This article was originally published in Turf Magazine, where Chad writes a monthly feature on sales and marketing advice for landscaping and lawn care companies.
I hate the term “SEO”. In my past couple decades in the green industry leading into my experience working for a digital marketing agency, those three little letters might as well have been “UFO” to me and many successful industry peers.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is grossly misunderstood and often a vague, manipulative concept that many agencies utilize to extract thousands of dollars from green industry companies each year for very little results.
I’ll start right off by saying that there are many experts out there that know far more than I do about SEO, but this article will arm you with a basic knowledge to not be completely in the dark and to start asking your SEO provider the right questions.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your lawn care or landscaping company’s website, both onsite and offsite, to increase organic traffic from search engines like Google. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is similar, only it is pay-to-play (pay-per-click advertising and Google Adwords as an example).
So how does your company’s website appear organically on that coveted first page of Google’s search results?
Google wants people to use their search engine so they have gotten very good at tweaking their algorithms many times each year, in an attempt to become the perfect matchmaker. Their job is to find the best possible results for you when you search for a phrase or question in that little white box.
To do this, search engines utilize two main groups of ranking factors to rank a website page or blog article. Here are some breakdowns and explanation of those factors, according to an expert study done in 2017 by Moz.
These factors are all based on your website. Items such as the presence of name, address, and phone number (NAP), keyword phrases in page titles and the domain authority of your website are critical to landing on the first page. Likewise, the content on the website page is essential to match the searcher’s intent and deliver useful information.
What website visitors do on your site matters as well. Are they staying on your site or immediately bouncing? Do they click on calls-to-action? Are they viewing other pages? All of these on-site factors make up approximately 35% of ranking factors.
These ranking factors are all about what happens off of your lawn care or landscaping company’s website, related to your online presence.
Quality links from other relevant websites makes up about 30% of off-site ranking factors, along with consistent online directory listings and citations (8%), Google My Business profile (7%), online reviews (7%), social media engagement (4%), and the personalized search of the user (9%) make up the remaining mix.
(RELATED READING: How to Get More Positive Reviews for Your Green Industry Company)
How Does One “Do SEO”?
Many times I talk to green industry companies they cite the fact that someone is “doing SEO” for them, but cannot clearly communicate what that means. This problem begins when agencies don’t do a good job explaining what “doing SEO” means (hence why I hate the term).
Most commonly, this means that an agency will do something relatively undefined that will take a number of hours each month, leading to a monthly retainer of some sorts. This figure ends up typically being somewhere between $500 - $1,500 (or higher) each month with the vague promise of ongoing improvement.
With most agencies having an hourly rate of $100-$200/hour, this means you could have a pro working on your SEO improvements three to twelve hours each month, depending upon your retainer amount.
The scary thing is that many agencies are not only “doing SEO” but are doing it very badly. In fact, some shady tactics could gain results initially but end up getting your website flagged by Google, leading to worse results than never doing anything!
It’s important for you to understand what these best practices are and that only happens by doing some research and talking to a few agencies and asking the right questions.
(RELATED READING: What Percent of Website Traffic Should Be Local? - Here's What We Found)
A Landscaping SEO Analogy
Imagine you meet with a prospect and sell them a proposal to maintain and improve their landscape. The client can only afford to pay you $7,000 a year and wants to break it up into equal payments of approximately $580/month.
You immediately recognize that there are big items that will eat up half that budget to start. And, you also understand that even after doing that $7,000 of work, there will always be items their budget won’t allow to be completed that year. In turn, there will also be some items that need to be re-done as conditions change.
So, each month, you go to your customer’s house and put in a few hours of work, mulching a small section, trimming a few shrubs and pulling some weeds. Eventually, the site looks better and eventually there are items that need some repeated tweaking. For this budget, you may never get around to adding seasonal color, replacing dead shrubs or addressing other necessary items. There just isn’t enough budget and those items will have to wait.
That’s pretty much what it is like to “do SEO”. Sometimes that means the whole website needs to be renovated. And after that big initial project, or in other cases where the site looks great, there will always be a laundry list of monthly improvement projects.
Agencies have an hourly charge just like your green industry company, so they craft an annual strategy, divide it by 12 months, and allocate a certain amount of hours each month for tasks that will improve your on-site and off-site ranking factors.
Which SEO Items Come First?
Although there may be some speculation to the specific order, most experts will agree that your first priority to improve SEO is to improve your website. While visual elements are important to the user experience, there are also many technical items that need to be addressed behind the scenes.
Fix these issues first, and then work on the off-site ranking factors. Some off-site improvements may be easily executed, so it doesn’t necessarily mean they should be neglected until your website’s SEO is polished and sparkling.
Here’s a list of SEO items in general priority of how they should be completed:
- Build/re-design a good website that is visually appealing but also provides a good experience for the user, and represents SEO best practices (will cost $7,000-$14,000 for someone who truly knows what they are doing, and a site should be rebuilt every 4-6 years).
- Connect your website with Google Analytics and Google Search Console (will let Google crawl your site and give you valuable reporting metrics).
- Improve page titles, meta descriptions, image names, image descriptions and page copy to optimize for specific keywords you’re trying to rank for.
- Blog (2-4 times a month) about relevant topics that are focussed around keyword phrases you’re trying to rank for (each blog post is a new opportunity to rank in search results).
- Create a complete Google My Business (GMB) profile.
- Review other online directories (like Localeze, Acxiom, Superpages, etc.) and correct information to match your GMB profile exactly.
- Create a strategy to ask happy clients to write online reviews (preferably first on GMB), consistently over time.
- Publish blog articles and other useful website content to social media channels.
- Seek natural opportunities for inbound links (write blog articles on your site that other sites will love linking to, write guest blog articles on industry sites and publications, be featured in local news articles, set-up local and/or association profiles, etc.).
- Lather, rinse, repeat!
(RELATED READING: The Number of Pages on Your Website Matters - Here's Why!)
An Ongoing SEO Strategy
As you can see, just like keeping a property’s landscape in tip-top condition, SEO demands an ongoing strategy focussed on long-term results. Websites will need updating, new blog articles will need to be written, pages will need tweaked or added to beat upcoming competitors in search results, and opportunities for improvement will always exist.
And don’t forget that Google is constantly changing their rules, not to make your life difficult, but to create the perfect matchmaking experience for their users. These changes often prompt important changes that you and your SEO agency should follow to connect your prospective clients with the best option to care for their property–your company!
SEO can be confusing. However, when you’re armed with the correct, most basic information, you can begin the search for an agency that will be happy to partner with your green industry company and make sure you understand not only what you’re paying them for, but how they can help you accomplish your goals. Here’s to finding the right SEO partner!
If you're looking for SEO services for landscaping, lawn care or tree service companies, we'd be happy to explain how we improve the search ranking for our clients.