. The easiest thing to focus on when looking to generate inbound links is creating and promoting high-quality content. Visitors sharing your content with their digital ecosystem give strong ranking indicators to Google that your content is relevant and valuable to those audiences, and that is exactly what Google is striving to do, index and rank the most relevant, timely, and valuable content for its users.
Kate: When should a company hire an agency vs. doing SEO themselves?
Keith: This is a great question and one that a lot of companies struggle with. The first thing to think about is that while SEO is free traffic, it certainly isn’t free to execute on. Regardless of whether you have an in-house operation or an agency partner, great SEO requires marketing resources, content resources, and development resources among other things. Both ways require a commitment to the channel in ways that I think are not always considered or understood.
The value of having in-house SEO employees is that they are (hopefully) dedicated to SEO execution 100% of the time. If you are hiring for SEO you should look for someone with a strong background in web development and SEO, as well as marketing. Individuals with those diverse skillsets are difficult, but not impossible, to find. One of the main issues that I’ve seen with an in-house strategy is that typically there is only a single person charged with SEO execution, and they end up wearing many hats other than SEO, making it extremely difficult to find sustained success.
The benefit of hiring an agency is that you are able to get a team dedicated to your SEO success that should have all of the skills (development/marketing/SEO) necessary to put you on the path to success. Of course, these teams do have other clients, but I would argue that is actually a substantial benefit. Multiple clients are helping to subsidize the cost of having a team of experts and access to pricey enterprise-level SEO and development tools that companies with in-house SEO execution would otherwise have to buy themselves.
Kate: How do you measure SEO success?
Keith: We measure SEO success a number of ways, and to some degree SEO can be held accountable to the same standards as other digital marketing channels. The first, and probably most obvious, is indexing and ranking success for targeted website pages or the most important keywords. The number one goal of SEO is to get pages indexed and achieve rankings on search terms. A byproduct of those rankings is traffic and actual ROI that comes from users visiting your website through that channel (leads and sales) which we measure as well. We also measure success on a development level, looking at positive changes in things like web site errors, site speed, 400 errors, broken links, and redirect errors, all of which cause a poor user experience and will negatively impact your SEO
Kate: What blogs do you read on SEO?
Keith: Some of my favorite SEO resources are Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and Moz. Google also has a lot of great blogs and resources that anyone in the industry should be looking at. Finally, there are some other strong platform blogs out there like HubSpot, Kissmetrics, and SEMRush.
Kate: Anything you would like to share that I didn't ask?
Keith: I would just share a couple of the biggest trends that we are seeing and things to concentrate on for the future of SEO. The first is that Google’s latest algorithm changes place more of an importance on mobile-friendly websites and environments, and having (or not having) a mobile-friendly website will have an ever-greater impact on ranking performance. The second is the local side of SEO, which requires a different type of SEO strategy as local search results are relevant to a user’s location. With the increase in smartphone usage, there has been a substantial increase in searches that have local intent, and having a strong local presence can not only increase your visibility, but help insulate you from future algorithm changes that focus on strong local SEO.
Thanks to Keith for speaking with me and answering lots of great questions specific to SEO!I hope these questions are helpful to your digital strategy, I know they are helpful to mine. Please feel free to add any additional questions in the comments.