Search Engine Marketing Consultant… Anyone?

There are few things worse than hiring someone to fill a position based on false credentials. One thing that is worse is attempting to hire someone to fill a role that no-one else on your company understands, or has even heard of.


If you are planning on hiring a search consultant, here is a mini-glossary along with a checklist of Q&A to help you separate the wheat from the chaff; or if you prefer, the can-do’s from the no-clue’s.


The Q&A will be followed by the mini-glossary as that order seems to make the most sense to me. Every term in the mini-glossary is in green, and is provided in alphabetical order. Additional resources we provide for your interest are hyperlinks in underlined blue and will take you to another web page you can easily close to resume reading of this document. Neither the mini-glossary nor this Q&A are exhaustive either in questions or answers, but should give you a good starting point in your hiring initiative.


1. Question: How would you define what you do to a client?


Answer Guide: Any answer that refers to a combination of mentions of keyword research and internet market research, SEM, SEO, PPC, ROI, and Analytics & Usability will suffice


Answer Example: As an SEM consultant, I offer both SEO and PPC advice to companies developing or redeveloping their websites, or simply aiming to increase online exposure via paid search results. My objective is to assist my client’s web sites to gain higher rankings in the natural or organic search engines results pages (SERPs) across a range of keywords and phrases relevant to their business, while maintaining and maximizing site usability. The increase in exposure should result in increases in conversions, assuming the landing pages and site design is usable, friendly and logical. From a PPC perspective, my objective is to maximize conversions while minimizing cost per conversion. Both SEO and PPC need to be measured in terms of ROI and effective visitor volume increase using a range of tools including rankings reports and comprehensive web analytics data.


2. Question: What do you think is the most important element of an effective SEO campaign? In other words, if we were to spend time and money on one thing and one thing only, what would maximize the impact and efficacy of our SEO efforts in terms of an increase in exposure in the search engines?


Answer Guide: Expect either straight answers to the effect that:


  1. the ‘Title Tag’ is the most important element (this is true of onpage elements); or that
  2. an aggressive, targeted backlink campaign is the most important part of an effective SEO campaign (true – in the end backlinks account for around 70% of the eventual long-term ranking relevance of web pages).


If an interviewee gets flustered on this question, that’s normal as it is a matter of contention. Either of these two answers should indicate a contender who knows their stuff. While there is probably no ‘perfect’ answer as SEO is certainly not an exact science, I will venture to put my thoughts down for your benefit.


Answer Example: I would say that the most important thing to ensure an effective SEO campaign is to conduct effective keyword and internet market research. Once you know what terms you can most effectively target from an exposure and ROI point of view, optimizing your Title tags is the most important thing to do onpage. Carrying those keywords through into the anchor text of an offpage or backlink campaign will then be more effective, and the backlinks themselves will end being the most important factor of your entire campaign in terms of boosting your ‘authority’ status and thus your web page rankings in the SERPs.


3. Question: What do you think are the most important things to do to ensure our PPC campaign will generate the most bang for our buck?


Answer Guide: Any answer that mentions adgroups structured by keyword silos in a logical campaign structure with adgroup relevant adcopy is a good answer. This should be followed by a mention of regular analytics reporting and strategic tactical refinement to maximize ad quality, CTR, conversions, CPC (click) and cost per conversion while minimizing both unnecessary impressions and click-throughs. If they go on to mention the need to include negative keywords to minimise both irrelevant impression volume as well as ineffective CTR, that’s good. We have a more complete introduction to PPC to provide more detailed information for your interest.


4. Question: How do you go about conducting keyword research?


Answer guide: The candidate should mention utilizing multiple keyword research tools including a mention of Wordtracker, Trellian’s Keyword Discovery, search suggest tools, trends, hot searches, Google keyword tool (this comes free with an adwords account), competitive intelligence etc. There are numerous keyword research tools out there, but these are a few that should probably be mentioned in some way or form.


If the candidate goes on to mention looking at keyword competitiveness, and mentions KEI, that is a good sign that they know what they are doing. If they further mention the need to consider search query language versus search query intent, and apply that knowledge based on other market research and analytics from other off and online campaigns, they are probably worth seriously considering for your short-list.


If they are really good, and if you are a big brand, they will caveat this answer by mentioning that while keyword research provides excellent guidance, if the company (you) is severely constrained by branding and legal limitations, that may make effective SEO in terms of assigning topical relevance to pages onpage very difficult.


5. Question: What are your thoughts on dynamic URLs?


Answer Guide: Dynamic URLs are not ideal under most circumstances. If they only apply to a backend shopping cart, then the candidate should recommend that you robots.txt out the cart. If they are endemic to the website in general due to personalization and tracking etc and contain session ids, then the candidate should recommend mod-rewriting the URLs. At this stage the candidate will not know what software you are using. At this stage, don’t tell them. If they make it to the short list for a second interview, tell them what you are using (e.g. reddot) and request that they come prepared to answer questions on that software in the next round.


6. Question: How do you go about building backlinks/inbound links?


Answer Guide: A mention of searching for and conducting a personalized link building campaign with topically and industrially/business relevant or related sites, but excluding competitors is a good answer. If they expand on that by mentioning directories, reciprocal and one way links, and paid links that would be great. If they downplay reciprocal links in favor of one way links, that’s great. Here is a resource for more information for your interest on link building.


7. Question: Please define what you consider to be black-hat techniques, and which you would use in optimizing our site.


Answer guide: A candidate should never admit to utilizing black-hat techniques in any initial interview. Common black-hat techniques include utilizing hidden text, keyword stuffing, utilizing doorway pages, link spamming, scraping, utilizing computer generated content etc. This is but simply scraping the surface of the iceberg that is black-hat SEO.


This is an entire discussion on it’s own. Some black-hat techniques are actually useful to use in a ‘white-hat’ sense. Some are what might be termed ‘grey-hat’. What is important is that your candidate knows the difference, and takes the ethical line from the start.


8. Question: As a consultant, do you require access to our files and ftp details?


Answer Example: As a consultant I am not your web developer. I do not require access to those files and details. My job is to supply you with what you need to improve the search friendliness of your web pages in documented format. It is your decision if you then wish to implement my recommendations or not. I do require access to your web analytics.


Note: If a candidate takes the step of refusing to take the job if they do not have access to your analytics, they are worth a second look. They obviously need them if they are to embark upon PPC for your business. It will be to your detriment if you attempt to outsource PPC without giving your PPC consultant full admin access to your analytics and account. The onus is upon you to ensure that the contract drawn up is very clear on terms of use.


9. Question: How long until we can expect to see results?


Answer Guide:

  1. Organic results – depends on how often your site is crawled. As soon as it is crawled you will start seeing results, but it can take up to 5 months (usually less) for full impact to be realized.
  2. PPC results – immediate, allowing for tactical refinement depending on size of campaign.


10. Question: What are your thoughts on using Flash, Ajax and Javascript?


Answer Guide: Google is beginning to read Flash, but it is very early days. Traditionally none of these are ‘readable’ by the search engines. Best practice would be to never use any for your navigation, but feel free to use all and any throughout the site to increase dynamism, interactivity and usability of the site. Nothing wrong with any of them if used wisely.


11. Question: With the investment we plan to make for this initiative, what type of effective traffic volume increase can you predict?


Answer Guide:

  1. PPC – depends on if there was a PPC campaign in place before. If it is a case of tactically refining a poorly conceived PPC campaign the figure could be as high as more than 100%. A safe play would be for the candidate to say a 25-75% increase within 8 weeks.
  2. Organic Traffic – depends on if there was any optimization, if it is a site redesign from pure Flash to html and a host of other factors. In general, from an html site that was not optimized with no backlink campaign, to an html site that is fully optimized with an aggressive backlink campaign, usually safe to estimate a 10-30% increase in relevant traffic within 6-8 weeks (depending on crawl rate), and a 25-50% increase within 3-4 months as backlinks kick-in. Up to over a 100% increase within 6-12 months. Affecting factors also include industry type and competition on core converting terms if ROI is a factor in determining ‘traffic relevance’.


12. Question: How much importance do you apply to local and image search?


Answer Guide: Both are enormously important, All images should be fully optimized; from image name through placement through ALT attributes. Local search is likely to be your biggest traffic driver if you are a SME in a specified location/or a few locations.





Adcopy: The actual copy written for display ads in the sponsored or paid search listings in the search engines that require pay per click budgeting. Users view this adcopy – depending on what keywords they search on – as the paid ads, and may click it to get to specifically designated landing pages on your site. If the words in the adcopy and URL match the actual words searched by users, they will appear in bold in the search engines results pages (SERPs).


Adgroups: Once you have decided to develop a paid search initiative, you separate your keywords into broad ’campaigns’. These campaigns are then subdivided into ‘adgroups’ to allow you to better silo the keyword and target the adcopy.


Ad quality: Google (for example) applies what is called ad quality scores to your ads. The higher (or more relevant and perceptually targeted) the quality, the lower your actual cost per click is likely to be irregardless of how high you set your maximum cist per click. It is a type of reward mechanism.


Ajax: Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.


ALT attributes: Alternative text descriptions applied to images in a web site in the code and seen by the spiders as well as human users. Spiders (search engine programs) cannot read images yet, and rely oin the html text in these ALT tags to tell them what the image is about. They apply topical relevance to the images and thus the pages. Based on the text included.


Analytics: Web analytics can come from a host of programs. Google analytics is a relatively comprehensive analytics program and it is free. It offers up data including keyword traffic, referral traffic, search engine traffic, bounce rates, goal conversion and a host of other data vital to refining and managing both SEO and PPC campaigns. There are many advanced analytics programs that cost more including Xiti and Omniture to name but 2.


Authority status: Search engines assign authority to web pages and sites based on topical relevance in terms of keyword relevance, community relevance in terms of backlinks and popularity within their online space as far as the engines can tell according to volume and quality of inlinks, and in terms of age, consistency and a host of other factors. The more authoritative and reliable a site in the engines eyes, the higher it is likely to rank for a specific phrase.


Backlink: A link to your webpage from an external URL or site – also known as an inbound link, inlink and an external link.


Black-hat: search engine optimization practices that are not ‘optimal’ in the eyes of the search engines, or ethical web developers and SEO practitioners. These techniques can be seen as manipulative, underhanded, and in some cases entirely against terms and conditions of the major search engines. Not advisable for a company that wants to build and maintain a reputable exposure and reputation online.


Campaign: PPC Campaigns are the backbone of a paid search initiative. They are the benchmark data you will refer to before deep-diving into the analytics. Campaigns need to be well conceived in terms of topical relevance and volume expectancy, as well as ROI.


Cost per conversion: The amount of money the paid search campaigns has cost your business in terms of clicks to conversions based on the CPC set up by your campaign manager.


CPC: The cost-per-click refers to the maximum cost you assign to each keyword on a per click basis in a paid search campaign. Maximizing your actual CPC does not mean you will pay what you state. Maximum CPC combined with high quality ads can result in higher placements at a lower average CPC than less optimized competitors.


Crawl: How often a search engine’s exploratory program ‘crawls’ and finds your web page and indexes it (includes it in it’s results).


CTR: Click-through-rate = number of time people view your ad divided by the number of people who click your ad.


Directories: Web sites who offer you the opportunity to list your site ih their results for both traffic and SEO backlink purposes. Some are free, some are paid.


Dynamic URLs: A non-static URL. A URL that changes, or rather, that is a result of a database driven website.


Flash: A set of multimedia software that can manipulate vector and raster graphics and which supports bi-directional streaming of audio and video files.


Grey-hat: In-between black-hat and white-hat SEO techniques.


Hyperlinks: These are the underlined blue links you usually find on web pages that direct you immediately to another page. The text in these ‘links’ is called ‘anchor text’.


Impressions: The number of times people ‘view’ your ad, or the number of times your ad is ‘shown’.


Javascript: A scripting language used for client side development


KEI: Keyword Effectiveness Index – without advanced statistical application – the number of searches per term by the number of completive websites allows you to determine the competitiveness of a keyphrase.


Keyword research: Researching which keywords and phrases your internet market is searching for. Checking the volume of these searches to number of competitive websites and determining the likelihood of ranking based on your offering, exposure and brand. Checking your competitors websites for keywords, and creating a niche based on internet competitive intelligence.


Local search: There is nothing I can say about this that is not said here by David Mihm.


Negative Keywords: These are keywords that are related to your core search terms, but which have nothing to do with what you offer; for example if your company was called Lincoln Greeting Cards, you would probably want to add the words ‘Abe’, ‘Abraham’ and ‘President’ to your paid search campaign.


Internet market research: See ‘Keyword Research’ above.


Natural results: The results your web pages will achieve in Google, Yahoo!, MSN etc that do not cost you on a CPC basis. Those that people just ‘see’ when they type in a search query.


Offpage: Refers to SEO techniques that cannot be applied directly to your web pages, and therefore refers to backlinking efforts through blogs, gadgets, RSS, press, and other linking methodologies.


One-way links: A one-way link is when you ask a website owner or webmaster to link to your website as you feel your content may be of interest to their users, and the webmaster simply links to you, no questions asked. Depending on your industry and the sites you approach, a positive conversion rate (acquisition of a one-way link) will probably lie within the range of 1-5% of all contacts.


Onpage: Refers to all SEO efforts you can institute ‘on’ your web pages from URL structure, through title, META data, headers, copy, Alt attributes and in-site linking.


Organic results: See ‘Natural Results’ above.


Paid links: Paid links are basically one-way links you pay for that are not in directories. If you pay for a link that is registered by the search engines as being paid, your site is not penalized; the site that is linking to you with the paid link may be if detected. The cost might range between $100 and $500 per month.


Paid search: Paid search programs allow you to advertise your site in the sponsored results areas of all the major search engines on s cost per click or PPC (pay per click) basis. Each time some one clicks your paid search advert, you pay a nominal fee based on the keyword they searched.


PPC: See ‘Paid Search’ above.


Ranking reports: Reports that show you how your web pages are doing in terms of rankings or placements in the search engines results for a set of keyphrases.


Reciprocal links: A reciprocal link is when you ask a webmaster to link to your page, and they reply in the affirmative, but with the caveat that you link back to a page of their choice. Again, depending on the industry and the sites you approach, an acceptable conversion rate should lie within 10-25% of all contacts.

This takes time, but it’s worth it in the end. And it has to be done unless you can shell out to a pro-link builder. 


SEM: SEM is the practice of search engine marketing which consists of SEO, paid search and analytics.


SEO: Search engine optimization – the practice of attempting to optimize web pages for the search engines by applying techniques of topical and authoritative relevance.


Title tag: The title tag is the html code in the header of a web page that allows the developer to assign its value in terms of keywords. This is what human users see in their browsers when they are on the web page as the identifier in their browser. It is also what is visible in the blue underlined large text on the search engine results pages when people search for your business and see your result. Your ‘search engine headline’ so to speak.


Usability: How usable and friendly your web pages are to human users in terms of how logical, clean, navigable, informative and motivational they are.


Web analytics: See ‘Analytics’ above.


Web page: A page in your web site. Search engines rank web pages not sites, but each page in a site is dependant upon the others. Websites are banned, not web pages.


White-hat: Totally legal, above board and acceptable SEO practices in the eyes of the search engines.

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