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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

How to find an SEO expert you can trust

If you are confused about SEO, then it can be hard choosing the best SEO expert. Danielle Haley from Freelance SEO Essex explains how SEO really works, what can go wrong and what questions to ask an agency before you sign a contract

It is unfortunate that because of the behaviour of a few unethical companies, SEO agencies have developed a bad reputation. This is mostly because some of them use outdated techniques to create quick and easy wins for their clients. But the end result is usually no change in search engine ranking, or worse still, a Google penalty.

Understand what can go wrong

Even before Google launched the Penguin algorithmic update, which places a penalty on websites that aggressively build links, an SEO company could quite easily land your business in hot water with Google.

For many years Google has been actively seeking out websites that buy links or manipulate their PageRank in other ways and then manually penalising them.

Aggressive SEO tactics used to work in the short term and this is why unethical SEO companies do this - they get quick results for their clients.

Unfortunately, Google is on to this kind of SEO tactic and if you or an agency take this approach, your website could receive a manual penalty from Google. Manual penalties can often be resolved, but only if the customer is fully aware of what has been done.

There have been cases of unethical SEO companies deleting messages from Google in the Webmaster Tools platform to cover their "black hat" link building methods from their customers. Even after an SEO company has been sacked, it may be very hard for a customer to resolve a manual penalty without a report of all link building activity that was carried out.

Develop a long term strategy

Good SEO is always a long term strategy. If you want quick results you need search engine marketing (SEM); one of the most effective SEM channels is Google AdWords. This allows a business to place a link to their business at the top of Google search results or across the huge network of publisher websites.

Safe SEO, also known as white hat SEO, focuses on two distinct areas. First, SEO starts on the customer's website, optimising on-page factors such as web copy, titles and headers, images and navigation. Ask your SEO agency what work they are able to do in this area.

Link building is still an important area of SEO, but today the emphasis is on marketing, PR and networking with the community to encourage people to naturally link to the customer's site.

Ask your SEO agency how they go about building links to your business and ask if full reports are provided of all link building activities.

Because SEO involves reaching out to website owners and communities, a lot of work is done behind the scenes before a business mention or link is reported. Bear in mind that a single reported link may have resulted from hours of networking and marketing.

Insist on reports

A good SEO agency should provide full reports on all changes and link building outcomes. All on-site changes should be documented along with the date new content pages are created. Without good reports, it is impossible to determine which changes lead to positive or negative changes.

Every link created should also be reported so that if something does go wrong you can take action to have links and content removed.

Today, most SEO agencies are transparent in their methods, but there are still a few that will take short cuts for short term results that could lead to long term penalties. As with any business partnership, due diligence is required when hiring an SEO company.

Written by Danielle Haley from Freelance SEO Essex.

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