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Over the last few weeks I've come across several websites developed by some of biggest and most successful agencies in the area. I've been surprised to find the overall lack of understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I am not saying that design is not critically important, but what good is a beautifully designed website if no one can find it? I can look at 2-3 pages of a website and have a pretty good idea of the level of SEO sophistication of the developer/agency. I am not saying I am an SEO expert, but I always make sure to do the SEO fundamentals to make sure my client's sites are found and found for the right keyword phrases.
Companies have come to me recently, asking me why their website isn't generating any leads, and most of the time it is because of poor SEO. Agencies focus so much on design, and SEO expertise is difficult to find, and the end result is a pretty site with little to no organic traffic. Organic traffic is low hanging fruit, or at least it should be.
So how can the consumer determine the SEO expertise of an agency? The easiest way is to have them show you sites they've developed and then have them Google the keywords used to find the site. If they are not delivering results on the first couple of pages (for a local brand) then you may want to find another agency.
You do not have to forfeit good design and content to achieve significant organic traffic, you just really need to find an agency that knows what they are doing.