On Eggs, Baskets and SEO

Written: 26-Sep-2012 | | Filed under: Search Optimization

On a forum I frequent, someone recently asked a question about SEO. The original poster (OP) stated that he gets the majority of his business through inquiries as a result of search. When one of the other forum regulars said relying on the search engines for traffic was dangerous, the OP seemed confused.

He wanted to know what else one is supposed to do to get business, if not through search. He said he thought the whole purpose of having a website was so one could “target people with your SEO.” In the “old days” he would have used Yellow Pages or newspaper ads, but believes everything has changed now.

My response got a little too long for a forum post. And it occurred to me that there may be other business owners and small-business webmasters out there who are just as confused and baffled as the OP. So I decided to turn it into an article:

Don’t Let SEO Drive The Bus

I think you’ve got it a little backwards. You don’t create a website so you can target people with SEO. You target people with SEO to help them find your website.

There are, in fact, lots of excellent business reasons to have a website. Having a website would still be a good idea even if Google and Bing and Yahoo and all the other search engines disappeared overnight.

Your site enables people to find out more about your company and your products/services at any time, day or night, weekends and holidays. It lets them get directions to your store or office, review product specifications, maybe even place an order and/or get support when they’ve got a problem, all without having to wait until “regular business hours” or call anybody, wade through voice response hell or sit on hold. It’s like a business “Mini-Me” that never sleeps, calls in sick or takes a long lunch.

The point is, there are lots and lots of good business reasons to have a website that don’t have anything to do with search engine optimization.

Putting All Your Eggs In One Basket

To get a better feel for why SEO alone isn’t enough, try thinking of it this way: let’s say there’s a large shopping mall in your town which allows businesses to place promotional posters in the mall for free. If your poster is deemed worthy by the owners of the mall, you’ll be allowed to place it right by the main entrance, where it will be seen by everyone as they arrive.

Only thing is, the mall owners also allow 9 other businesses to also place their posters right next to yours. And there are 990 others whose posters are arranged all down the aisles of the mall.

That’s what SEO gets for you. It gets you the opportunity to be seen. But — just as with the posters at the mall &#8212 the majority of customers aren’t going to stop to read what you’ve got to say. Frankly, most of them won’t even slow down. Ask them the next day to recite the names of the businesses whose posters were by the entrance — or which ones ranked in the top 10 in the search results they viewed — and very few will be able to tell you.

To be sure, having a poster next to the entrance is useful, and it may bring you to the attention of some customers. But if that’s the only thing you’re doing to market your business, you’re leaving out a lot of people. And you never know when the mall owners might judge another business’s poster is more “worthy” than yours, and move yours down the hall.

Being in a position where you depend on the kindness of strangers for the bulk of your business inquiries is pretty darned scary. What do you do if the search engines have a glitch (it happens!) or change their algorithm and your site disappears from the top results for days, or even weeks or months?

You Better Shop Around

You’ve got to develop other significant sources of traffic, both online and offline.

Figure out where your target customers like to hang out. Online, find sites that are related to yours. Not competitors… for instance, if you sell red lederhosen, find sites that offer leather cleaning tips, leather repair services, Alpine hats and accessories, white knee socks, alpenhorns, and so forth. Then make sure you’re there, too. Participate in online communities. Write high-quality, informative guest blog posts or articles. Encourage satisfied customers to write online reviews.

Offline, network in person with local business leaders. Join the Chamber of Commerce or your local business development association. Develop relationships with local news reporters (print and broadcast).

Both online and offline, buy advertising in places where your customers are likely to see/hear/read it. If you can’t afford advertising on your own, co-op with other related (non-competitor) businesses and advertise both of your businesses together. Even “old fashioned” print ads and billboards might work, depending on the nature of your business.

Just Because You Built It, They May Not Come

The point is, even in the “old days,” simply taking out a yellow pages or newspaper ad was seldom enough to keep a business going all by itself, in the absence of other marketing initiatives.

“If you build it, they will come,” only works in the movies. Marketing has always been a matter of using multiple channels and methods of reaching your customers. Anything that you would have done to promote your business before the web is potentially still on the table, along with a whole ton of new things that are now possible because of the web. And as a bonus, many of these things may also help with SEO.

Some of the specific tactics may have changed, but the general strategy remains the same. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. SEO has simply added another weapon to your marketing arsenal. It is not (and never was) intended to replace everything else.

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