Blog post

The fundamentals of SEO and whether you need an agency

Date of post

16 June 2023

Post author

Read time

8 mins
Marketing Labs homepage on a laptop screen

Google uses over 200 ranking signals to decide which websites are worthy of the top spots on its results pages, so where do you begin? In this blog post, we look at the fundamentals of search engine optimisation (SEO) and consider whether you need an agency. 

What is SEO?

If you’re reading this, you’re probably somewhat familiar with SEO, or at least the idea of ranking competitively in search engine results. 

For those of you who are less familiar with it, search engine optimisation (SEO) is the work involved in trying to improve the position of your website in search engine results pages for a collection of keywords.

Google and other search engines will display websites that it believes offer the most compelling answer to a user’s question (search query).

The results come in many forms and variations depending on the type of information the search engine believes you require. Search engines do this based on intent and constantly validate the websites they return for particular searches.

If you track your website’s performance, you’ll notice its rankings are constantly changing, which is why SEO should be seen as an iterative process rather than a one-off piece of work. 

Types of search intent

Search intent, also known as user intent or query intent, refers to a user’s underlying purpose or goal when conducting a search query on a search engine. 

Many types of search intent exist, but they can be distilled into a few categories.

  • Local – what’s happening around you 
  • Informational –  what answers your question in the best and most informative way
  • Commercial – a search relating to products leading to a purchase
  • Brand  – research on a particular entity. Often returning known assets such as websites, social profiles, news, reviews etc., relating to a brand   

The practice of SEO has been around for as long as search engines. It has gone through many stages of advancement over the last 20+ years. As with everything, there are good and bad practices which offer varying results in the short, medium, and long term. 

Some bad practices may lead to short-term gains but ultimately harm your site in the long term. Beyond this, it’s all relative to your competitors and market demand.  

The fundamentals of search

There are two distinct categories within search – paid and organic (SEO). This post focuses on SEO, but paid search can be equally as complex and valuable.

Search engine optimisation contains many different disciplines within it, from technical web development to content creation, off-site optimisation and digital PR. 

There’s a lot to cover and stay on top of.  Many experts specialise in one or two aspects as it can be intense to cover everything, although it gets easier with experience and time.  

The three essential components of a successful SEO strategy are technical, content, and off-site.  

Technical SEO

Technical SEO is commonly grouped into two parts:

  1. Server and web development (site speed & quality) 
  2. Onsite health (internal architecture, internal linking, user experience)

Both areas can aid speed and enhance the user experience across all aspects of your website. There is a lot of data online to show how important this has become to users in the last few years, and it can impact conversion rates significantly.  

This area has played a significant role in the decline of many websites over the past five or so years. 

Content creation 

Content creation sounds easier than it is. Producing dedicated content that matches user intent and answers relevant questions better than your competitors can be challenging.  

It should also always be seen as an iterative process, constantly tweaking and updating content to improve the user experience. It’s not a one-off, fire-and-forget process; this will almost certainly end with you sliding back down the rankings over time. 

Content comes in many forms, and as mentioned above, it’s critical to match your content with the type of information people are searching for. E-commerce content differs significantly from informative content or even a blog or article.

Offsite SEO 

External linking is the most mysterious of the three categories, partly because Google has a particularly disparaging view of it.

Creating excellent and link-worthy content and information is a great way to earn natural links back to your site. It’s the paid-for links that are frowned upon. 

However, gaining links from external sites still significantly affects your ranking positions (even if Google doesn’t like to admit it). Go about this the wrong way, and Google will likely penalise you if it suspects you of wrongdoing.

Can you do SEO yourself?

Anybody can do the basics, and we’d encourage you to try. Improving your website and content to more closely align with what your customers want is a great habit to get into. 

You’ll learn a lot doing this, and there is an excellent community of SEOs across many platforms to help expand your knowledge of specific disciplines. 

However, there is also a lot of complex learning that only comes with the doing – trial and error will get you a long way, and small iterative steps can propel your site up the ranking ladder, especially where the industry is less competitive. 

However, you will need the experts at some point as your site grows. The main benefit of using an agency or consultant is the experience and knowledge they’ve built up over the years. Their understanding of the SEO industry and how it applies to you based on the spectrum of clients they also service can benefit your business.

This can be incredibly important for spotting trends with algorithm changes, but also recommendations for what’s working well holistically.  Gleaning this from a smaller selection of sites can be challenging, giving you a slightly skewed view of the SEO world. 

Alongside experience and expertise, one of the other benefits of utilising agency support is access to SEO tools, of which there are thousands. SEO tools and subscriptions to services can be very costly, especially when you need several things to do different jobs.

They are an essential weapon in your armoury. Not only can they speed up your analysis, but they can also help track improvement.

Access to a handful of tools can cost thousands per year, and if you’re not sure how to use them properly, it can be wasteful. This is where agency expertise is vital.

How to choose an agency if you need support

We’ve written a supporting article for agency vs in-house SEO, outlining when you may be reaching the time an SEO agency can ease the internal team’s workload.

So do you need an agency? There is no right or wrong answer to this, only an answer best suited for your business. However, it’s worth considering whether the extra expertise can justify the additional expense for agency time.

Usually – with a good agency at least – the extra value provided during the planning stages will boost your revenue long-term, which is cost-effective when viewed over an extended period.  

Does location matter when choosing an SEO agency?

Location is one of many factors to consider when choosing an agency, but it’s not the most important. SEO can be done successfully from most locations within the same country. 

Before you make your decision, consider things like language and time zone. This is more important than location, especially for content and communications.  

The agency’s location shouldn’t really be the determining factor in choosing an agency, aside from the convenience of face-to-face meetings where necessary. 

Good agencies will be able to demonstrate a proven track record of success based on what they’ve done before for other clients. It’s essential to query this when speaking to agencies as it’s something that they should be able to demonstrate. 

Marketing Labs is an SEO agency in Nottingham, UK. We have clients up and down the country and several international clients. As long as objectives, processes and communications are agreed upon upfront, the location is one of the least important factors. 

The role of SEO in marketing

SEO is a significant contributor to orders and revenue, or ad revenue if that’s your model. 

The best thing about SEO is that it’s relatively stable over time. Once you’ve worked on the fundamentals of your site, you’ll start to gain a steady flow of traffic, providing a stable source of clicks for your website.

If your business relies on ‘local SEO’, prioritise this first, likewise if it’s e-commerce or informational intent-driven searches.  It’s important to understand where the value and opportunity exist for your business. This should help you determine your approach and strategy. 

Although SEO should be a key piece in your marketing mix, it isn’t the only focus. SEO is great at supplement marketing; it’s a slow and steady channel that can offer great value (probably the best over a longer period).

Paid marketing can help you reach new audiences quickly and bring your brand to the attention of new users. Branding instils familiarity and can earn you trust within your industry, providing long-term value and repeat customers. Remember, strategy is vital!

The ideal strategy combines the benefits of all forms of marketing to maximise the strengths of each to benefit your business most efficiently and effectively. This will likely include other channels (budget depending), including 

  • social (paid and organic)
  • display ads 
  • retention techinques (email, SMS, etc.)
  • search (paid and organic) 
  • video 
  • offline channels 

If your budget allows for additional focus, direct response ads via broadcast channels and branding with above-the-line channel activity will also significantly impact performance. And, of course, maximising your own assets is key. 

We’re happy to assist if you need help with SEO or a more comprehensive, holistic approach to your marketing. Our friendly team is here to help you grow your business.

Pssst! Did you know we have our very own podcast?

If you’re a business owner or a like-minded marketing professional then this podcast is for you. It’s full of insights, industry news, tips and advice. You’ll learn about search engine optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC), content marketing, branding and website design.