I was recently at a networking event with some other business owners, when the subject of local SEO came up. What I heard these businesspeople express were some common misconceptions about what search optimization is all about.
I think most folks believe if you pay a marketing company a certain amount each month, they can make your business rank wherever they want in the search results. The other belief I heard is once you stop paying them, you’ll drop down into obscurity again.
It sounds like the risk versus the reward — on a process that people barely understand to begin with — is too great for a lot of businesses.
I can understand that. But here’s the conundrum.
The businesses that do value search traffic and marketing tend to lean really far the other direction. There’s a lot of folks that are willing to throw money at short-term tactics, but hesitate to invest in things that would help them dominate search traffic in the long-term.
When it comes to beliefs about investing in SEO, the outcomes depend on what approach your SEO consultants are taking.
I believe you should invest in three basic areas of SEO: on-page optimization, building quality back links, and long-term positioning through content marketing. These will bring you long-lasting results.
You’ll notice I don’t mention burning money on pay-per-click. (Though I think there’s a place for that, too.)
What I think most business owners perceive is PPC campaigns, like AdSense, somehow creates organic SEO (which it does not).
It’s possible for many regular businesses to do well in organic SEO. But the only way to sustain consistent rankings is through the combination of steady high-quality content marketing, on-page optimization, and off-page SEO.
PPC and Organic SEO Are Not The Same
SEO is not an advertising service, though it informs your customers of your presence in the market. Word-of-mouth is amazing to have, but it takes a really long time to build up.
SEO today is becoming more about quality content, but other factors need to be in place in order for you to win.
Some on-page and off-page SEO factors:
- Page speed and page loading time
- Mobile-friendly is a must
- Back links: Quality, number, and relevance
- Local citations and NAPs (Name, Address, Place)
- Social media shares
- Click-through rate of organic, unpaid listings
- Bounce rate (do people leave the site after a single page view?)
But SEO all boils down to one bottom line: do people find what they are searching for on your page?
Google’s algorithm is smart enough now that it tracks whether people search for the same thing right after visiting a site. This factor, as well as others, are completely out of your control — aside from what you do on your site to answer their questions and keep them on your website.
All the things we discuss like page speed, design, legibility, and mobile-friendliness are part of improving the on-page user experience.
Content Is A Long-Term Strategy
If content marketing is effective, why do businesses avoid it?
Most businesses resist investing in the long-term benefits of great site content for the following reasons:
- No time / too busy
- No practice at writing or speaking
- Too caught up in the business to work on the business
- Results don’t materialize quickly enough
- They would like someone else to create site content
The desire to have someone else do the actual marketing and content creation is common. But if it’s possible, I truly believe someone involved in your day-to-day business should be creating your site content.
Many businesses get very impatient with content creation. They expect to see instantaneous results, and that’s not how it works. Never has been, never will be.
There are plenty of businesses who would rather spend three times as much (or more) on pay-per-click — rather than take a long term approach, and truly embrace content marketing.
Ghost In The Machine
Google’s algorithm can parse what each page on your site is about. When Google sees you publishing about the same subjects, over and over again — and other websites in that category link to it, over time this boosts your authority for that subject.
Pay-per-click (PPC) has it’s place in marketing campaigns. But without proper landing pages set up, ready to convince and convert prospects in to customers, the results from paid advertising campaigns won’t deliver as much as they could.
Welcome To The Grind
Content marketing is a grind. But it works — if you’re committed to it long term.
I’ve found the best approach is to simply answer questions that your customers already ask you in blog posts or videos. (Text-based content is most easily indexed by search engines). Consistently publishing good material on the same subject boosts your potential to be found in search engines with each article you write.
The Power Of Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are when you have three or more words in a search query. People type in questions that they want answered, and Google tries to give searchers the best answers.
There are several long tail keyword queries where this very site has one of the top-ranked answers. No trickery or paid ads made this happen. Just consistent publishing, and answering questions as thoroughly as possible.
A big stumbling block with business owners who do publish is that they are sporadic, or publish only when they need the upswing in business.
But you never know which article is going to end up ranking well, so publishing useful information often increases your odds of gaining traffic and back links.
There are many parts of SEO that are a mountain of work that can go on forever. Like SEO consultant Kenny Eliason recently said, you can work 40 hours a week on a single website and still have stuff left to do each day.
I think the businesses that are emotionally invested in their marketing — that need to win — take content marketing more seriously. (As everyone should!)
Organic SEO takes longer than simply buying ads. But organic SEO pays off in spades in the long run.
Pay-per-click is more expensive, short-term, but produces instant results. Paying for traffic also has minimal long-term benefits. When your site has little content, you have to rely on ads for traffic. You stop paying for ads, and the traffic dries up.
Almost everyone who actually depends on search traffic for revenue values good SEO. But most businesses don’t understand what good SEO looks like, so they default to paying for ads. Paid advertising is something that everyone can understand, and it has it’s place — but I feel it belongs at a much later stage than other people do.
I spend most of my spare time doing my own content marketing, citation building, and on-page optimization.
I could just as easily get caught up in doing web development all day long, every day. But I understand that if I don’t market my business, my business won’t grow.
Has it paid off?
Yes, but it’s taken a long time. Two years ago, I was barely in the top 100 for my local SEO keywords. Now I’m first or second page for almost every keyword phrase in my local market.
Where You Can Start Improving Your SEO
I’ve figured out there are many things you can do to improve your SEO, that most businesses aren’t doing at all. A good place for most businesses to start is with a basic SEO audit, that can give them a checklist of on-site and off-site factors that need to be fixed.
The business owners can then decide what they want to tackle first.
Then the real work begins: content creation.
I believe it’s best if someone inside your organization does this, as they know what customers have questions about. If that’s not practical, there are copywriters and marketing firms that can do this. Ask me for recommendations, and I’ll point you in the right direction.
If you go with an outside content or SEO firm, AVOID firms that just “spin up” articles with no real value to your customers. These are a waste of money, provide little to no value to your customers, and can actually hurt your search rankings.
Long term SEO is the way to go. Paid advertising works in the short term, but can be avoided with a long game mindset. Executing a long term strategy and becoming known as an expert in your field is going to be increasingly relevant to your search positioning.