Managing a website takes time and energy – so should you do it yourself or leave it to the professionals?

Small businesses often carry out website management and search engine optimisation (SEO) activities in-house. But is this the best use of resources? And if you outsource, how do you know you are getting value for money?

It’s very tempting for small businesses to carry out a number of activities in-house, often by the business owner themselves, in the belief that it saves money. It may well save a cost, but in terms of overall business performance it often does not deliver the best results.

For any activity completed in house, it is necessary to record the number of hours spent on the activity. Multiplying by the hourly rate gives you the associated labour cost. However, you also need to consider the lost opportunity cost – what could you have done during those hours to actively earn money for your business? And more importantly, are you assessing your performance at the activity? Are you really delivering better results than could be provided by an expert in that field?

When it comes to SEO, whether you are doing it yourself or outsourcing, it is important to know what the key performance indicators are.

The end goal of SEO is to maximise the number of potential customers landing on your website. The best way to determine this is to jump onto Google Analytics and look at the amount of organic traffic each month. But for small businesses it is not the total amount of organic traffic that’s the most important – it is the amount of local organic traffic. To view this, you need to see how much organic traffic is coming from your local area. Go to Acquisition > Overview > Organic Search, then above the results table click on Other > Users > City.

The other key performance measure for SEO is the website position on the search engine result page (SERP) for each keyword/search term. The Google Search Console is a free tool that will give you a good snapshot of which search terms are giving you the most clicks and the position of your website for those keywords in the search results. There is also a range of very powerful paid keyword management tools, such as Ahrefs, SEMRush and Moz. These are very useful for measuring and optimising your keyword strategy, but they can cost up to $200 a month – a significant on-cost for a small business. Of course, good SEO agencies access such tools at minimal costs to an individual client.

But before jumping to outsource, it is an unfortunate fact that the SEO industry is littered with unscrupulous operators. Spending $200 a month with an SEO agency may sound like a bargain, but think about it – how many hours they are actually spending on working on your account (even if they outsource overseas)? Not a lot. And sometimes they may actually be using ‘black hat’ SEO techniques in an attempt to deliver a short-term gain, which could deliver a long-term Google penalty. Good SEO takes time and the bottom line is that the bigger your site, the more keywords you want to rank for, and the more competition in your area, the more time needs to be spent on SEO to remain competitive.

But how do you know if an SEO agency is any good? Word of mouth and online reviews are a good start. But also ask to look at their customer monthly reports. Taking into account the comments above, do they report your local organic traffic? They should also be able to provide information on your performance in the local pack results.

Also have a close look at the keyword rankings they report. It is a common practice for the less scrupulous agencies to report a large number of keywords/phrases for which your website ranks as number one on Google. But often these are keywords with no traffic or no commercial value. Know which keywords drive the most traffic in your area – ‘pest control’, ‘termite treatment’ and ‘termite inspection’, with and without a location description would be the obvious ones. These are the keywords that are important to track, which any SEO agency worth their salt will know from the time they spend getting to know you and your business.

Phil Ridley, Director, Bug Doctor Media