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 is grossly misunderstood, 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 who know far more than I do about SEO, but this article will arm you with a basic knowledge so you’re not completely in the dark and can ask your SEO provider the right questions.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing your company’s website, both on-site and off-site, 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 examples).

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.

On-site signals

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 percent of ranking factors.

Off-site signals

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 make up about 30 percent of off-site ranking factors. Consistent online directory listings and citations (8 percent), Google My Business profile (7 percent), online reviews (7 percent), social media engagement (4 percent), and the personalized search of the user (9 percent) make up the remaining mix.

How does one “do SEO?”

Many times I talk to green industry companies that say 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 sort. This figure ends up typically being somewhere between $500 to $1,500 (or higher) each month with the vague promise of ongoing improvement. With most agencies having an hourly rate of $125 to $175 per hour, this means you could have a pro working on your SEO improvements three to 12 hours each month, depending on your retainer amount.

The scary thing is that many agencies are “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 research, talking to a few agencies and asking the right questions.

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 in equal payments of approximately $580 per 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 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 will be visually appealing but also provides a good experience for the user and represents SEO best practices. It will cost $7,000-$14,000 for someone who truly knows what they are doing. A site should be re-built every four to six years.
  • Connect your website with Google Analytics and Google Search Console, which 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 (two to four times a month) about relevant topics that are focused around keyword phrases you’re trying to rank. 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.
  • Share blog articles and other useful website content on 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.

An ongoing SEO strategy

As you can see, just like keeping a property’s landscape in tip-top condition, SEO demands an ongoing strategy focused on long-term results. Websites will need updating, new blog articles will need to be written, pages will need to be 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 basic information, you can 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 also how they can help you accomplish your goals. Here’s to finding the right SEO partner.