I usually try to focus on solid advice and real-world case studies meant to be helpful to business owners, marketing executives, and even other marketers. But today I want to share what search engine optimization (SEO) failure looks like.
My hope is that some of you will see this story and avoid making the same kinds of mistakes.
One such incident begins with a referral. In particular, I was told about a company in our area that needed some help improving their visibility on Google.
When I reached out to the company, they explained that they had been paying $200 per month for ongoing SEO services but weren’t sure what they were getting for the money (unfortunately, a common complaint). Through the course of speaking with the manager and evaluating their website, I was able to determine a few things:
- First, that the website in question had some structural problems that were affecting the company’s search potential.
- Second, that the SEO services they were paying for amounted to little more than a few monthly reports and (maybe) keyword tweaking (stuffing).
- And finally, that there was potential for a successful lead generation campaign to be put into place, but that it would require more than just a focus on SEO.
I began to explain all of this, and asked if we could schedule a face-to-face conversation where I could outline my recommendations in a little more depth and detail. Unfortunately, the contact cut me short and informed me that he really just wanted a quote for some on-page SEO, and that he and the business owner he worked for “wouldn’t be interested” in more than that.
Sadly, I have these kinds of interactions fairly regularly. There are a lot of well-intentioned marketers out there who think that the right piece of software or SEO retainer is going to be the magic bullet that leads to more sales overnight.
Unfortunately, things don’t work that way in real life. In particular, there are three things I wish more business owners and marketers – not to mention other web designers – would keep in mind…
1. Good SEO is Only One Part of a Bigger Strategy
Contrary to what some business people think and SEO/Web vendors promote, search engine optimization isn’t a viable online marketing strategy sitting out on its own. Getting traffic to your website is certainly important, but only if it’s the right visitors who are coming to your pages and you have a thoughtful lead generation plan in place to secure their interest.
All too often, SEO is thought of as being about posting repetitive, keyword-thick articles into a blog. That is so wrong – and dated – that it's sad people still believe it works. I'm telling you straight up, that it doesn't.
I hate to break the illusion but following that sort of an approach – even though it might be inexpensive and convenient – rarely leads to new opportunities or revenue.
SEO only works in a sustainable and profitable way if it’s part of a bigger strategy that involves thoughtful website design, social engagement (networking), and ongoing interactions to generate interest and awareness of your business.
Trying to use it without those other marketing elements is a recipe for disappointment.
2. Some Small Businesses Don’t Need Ongoing SEO
I've posted about this recently, so I’m not going to go into great depth on it. However, I want to reiterate that there are a lot of local businesses that don’t have a need for organic search engine optimization. Truth.
There are a couple of reasons for this. The first and most obvious is that most of their search traffic is going to come from nearby customers. So if they can optimize their pages for location-based queries, and then maximize their social and review presence, that’s going to cover the essential bases. Google rewards local businesses with a good reputation by showing then atop local listings. Proximity beats size.
Going beyond that, a lot of smaller companies simply don’t have the time and resources to compete with their bigger search competitors. In very competitive markets it can take a huge amount of content and engagement to climb to a first-page result, much less a top-three position which is critical for any ROI.
If a marketer can’t make that kind of commitment (in terms of time and budget), the lesser amount they spend will certainly be wasted.
Of course, many in our industry know and understand this well. That leads us to the next problem.
3. There Are Ongoing Ethical Lapses in the Online Marketing Industry
It’s not really a secret that working on SEO while neglecting web design, social and networking engagement, and online reputation management is a path to failure. It is certainly well-known that competition for the top search spots is very competitive.
So why is it that so many web design companies and social media companies take money for ongoing SEO plans that no one really expects are going to work?
I think the most obvious answer has to do with the fact that search engine plans are what customers are used to asking for. And, many companies sell SEO for the money even though they may not really believe it’s the best course of action. This may sound harsh, but it sounds a bit like business prostitution to me.
I can understand this and realize how difficult it can be to keep earning steady revenue in a competitive industry. But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I were selling services I didn’t believe in, and I would be willing to guess that few of my colleagues enjoy offering these plans.
However, nothing will change until business owners stop asking for one-off services or our web and SEO industry takes ethics to a higher level.
Are You Following a Common-Sense Lead Generation Strategy?
I’m not relating this story because I want to suggest that every business owner is looking for a shortcut or that all digital marketing companies are out to sell snake oil.
Impatience is a real problem in our industry, and there are always vendors who will be willing to take money for ineffective services even if they don’t expect it to lead to real results. I call it checking boxes.
Knowing that, my advice would be to think about whether the SEO plan you are investing in is really going to pay off, or feels more designed to check a box. And, ask yourself whether the strategy you’re following to grow your business is built on common sense and solid communication fundamentals or not.
A version of this post was first published on the Kayak Online Marketing blog.