As an owner of a digital marketing agency, we talk with hundreds of small businesses every month that are looking to improve their search engine rankings. And one of the most common issues we encounter is a history of sub-par and even damaging SEO work having been done to their sites. Whenever we ask about the sketchy marketing that is quite apparent, they all give us the same response: “We couldn’t afford anything better.” Wow. That’s depressing. There is a whole segment of the business world that knows that they’re paying for sub-par work but feel that’s what they deserve because they don’t have the money to pay more. Unfortunately, we have to explain to those clients that bad marketing can happen regardless of the budget you’re paying. The quality of the work you receive is not directly correlated to the amount you can pay, but rather the quality of the group you choose to fulfill it.
So, what are small business owners supposed to do when they’re inundated by spammy marketing messages all day, and being pushed into low-quality products because they’re told “that’s all you can afford”? Most articles on this subject describe the steps that business owners should take on their own in order to get the results they want. But having been a small business owner, I know the time constraints associated with running your company. And extra time to spend on marketing is not something most of them have. Instead, here are some tips for putting together a solid SEO campaign on a smaller budget.
Start With Your Site
We hear it all day long, “we need links built!” The thing is, you don’t. This is an outdated way of thinking about SEO. Links are no longer the holy grail of SEO. Instead, Google and other search engines are putting more value in your website, and more specifically the experience their searchers will have when they come to your website.
If your site isn’t mobile optimized, fast, and full of great content, then you need to hit the pause button on any other activities. You’ll want to look for a reputable agency that really focuses on onsite optimization and doesn’t talk to you about your keyword rankings (more on this later). And before you sign for anything you should get a free audit of your site from that agency with a plan on how they intend to improve it.
Once you’ve improved your site, now you have a fighting chance in the search results. If you try to do SEO without an optimized site, it’s like racing in NASCAR with a 1989 Honda Civic; you won’t do well.
Find More Budget
A strong SEO presence can be your most effective means for lead generation. Because of that, you can’t scrimp on it. I’ve talked with companies that tell me they have a $500 monthly budget for SEO, but spend over $10,000 per month on billboards.
First off, let’s discuss how businesses have full visibility on every visitor to their site, where they came from, what they did on the site, and how much they’re worth to the business. No other form of marketing can provide what digital marketing provides in terms of tracking and attribution. The old adage of, “I know that 50% of my advertising doesn’t work. I just don’t know which 50%,” is dead and gone. You need to know where you’re customers are coming from.
Also consider that over 50% of your customers are discovering your business through digital means (much higher for some companies) and you can justify carving out a little more budget for the fastest growing segment of the marketing and advertising industry.
Now, once you have more budget you can get more done. If you really can’t find more budget, then find a group that understands this limitation and won’t put you into a lower-tier deliverable. When it comes to SEO, there shouldn’t be many “exclusive” products that only high-paying customers get access to. Instead, SEO is more of a process. And the more money you can commit to it, the faster that process gets worked on. So, your budget limitations should simply require your goals to take more time. It shouldn’t eliminate them all-together.
Keyword rankings are quickly becoming less and less relevant. Here’s why. All search engines are moving towards a fully contextual algorithm. Meaning, that if someone searches from a mobile device, they’re going to get different results from the individual searching from a desktop. Similarly, if someone is 5 miles away from a certain location, they’ll receive different results from another searcher that is 50 miles away from the same location. And these are just a few of the contexts that are taken into account when customers are searching. There are also qualifiers that depend on previous search history, social media connections, time of day, and dozens of others.
So, why are we still talking about your keyword rankings? Because those fluctuate so much for any given situation that they’re almost impossible to accurately track. On top of that, keywords can be deceiving. As a digital marketer, I can manipulate keywords to tell any story I want them to. Instead, small business owners should be focused on what really matters, converting traffic. If a company gets you to rank for a keyword, but you don’t see an increase in targeted traffic, then what’s the point?
The industry needs to stop talking about keywords and focusing on the client’s ROI. Once that happens, the conversations between business and agency will become much more productive.
Ask For Visibility
There is probably no industry where results can be manipulated and masked as much as SEO. Because of that, small business owners should ask for full visibility on the actions that are being taken on their site. If your agency isn’t willing to pull back the curtain and tell you what’s being done on a weekly and monthly basis, then you need a new agency.
SEO isn’t a proprietary blend of black magic and sorcery. It’s actually a very easy to understand set of actions that take time to fulfill on. Clients need to be paying agencies for work and not promises of magic results.
And finally, all of this is much more effective if the customer is informed and aware of what’s being done on their account. Therefore, I suggest that every small business owner that is paying someone to help them with SEO is also doing their own homework. Try to read a blog at least once a week about SEO techniques and strategies. Doing this will give you insights into what’s being done and will allow you to have much deeper conversations with your agency and ensure that you’re getting quality work.