The Internet is crammed with businesses just like yours who are vying for the same customers and clients. How can you rise above the competition and let people know you’re out there? Experts agree that in addition to your general marketing or advertising campaign, you’ll want to make your presence known online—even if you’re an analog business, like a tailor or restaurant.
Search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search are two tools you can use to help people find you. SEO makes your website easy to find when people Google something, such as “nail salons in Atlanta,” even if they don’t know the name of your business. Paid search is a way to make links to your site appear higher up in the list of results so people are more likely to connect with you or click on your website. Dan Scalco, who runs Digitalux, a digital marketing company in Hoboken, N.J., says these tools enable businesses to be in front of your target demographic “exactly when they are looking for a solution to their problem.”
There’s certainly a learning curve if you’re just beginning your SEO and paid search efforts, and it will require lots of reading, possible video tutorials, or even consulting experts. Here are eight things to know:
1. Make SEO and paid search part of your marketing campaign, but not all of it.
“Where digital used to only take up a small slice of the marketing pie, today it consumes more than 50 percent,” Scalco says. He says that an industry analysis can help you understand the best ways to use these tools. “Look at what your most successful competitors are doing. Are they using SEO and paid searc
h to bring in more leads? If so, it might be time starting investing in it.” If you offer a common service—accountant, legal, plumber, or moving, for example—SEO and paid search are good options. But if you offer something new or unique, you might be better off with a different marketing tactic, says Guy Martin Smalley of the Vancouver agency Bowery Creative. “Why spend time and money ranking highly for something that nobody is searching for? For businesses like this, display ads or social media marketing is usually a better tactic.”
2. Set clear, attainable goals.
Philadelphia-based Donna Duncan, an SEO and content marketing consultant for small businesses, says that as in any campaign, first you should baseline some key performance indicators, and then measure progress over time. At least once every six months, consult with a trusted SEO or paid search consultant to see what changes have taken place—and if you need to adjust your plan.
3. Learn as much as you can on your own before hiring a pro.
Even if you don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to master SEO and digital marketing, understand the general principles before you contract with a consultant or agency. “Begin by learning the basics yourself so that you know when someone is trying to rip you off,” says Sandip Sekhon, CEO and founder of crowdfunding website GoGetFunding.com.
4. Pay attention to the user experience.
Make sure your website is mobile-friendly, and has meaningful and searchable titles and descriptions. “Remember to think like a human,” said SoMe Connect co-founder Aalap Shah.
5. Never underestimate the importance of content.
If necessary, hire a copywriter and a designer to create compelling blog posts, infographics, and visuals that include “shoulder” or related industries, Shah says.
Smalley adds, “More than anything, search engines love frequently-updated, original content. Make sure your website has a blog or news feed and update it as often as you can.”
6. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You can’t cut corners by buying links or by expecting a small investment to pay off in a major way. “Don’t be cheap and expect results overnight,” says Ryan Lockhart of group46, a branding firm. “A general rule would be four to six months for real sustainable results and graphed improvements.”
“Being linked to by spammy sites can now actually lower your ranking. Bottom line: Don’t buy links, and never try to cheat Google. It’s their traffic, not yours.” Smalley says.
7. Track your results so you know where to invest your digital dollars.
“Good SEO can produce search rankings that last many years and deliver countless customers,” Sekhon says. “Paid traffic, on the other hand, can result in heavy costs and if you aren’t tracking conversions properly, will be a waste of time. Get the basics of SEO down and build a great site. When you’re looking to move to the next step, try paid traffic.”
Takeshi Young, SEO manager of Optimizely says to take advantage of Google and Bing’s coupons for first-time advertisers, look at the pages and keywords driving the most traffic and revenue to your site, and then bid on those keywords in AdWords to drive paid traffic to them.
8. Commit to your strategy.
“The most important thing for small business owners to understand is that SEO is not a one-shot deal; that it takes time, persistence, teamwork and patience to pay dividends and it’s a moving target. It’s no different than other forms of advertising or marketing. You get out what you put in. Commit or don’t bother,” Duncan says.
Tools and Resources
The following tools can help you launch or improve your SEO and paid search efforts:
- Online marketing and SEO tools from Moz
- Google’s step-by-step guide to building successful Adwords campaigns
- SEO Book’s Rank Checker plug-in
- WordPress SEO by Yoast for meta description tags on your website
- W3 Total Cache for WordPress web performance optimization
- SEMrush to research competitors
- Serpfox tracks your search engine position
- Majestic’s SEO tools to help you find links to your site and potential for new ones