There are three big lies in SEO right now. SEO remains and has been the buzzword in small-business circles for about 10 years now. But there’s a seedy underbelly.
I’ve talked with many business owners misfortunate enough to have suffered and been suckered by members of this underbelly.
SEO is a technical and ever-changing discipline. If you’re busy running a $2 million to $20 million per year small business, how can you ever hope to keep up? If you’ve been burned, how do you know when to dip your toe back into the water? Who’s got your back?
Lie #1: SEO is right for every business.
General guideline (though I know that’s a dangerous phrase). Did the Yellow Pages once drive leads and sales for your business type? If so, then test an SEO campaign to see how it performs for your company.
Lie #2: The company selling you SEO is an expert at increasing Google rankings and does the service in-house.
For many companies, SEO is an add-on. They outsource to India or Vietnam. Many times these foreign companies’ practices run afoul of Google, potentially penalizing your website.
Lie #3: High Google rankings are the desired outcome. In actuality, you desire more sales and profits. This requires a second piece, a Google formula compliant “content that sells” strategy.
Related Article: How One Utah Moving Company Conquered Local SEO—and You Can, Too
Decision Factors to Consider
There seem to be new players jumping in all the time because SEO is a hot trend and buzzword.
Small businesses invest big dollars and shift other advertising dollars into SEO. This has enticed a lot of companies. They are good at what they do but don’t have a core competency in SEO. They attempt a devastating “line extension” that Al Ries and Jack Trout warn about in their book, Positioning: The Battle for your Mind.
You might have been emailed by some of these non-SEO line extension companies including:
- Local radio stations (Side note: strategic radio advertising can still produce excellent ROI. Whether it works or not depends on your industry and who creates your campaign. I refer clients in industries where radio ads could help to the top people in this field, the wizards of radio ads. Email me if you’d like to be referred.)
- Local and even some national TV stations.
- Yellow Pages (a few business owners describe Yellow Pages’ team as slick salesmen.)
- Big ad agencies who outsource to smaller agencies who outsource to Vietnam and India. (this can get your website in the Google penalty box. Because many of these companies use tactics that worked five or 10 years ago but Google now frowns upon. Long-term sustainability is a key factor to consider.) A U.S.-based team doesn’t guarantee you get a long-term sustainable strategy compliant with Google’s terms of service, but it increases your odds.
- A company who prints checks for banks just opened an “SEO” division. My friend and colleague, Bryant Jones, told me the story and asked, ”They do checks, what do they know about SEO?”
- Website design and website coding companies. This seems like a natural fit but SEO is a completely different core competency. Many times their SEO package involves moving you to HTTPs (security Google likes), rich snippets (maybe), title tags, meta-description, or even the meta keyword tag which Google largely ignores.
Before I talk with decisive, growth-minded potential clients I remember this story. It's about George Clooney in Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is the Way. When George first attempted to break into Hollywood, he was getting rejected at auditions. He wanted casting directors to like and pick him, but blamed the system for these failures.
A shift in his viewpoint made all the difference for him. He realized casting is a huge obstacle for the casting directors. They’re terrified of making the wrong choice because they have a sea of choices. The grass always seems greener.
George shifted to view auditions as a chance to solve the casting directors’ problem not his own. He found out about the role and what excellence portraying that role looked like.
He didn’t just show his acting skills during auditions, but that he was the right man for the job. The right man for this specific role.
He would deliver this character at every stage from pre-production all the way through the production process. Of course, the rest is history and you know his name.
The "Clooney Rule" of SEO
Look first for a digital company with a long track record in SEO. If they ”go Clooney” on you, that’s a good first step.
If they are willing to do a small dip-your-toe-in-the-water test campaign, that’s also a good sign. Of course, you’ll Google them to see what they’ve published and read their reviews on the web.
Online reviews may be tricky to find because many businesses and clients are cagey about revealing they use SEO. Competitors might reverse engineer their keywords and strategy.
Ask the digital company to tell you a little bit about their SEO process and the specific pieces they do. If they talk about only making changes on your website, then that’s a red flag. Off website strategy is still a huge percentage weighting of Google’s formula.
I like to reframe SEO as Google rankings. Because some companies, especially website design or website coders, claim to do SEO but not how you think of it.
You want the sales that come from high rankings on buyer keywords. SEO for website design and coders often only means a few technical tweaks to your website.
Related Article: Back to Your Roots: How to Master Local SEO in 2016
Why am I mentioning paid search? Paid search is the most efficient way to find out what keywords and key phrases buyers type into Google. You want buyers not just researchers. Does the SEO company at least talk about a test budget for paid search?
Do they talk about their strategic alliance company that will run this campaign? If not, that’s a yellow flag. I wouldn’t consider it a deal breaker but it’s a warning.
Mobile Website Strategy
I’ve seen research showing anywhere from 60 percent to more than 72 percent of searches are done on mobile devices. The SEO company should emphasize how your website will display on all types of devices.
If there’s a problem, your web guy or web team should fix it immediately. You can check how your current website is doing. Use Google’s own How Mobile-friendly is your website checker tool.
Website Page Load Speed
Does the SEO company talk about this? It’s an increasingly important part of Google’s ranking formula. To upgrade your website to world-class speed may be beyond your budget.
But there are almost always at least two or three simple tweaks a knowledgeable digital company can do to increase your page load speed.
Check your current webpage(s) load speed.
Content That Sells Strategy (And Appeals to Google’s Formula)
Searcher intent is a huge part of Google’s new formula. You know the types of questions your customers ask. This is one big thing searchers want and therefore Google wants. It’s one piece of a content strategy that moves your customers to the next step to contact you or buy from you.
Content should be designed to appeal to the conversation the potential customer is having in their head. It should answer questions and overcome any objections. It should keep moving them down the path to what they want. If you do that, you get what you want more often. They buy from you instead of your competitors.
Personal Brand Strategy
Prospective customers, premium clients, strategic alliance partners, investors and members of the media do Google you. They want to know who they're doing business with.
The goal is to seed the top five to eight spots with content that showcases you. And in a way that moves each searcher to contact you. The SEO company should talk about this with you.
You may feel uncomfortable shining a Google spotlight on yourself. But ignoring how you look in Google won’t make people stop Googling you. Aren’t you more afraid of what Google might show if you don’t strategically get pieces in those top five to eight spots?
This five-minute read could save you $5,000, $10,000 or even $50,000 that could be wasted by a bad decision with the wrong SEO company.
There are five to seven key points to consider in your decision before buying from an SEO company.
Do they emphasize a long-term sustainable SEO plan? Are they an SEO company or some other type of company with an SEO division? Do they reveal the high-level pieces of their on-website and off-website SEO strategy?
Any SEO company worth their salt won’t tell you their secrets. But they should be willing to share the high level pieces. Finally, a content-that-sells strategy should be a linchpin part of an SEO service.
You don't invest in SEO to brag to your brother-in-law about ranking #1 for “Bob’s retail Emporium.” You have to be intentional about your SEO strategy. Intend for it to bring more buyers or else you'll feel like the emperor who had no clothes.