In principle, SEO is pretty simple – build a really great site, research the keywords your customers are searching with, do some basic optimisation and let Google do the rest, right? In an ideal world that is how it should work but the reality of having a website and marketing your business online is somewhat different.
The fact is, in most cases, you are probably going to get it wrong the first time, maybe even the second time, heck, some folks never get it right and many small business owners give up on search without ever really giving it a real chance (through no fault of their own).
Getting Good Advice
SEO is a somewhat huge term. It tends to end up covering the whole suite of Internet Marketing strategies when really, SEO should just be the process of getting more visibility, traffic, leads and ultimately business from the search engines. Even when more tightly defined like this SEO is still huge and as with any marketing, the opportunities to get it wrong outweigh the chances of getting it right.
The importance of getting good advice here can’t be overstated and in many cases, SEO may not be the best approach or even a valid approach at all for your business or budget.
Types of SEO
There are lots of different kinds of SEO and lots of services banded around under the SEO umbrella. Some, all or none of these may be applicable to you and much of this depends on how long you have been marketing, your target market, goals and ultimately budget. The following is a list of the types of services available and who they would generally appeal to.
Organic SEO or simply SEO is the process of getting more of your pages listed in the search engine result pages and also ranking higher for certain keywords or phrases. Organic is getting more and more complicated as the results are getting every more personalised based on the location of the searcher, location searched about and various other personalisation factors (Google+). In a way, there is no such thing as a number #1 listing any longer for many commercial terms. This drive for localisation and personalisation is an ongoing factor so the results of today may not be the results of tomorrow.
Ultimately, organic SEO is still important, but it is wise to understand the landscape for the keywords you want to target before diving in and trying to buy your way to #1 for your business keywords as that may never, ever happen.
Often, when people say SEO or sell SEO what they really mean is link building. If your potential supplier is not intending to make any real changes to your site and just offers to get you visibility for a number of keywords then they will be building/bartering / buying links.
Good links tend to be the offshoot of something else: a post on a highly visible site in your industry or location or as a result of some PR that has driven some references in the press. You get exposure on a highly visible and trusted source and a link in the bargain – these are the kind of links Google wants but these are not always the kind of links a small, local business needs to succeed.
When building links you are really looking to use external factors to influence your organic search listings (visibility, the number of pages indexed, the rank of pages, the rank of key terms). This manipulation is generally not something recommended by Google and any link building should be considered firstly as a way to drive visibility and exposure and subsequently build popularity. Try to bring value to your audience and you will be okay, farm this out to the cheapest bidder and long may this taint your destiny.
In 2013 link building is extremely risky and builds no value into your own small business website and done wrong, can cause significant damage so I would always look at this as one of the later SEO tasks. I would also urge great hesitance in purchasing this kind of service and ensure your vendor knows exactly what they are doing & has a proven track record.
With national SEO you are competing with every other business in your target market so, if you are selling shoes online then you are competing with all other shoe sellers online so it’s going to be tough. Imagine, you walk down a highstreet and there are many, many stores selling shoes. Some have been here a long time and have trusted customers, others are big and have lots of flashing lights to draw people in. Some stores specialise in certain types of shoes and have a niche. Then, you drop in, but not on the high street, you are a new, small store, in a side alley. How are you going to get noticed?
There is some crossover here between link building, organic and national and this is one of the first big questions you should ask yourself. Are you targeting the whole of the UK (or your country)? Are you targeting a wider area than that? Or, are you, as many small businesses are, targeting a fairly small geographic area? 20 miles or so? Your home town or the major city in which you operate?
If you are targeting a national market then make sure SEO is only one string to your marketing bow, make sure you have deep pockets and are ready for a long and sustained approach to getting truly visible nationwide in search.
Local SEO is somewhat easier than national, in fact, considerably easier in most cases. For starters, you are only competing with other local vendors. So, if you are an Accountant in Birmingham, you are only competing with other Accountants in Birmingham to appear in the local results.
Google is also constantly driving towards more localisation and with a large degree of search now being conducted from mobile devices and smartphones the results now often show local results pulled from Google+ Local and Google Maps above the organic search results (further decreasing the value of that once highly regarded #1 spot). These results often include a ‘click to call’ button, reviews and a business rating so people can learn more about your business without even visiting your site.
Local SEO is also interesting as most small businesses in the UK are not doing local SEO at all or certainly not doing it properly. So, aside from some areas such as hotels where people have cottoned on, the door is wide open for local businesses to gain much more visibility in search.
What Type of SEO is right for you?
Again, this depends. Are you a new business? What is your budget? Are you a local business? If you are a new or local business in most cases it makes sense to start with some local SEO to build visibility with the local audience who are likely to buy your products or services. Once you have some success in local, consider branching out but build your search marketing in a structured, steady way and always go after the easy wins first (local SEO is the easy win at the moment).
SEO is Frequently Mis-sold
If you are in the UK you can’t have failed to notice the adverts regarding mis-sold PPI insurance. The banks basically sold us a product we did not need and that was not suitable for our requirements. Not suitable. Is SEO suitable for you? In most cases one of the various branches of SEO will help your business, no two ways about it, being visible online can only help you generate new business.
The problem we often see is that small businesses are sold SEO by companies or individuals that have no right to be selling SEO in the first instance. Buying SEO from your graphic designer or web site designer? I would think very carefully about that and make sure they have the credentials. Would you go to your printer to do your accounting?
There is certainly some synergy between web design and development and SEO but both are big, complicated fields and the kind of brain that makes a good designer is not going to be the kind of brain that makes a good SEO. Likewise, most website designers are horrible at development, most developers are horrible at SEO.
The problem here is that there are lots of simple SEO packages that you can buy for $99 a month so it is easy for your website designer to charge you £500 a month and then outsource that to someone who is supposed to know what they are doing but… again, these cheap packages, they are not designed with your best interests at heart and in 2013 with all the recent Google updates designed to cut down on this kind of search manipulation you have to tread very carefully.
I could rant about this for another 10,000 words but if I can offer any advice here – speak to a proper SEO about your SEO. Get good advice. Understand what is the best approach for your business. Don’t be tempted to buy this from your mate down the pub or his mate, or his mates mate.
Having Realistic Budgets
Again, this is another area that is problematic and there is no point spending £500 a month for three months if you need to spend £10,000 a month for 12 months to reach your possibly lofty goals. Understand your marketplace, understand the competition, find the cracks (often local SEO for the small local businesses out there) and have a realistic budget. To put this into context, national SEO is often in the £2000 – £10,000 per month range where local SEO can be done for around £250 a month and can offer quick results.
Having realistic business goals
A lot of this comes down to the actual business plan and competition and even good SEO can’t fix an unrealistic business goal. You can’t set up a small online shop and start selling mobile phones and expect to do well instantly as the competition is fierce. So, you need to be practical. Focus on a small geographical area, have a USP. Look at the easy wins and start there.
Local SEO is often the best starting point
In most cases, for most small businesses, the best way to get found online is local SEO. This gives visibility quickly to users on desktop computers, laptops, mobile phones, tablets and when done well it even works for those searching via applications on devices. Local SEO is competing only with other local businesses and in many cases, they are not doing local SEO and therefore results can be swift.
As an SEO consultant and company, Local SEO is satisfying work as it is often easy to generate great results in short time frame so clients love it, we love doing it – everyone is happy!
Get Good Advice
My final point here would be just to remind you to get good advice. Find a source you can trust and read up on it. Determine what your market is and then search and see what the results look like. Are there lots of results from Google maps? Are there sets of 7 indented results above the main results? If this is the case, then local SEO could be an angle for you to look at.
As ever, I hope this was helpful and if you have any questions about local SEO or promoting your business give me a shout on Twitter or Facebook and I am happy to help (and hand out good advice). If this article was helpful please share it with the social buttons below.