I think most business owners react the same way I did, when I first heard about the idea behind search engine optimization: “That’s cool! I want that!”
The fact is, there’s a lot to be gained from a good SEO campaign:
- SEO is measurable. Many companies are still advertising in trade journals, the Yellow Pages or even radio and TV. That might work but it surprises me how much money is spent in these channels without the clear ability to measure success. SEO, like other forms of digital marketing, can tell you exactly what you’re getting from your marketing dollars.
- SEO is an investment in your website. Although it can be slow to start once it reaches optimal efficiency it can deliver significant returns on your investment.
- SEO partners well with other marketing channels. A good SEO campaign can help build a brand, expand your social media reach, develop a successful email list, and works even better when paired with a PPC campaign.
- SEO can help a lot of businesses. It can not only help B2C-oriented businesses, but might even work better with B2B companies.
However, I’m an SEO consultant who’s telling you: SEO is not the right solution for every business.
Let me tell you a story to explain.
When I drive home each day my route takes me past this old, run-down gas station. It’s hard to even tell if this place is still open. It’s not a place you’d stop unless you were really running on fumes. Outside this small store is an old sign with movable type, declaring to all who pass-by, “We sell hot dogs.”
What does this have to do with SEO?
If no one’s looking for your service, SEO is not the right solution for you.
When I drive-by this gas station every day, I’m on the way home from work. Because I love to cook, the first thing I do when I get home is turn-on the oven, in preparation for whatever meal I’m going to cook. It might be close to dinner-time when I’m driving by the gas station but I’m not looking for a hot dog.
The same things is true for search engine users. If no one’s looking for what you have to offer, no amount of SEO will help your business. Before you begin an SEO campaign, you need to understand how your potential customers are looking for you. The fact is, in some industries, people don’t turn to the search engines for help. This is true for very niche industries or for very new products or services. In these cases, you need a marketing channel that will build credibility (for the niche) or will increase demand (for the new).
Being the top search result, doesn’t guarantee people will buy.
This gas station is the only one around for at least a couple of miles in any direction. Frankly it’s the only building around for a few miles. Despite this I don’t think they’re selling a lot of hot dogs.
The same thing is true for search engine users. Being #1 for your favorite term doesn’t guarantee your business will actually get anything from that.
Sometimes clients get excited when they see themselves at the top of the search engine results. “Yippie,” they shout with excitement, “I’m number one for blue widget manufacturers in Podunk, IA.” Congratulations- you’re the only gas station in a 5 mile radius selling hot dogs. I don’t want to discourage their excitement but there’s a lot more work to do.
Sometimes being number one in the SERPs doesn’t help because people aren’t using that phrase in their search. Many of my clients have been true experts in their fields. They are so knowledgeable about their industry that they forget that people don’t always use the technically correct phrase to describe their product or service. Congratulations, you’re the only gas station for miles that sells “tube-shaped processed meat sticks.”
Sometimes you need to improve your infrastructure before you begin your SEO campaign.
Here’s a secret: despite my best attempts at controlling my caloric intake, every once in a while I’ll stop and buy a hot dog on the way home from work. I don’t stop at this gas station, however, but the shiny new QT up the road. I love QT- not only because of their prices but because the business is designed to get me in-and-out quickly. Even their cashiers are rushing to make change to get me back on the road.
Why don’t I stop at the station that is actively trying to sell me hot dogs? Because it’s a hole. I don’t trust their hot dogs- I can’t help but think they’ll make me violently ill. I’m not even sure it’s a safe place to stop. And, like I mentioned earlier, I’m never sure they’re open.
Is your website the same as this little gas station? Does it look like (or was it, really) designed by your niece when she was in High School? Does it build trust and confidence in your services and brand? If your website looks like a piece of junk, even if we were to successfully drive search engine traffic there, would anyone even trust you enough to contact you for your services? If not- perhaps you should get a new website first.
Now, by saying this, I’m shooting myself in the foot. I don’t build websites. I’m an SEO consultant. That being said, if your website looks as bad as a run-down gas station miles from anywhere, be sure to bring your SEO consultant in on the website build to make sure it not only looks better but is built to serve your customers.
So, business owner, I know SEO sounds like a cool way to get more business. Before you hire someone to help “SEO your website” be sure to make sure it’s the right solution for your marketing needs.
How do you know if SEO is right for you?
- Google tells us how people are using their search engines. Specifically they tell us not only what phrases people use as they search but how many people a month search for each phrase. This is called “keyword research” and is essential before you start any SEO campaign. Many marketing companies will do this, at least briefly, before you commit to work with them. Be forewarned, however, sometimes people (salesmen) are incentivized to sell to you whether this is really the right solution for you- so be critical of their research and ask lots of questions.
- Perhaps you should give Paid Search a try first. Hiring someone to manage your AdWords (or even Bing AdCenter) account for you will help you find how people might be looking for you but also how likely these people are to convert (contact you or buy a product) when they come to your website. This will also help you know if other people find your website trustworthy.
- Talk with your current customers. Do they use Google? Would they trust a search engine result if they were looking for your service? Some industries are still old-school and wouldn’t trust Google. Sometimes customers wouldn’t even know how to search for what you have to offer.
SEO is a great marketing channel. Before you engage in a campaign, however, make sure it’s right for you.
Have you found out the hard way that SEO is not the right channel for your marketing efforts? Do you think it might not be right for you? Let’s talk about it, in the comments.