Get Over Your SEO Commitment-phobia and Take the Plunge
This is a submission to the Small Biz Discovery Contest and part of our commitment to serve the small business community with quality Internet marketing resources. This article answers the question “What one recommendation would you give to small business owners to improve their online presence?” focusing specifically on SEO. It is part of a group of contest submissions sharing Internet marketing recommendations for small businesses. Public voting for the contest is now closed. Winners will be announced July 2, 2010.
Author: Jennifer Van Iderstyne
Two words, small businesses: Buy In. Seriously. That’s my advice. I realize that may sound too trite to be legitimate, but it’s real. The best way to improve your online presence is to make a commitment to pursuing one. You may think you have, but have you, really? Because the biggest thing holding most businesses back from achieving their online goals is simply a lack of real dedication to the cause. Most businesses are still only able to see Search Engine Optimization in terms of a quick fix, a one shot deal, or something worth dabbling in every few months. But when someone starts saying words like “long haul” and “on-going process” they panic.
The reason these companies break out in hives is because they haven’t honestly bought into the process of SEO. Not the way they need to anyway. Sure, they may have bought into the idea of search engines being a valuable small business tool. They may even be convinced that they aren’t making as much money as they could from their website. But they have yet to buy into the idea that SEO is an on-going, day to day practice, as crucial to business success as inventory control and customer service.
That’s the thing, SEO isn’t the coat of wax you put on your car after cleaning it… SEO is the engine.
To honestly commit to SEO, you don’t necessarily need a huge budget or to hire a new marketing company either. Outsourcing SEO is an option but not a requirement. What you need more than anything else is a new perspective and a plan of action.
Step 1. Appoint Your Website as a Salesman
The first step is to decide that it is your website’s job is to sell your product or service and bring you new business. If up until now you’ve been seeing your site as an online brochure or business card…that needs to change. Your website has the potential to be your number one sales associate. It could be bringing in customers and revenue at a rate that no eating, sleeping, weekend-loving, mortal could ever compete with. It’s only when you can see your website as one of your greatest business assets that you are in the right mindset for true SEO.
Step 2. Make SEO Somebody’s Responsibility
One common issue is that SEO seems to be the office hot potato. Everyone thinks SEO is somebody else’s responsibility. The web guy thinks it’s the PR person’s job, the PR person thinks it’s the web designer’s problem and the spud gets passed in a circle until the music stops, the fiscal year is over, and somehow the website is still underperforming. Someone has to be held accountable. SEO needs to officially become part of somebody’s job description or the collective responsibility of a small team. A strong SEO team should include at least, a data cruncher, a writer and someone who is capable of making on-site changes. SEO campaigns are often at their best when they are collaborative while still allowing team members to make the most of their individual talents.
Step 3. Get an Education
I’ve talked to several people who have tried to “teach themselves SEO”. They often say they’ve read, and read and read until their heads spin and their eyes bleed. But with so much information and misinformation in the SEO space it can be difficult to distinguish good advice from nonsense. Some of the language can be confusing to a new comer and it’s really hard to tell who to trust. But education is a rite of passage for committing to SEO. Whether you decide to hire an in-house specialist, form a team or outsource to an agency, you should have a working understanding of the principles of what you are trying to accomplish. You’ll need it to be able to distinguish quality, results-driven, SEO from the garbage that some people are trying to pass off as real services
If you’re going to try to self-teach SEO the most important part is finding a few highly credible people to follow and learn from, research their background, bodies of work and reputation. When you’ve found a handful of mentors, make on-going education part of your daily routine.
To jump start the process there’s always the option of attending conferences or bringing someone in to train your staff. But again, do the digital due diligence first. If you were going to SEO College, you would research the institution, visit the campus, and investigate its course offerings and professors before cutting the tuition check. Well setting up your own SEO School demands the same sort of scrutiny to make sure you get the most reward for your time and money.
Step 4. Set Measurements
What exactly are you after? Such a simple question but too many people go into SEO without an answer. Do you want better rankings? More traffic? More conversions? All three? Well of course you do. But since there are no panaceas in SEO it’s going to take different strategies achieve all of those goals. It’s best to start by identifying your key performance indicators, and deciding what you plan to measure. If those baselines aren’t established at the outset there will inevitably be miscommunications leading to failures, or at least perceived ones. Also, these metrics can directly affect one another. Higher rankings may result in more traffic but not necessarily more conversions. The key is to try to isolate different parts of the visitor experience, from search to sale to find weak links in the chain and use those weaknesses as opportunities to build and strengthen your future efforts.
Step 5. Make a Plan
Now that you’ve determined how you are going to measure your success, create a plan to reach those goals and put it down on paper. That way you can see your course of action and have a record of it going forward. By documenting your intentions at the beginning of a campaign you can see what you have to do, break down individual tasks, delegate them if possible, or at the very least not feel overwhelmed by the scope of the project.
Plan to make on-site improvements based on what you’ve learned about SEO or the recommendations of a professional. Track and monitor those changes for an impact, or lack there of. Follow the basic principles of search engine usability, institute the most widely agreed upon best practices but remember that the majority of what will get you ranked happens off of your site… as in back links. To get links, concentrate on content development and using social media to promote it. Plan for the creation of resources and assets worthy of interest and links ie a blog, contests, widgets, how-to guides etc. This is really an infinite category where the creative members of your team can become champions.
Step 6. Execute It
Now close your eyes, hold your breath, and dive in. You can read about it forever, you can philosophize and hypothesize for years and never accomplish a thing. If you’ve taken all the right steps in getting an education, setting measurements and making a plan you should be ready to move forward with confidence. With long term, slow growth efforts like link building, creating a blog or building community focus on putting forth a consistent effort, the growth will come if the work is good.
Step 7. Evaluate the Results
The day after you implement changes, publish content or get a new link try not to sit around watching your visitor stats. It may be something like watching paper bags biodegrade. Give it a little time. Yes, search engines are good at registering changes quickly but it may take a little time to see the full effect of your efforts. Use your pre-set measurements to gauge your success, but don’t expect everything to change all at once. And when you do see some increases in rankings, some traffic coming in through a new page or your blog picks up a few subscribers don’t get complacent and think you’ve made it. The fact is, even actions that have an impact, eventually run out of steam. SEO progress has a tendency to plateau without periodic shots of adrenaline. Use the results you find to make adjustments to your plans. Acknowledge what works and what doesn’t. In SEO, adaptability is crucial; here rigidity is almost as destructive as ignorance.
Step 8. Repeat Steps 3-7 For the Life of Your Business
SEO is a partner in a long-term relationship with the Search Engines. And like any relationship it’s important to try not to set unrealistic expectations and to love your partner for what it is or in spite of what it isn’t. Continue learning, measuring, planning and evaluating, not because they’re pillars of SEO, but because they are the tenets of marketing in any form. Just because the medium has changed, it doesn’t mean the work has gotten easier. Brands that began 100 years ago with print ads must now continue to re-shape their voice and image to adapt to a changing society. Except, now branding and visibility no longer demand million dollar advertising budgets. They only require an acceptance of the time and effort it takes to have a strong online presence, a commitment to the process of SEO and the dedication and discipline to see it through.