Ask the Expert | Website Ranking on Search Engines


One of the most common misconceptions about my industry has derived from poor practices from non-reputable agencies around the world. It was only a few years ago that Google’s algorithm could be manipulated a lot more easily and as such would be abused using methods that go against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (known as black hat techniques).

Thankfully, Google’s Panda, Penguin and Pidgeon updates over the past couple of years
have made it much harder for these techniques to work in the long term which has lead
to agencies thinking more creatively. However, some of the damage has already been
done and now I commonly find potential clients, especially with a more modest budget,
have found themselves in one of two positions – either their domain has been
penalised due to previous bad practice or that their thoughts on how online marketing
should be executed is still within the realm of black hat. This has also led to these
potential clients asking common questions that misinterpret the work we do. I will
answer a few of these common questions that I am sure some of you may want to ask,
or have asked in the past.

I want to rank for [one keyword]. How hard will this be?

This cannot be answered without understanding more about your business. There are nearly 300 different factors that contribute towards ranking a keyword including how well your site is built, how relevant the content is within your site or specific page, and the links that point towards your page or domain as a whole. As well as this, we’d need to obtain more information about the site such as whether any previous SEO work has been undertaken and whether the domain has been handed a penalty from Google. Even at this point I’d ask why it is so important to rank for this one keyword. Why is it important to your business (not you)?

When we understand all of the above, we’d still advocate a broader approach to online marketing. Ranking for only a handful of keywords is a bad strategy in most cases and those keywords are usually vanity terms that result in a lack of ROI.

How long will it take to rank for my target keywords?

Again, this is very much defined by the information we’d need as mentioned above, but even then the question is impossible to answer. How long is a piece of string? There are so many factors that can help or risk ranking that it is impossible to tell how any specific work will be interpreted by Google’s algorithm. One real-life example of how finite times are difficult is when we deal with sites that have been built poorly and are still in control of another agency/freelancer. We have produced technical audits for clients that have ended up in the hands of a developer only for it to take over 3 months to implement everything we want. Those 3 months have a direct impact if not implemented, especially some observations that can really hinder the performance of your site.

What Results can I expect to see after [X] months?

 This again is a hard question to answer. Our process at FireCask is to define some KPI’s within our first month’s retainer with a client. Extensive research is undertaken using data from Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, the domain’s link profile, seasonal trends, competitor analysis and other metrics. When producing our KPI’s we remain realistic and don’t promise anything we cannot deliver (which is a common occurrence with some agencies). Our common KPI’s involve:

● Increase in rankings for existing terms
● Introducing new keywords to rank for
● Increase in all visits
● Increase in organic visits
● Decrease in bounce rate
● Increase in page speed scores
● Increase in links to the domain (unless part of our service includes link removal)
● Increase in conversions

Once you understand that ranking within organic results is a long term investment then your expectations will be more realistic. Ranking for terms depend on how competitive a specific keyword is and results don’t usually appear until 3-6 months into a campaign.

How much do you Charge?

At FireCask, we don’t quote outright. We don’t have packages or different price bands. No two clients pay the same on a monthly basis as we work with their available budget. If we go back to the analogy above of ranking for only a handful of keywords, we will need to undertake several hours of research to produce an estimate which is above your allocated budget. That’s not to say we can’t help you – we can – we would just need to re-evaluate your keyword targets and your expectations. We don’t want to research and produce a budget you could never stretch to, and you don’t want to be quoted something outside your comfort level.

In most occasions, a potential client does know what their budget is, and if you are someone who doesn’t then I suggest you obtain  this figure before searching for your next agency.

I’ve received a quote from another agency and it’s cheaper. Why?

Why is a Ferrari more expensive than a go kart? There are a number of reasons such as the quality of work, the way the engines have been built, the way the car looks and how it is seen by others, how much petrol it consumes and how long it’s lifespan is. Marketing agencies work the same way.

If you want to work with that cheaper agency, that’s fine, but ask more questions. Where is the work being done? Is any of it outsourced? If so, is it outsourced to another country such as India (a country popular for outsourced SEO work)? How reputable is the agency and the people within them? Are you speaking to the person who will eventually manage your account on a day-to-day basis?

In Summary

If you’re going to be investing thousands of pounds into your online marketing efforts then ensure the agency you work with understand your business goals and only undertake work that abide by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you are only out there to seek the cheapest option then this will most probably damage your site and your online brand. If you care about your business then it’s imperative that you work with reputable companies who want to have a long term relationship with you and help your business grow.

About the Author

  • Alex Moss

    After receiving his degree in Law and Information Technology in 2006, Alex took an interest in digital marketing and began working as an independent consultant, immersing himself in all aspects of the industry. Alex has worked for smaller agencies as well as working in-house for a large car retailer. He Co-Founded 3 Door Digital in July 2012 before becoming Director at FireCask in November 2013. He particularly enjoys onsite optimisation, auditing and WordPress Marketing, design and plugin development. Alex is also the Co-Founder of Peadig, a Bootstap based WordPress Framework as well as being author to over 10 WordPress plugins. He is also one of a handful of search marketing specialists to contribute towards Econsultancy’s SEO Best Practice Guide. Google+


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