Ring, ring, ring… your small business phone probably rings off the hook. But between important customer service calls you are also likely bombarded with cheesy sales scripts – where in a dingy room scattered with pizza boxes someone breathing heavily into the phone asks to speak with the boss.
He says they have a revolutionary way for your company to grow leaps and bounds – they have search engine optimization (SEO).
The man claims he only wants ten minutes of your time, time in the middle of a busy workday.
You have a million things on your mind. You are on the verge of losing your largest client, your kid is sick at home, and… oh… you forgot about the presentation you are supposed to give to your investors in an hour. Crap. You blew the last meeting… you really need to prep.
Sensing you will hang up, he interrupts your train of thought and says, “you will regret not talking to me – I will call your competitor next.”
Scenarios like the one above occur all too frequently. Between relentless phone calls and contact form spam, search engine optimizers have made a bad name for themselves - a name that has cast a dark shadow over an already murky industry.
So is search engine optimization a real marketing tactic? And how can you make sure you are hiring a legitimate company?
1. SEO can generate leads and revenue
First and foremost it’s important to establish whether search engine optimization is a legitimate and effective marketing tactic.
The value that good search engine optimization brings to your company is exposure. When your website ranks high in Google for well trafficked terms, the amount of visits to your website will increase. But what separates search engine traffic from Twitter visitors, banner ads, or even traditional marketing?
The fundamental difference between SEO traffic and visitors from other sources is that search engine visitors are pre-qualified. Since a user queried Google looking for something specifically related to your company, they have already demonstrated an interest in what you have to offer.
Think about your own search behavior. If you typed in “roofing company” in Google, is it fair to guess that you are looking for a roofer? Is it fair to predict (as the data proves) that the likelihood you willconvert into a lead as a search engine visitor is more than 10x higher than if you had seen a newspaper ad?
Imagine how much of your newspaper ad spend is wasted on people who don’t care about your product. With search engines you know that everyone searching for you is interested in what you have to offer. That’s powerful.
So now that you are aware of the benefits SEO traffic has, how can you make sure you are hiring the right company?
2. Legitimate companies don’t guarantee rankings
Search engines rely on massive databases and super complex algorithms to determine where to rank you in their search results. Anyone who guarantees you a first place spot in Google is most likely lying.
Search engines are so complex that even industry leaders are only making intelligent guesses when they predict how they operate. No one knows the exact relative importance of the hundreds of factors Google looks at. The knowledge that SEOs do know comes from controlled scientific experiments… but since Google tinkers with its algorithms daily, the data quickly becomes obsolete.
While fairly consistent best practices do exist, the volatility of search engine results pages (SERPs) means that most top-notch SEOs will refuse to guarantee a spot.
3. Low-quality SEO could permanently prevent you from ranking
Quality search engine optimization takes a lot of work. Refining on-page SEO elements, content creation, and link building are no easy task. And those are just a few of the points on an SEO’s evolving checklist.
Because a huge amount of creativity and resources are required to do SEO properly, the majority of search engine optimizers look for one-button solutions. These one-button solutions consist of a variety of forms of spam: comment blasts, article spinning, automatic directory listings, and fake reviews are just a few of the strategies used.
It’s in Google’s obvious interest to filter spam out of its search results. If Google doesn’t provide its users with the high-quality results they are looking for, they will migrate to another search engine. Anyone still remember Yahoo, GoTo, or Ask.com?
Google often prevents websites that employ spam from ranking. Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates affected websites large and small. What was Google’s advice to many of the webmasters affected? Get rid of your spammy old site and start a new one. Ouch.
4. High-quality SEO takes time
Bad search engine optimizers tinker with a couple of on-page elements and watch as their rankings slide up and down a few spots the next week. They obsess on the small details and associate far more importance to on-page SEO than actually exists.
It’s important that as a business owner you realize that the return of investment for search engine optimization is measured in months and years, not in days and weeks.
Your search engine optimizer doesn’t know someone at Google who will help you rank better overnight… even if they tell you they do. Give your SEO the room they need to do their job and patientlywait for the results.
5. SEO is becoming inbound marketing
Good search engine optimizers don’t narrowly define their work to what is traditionally called SEO. They know that traffic in its own right is useless to a small business owner.
What validates a fantastic search engine optimizer’s work is how much revenue they generated their client.
Good SEOs make UX changes, split test for conversion, and constantly refer to their analytics. The field is rapidly changing, especially since Google is putting increasing importance on social media. Out of necessity, SEOs will become responsible for all of the online marketing of their clients. Increasing collaboration between an SEO and a client will be critical in the future.
Doing search engine optimization requires creative thinking and continual research. Each client has unique challenges that demand specific strategies.
You shouldn't expect to pay a few hundred dollars a month and receive high-quality optimization. Such a small budget won’t cover even the costs of a traditional SEO. If you’re serious about developing your company’s Internet presence, expect to invest at least a thousand dollars a month.