Last night at the IM-NY meeting, I met a small business owner who asked me “how should one get started in SEO?” I love these kinds of questions because they are so open-ended. Obviously I stated that each SEO initiative is going to be unique, and that if anyone wants to sell him a cookie-cutter approach the long term ROI probably won’t be there. Additionally, I feel that the “old school” method of starting with one specific category or service may be the best way to begin to establish relevance and authority required for longer term traffic aspirations. We had a great conversation, but it got me thinking about broader marketing concepts.
Many things have changed in the search engine optimization world over the past 15 or so years. Those of us in the industry often take for granted the decisions required to begin a formal SEO program. However for many business owners and online stakeholders in both small and large organizations, the basic “Four P’s” of marketing cannot be easily translated to search engine optimization. I welcome additional comments below, or criticism from those that disagree.
Price is often the first human-nature-dictated factor in business decisions. How can you estimate how much you should spend on SEO if you haven’t ever done it before? One method is getting a bunch of SEO quotes and comparing them mostly based on price. If you couple some marketers’ willingness to believe that SEO can be easily accomplished with some SEO sales teams producing low-cost deliverables (using automated technology with little human strategy and input) this always poses a problem.
Buyer beware! You can probably find someone to work with within your budget, but if they are promising to deliver the same level of service as others at a fraction of the cost you should ask more probing questions. In fact, perhaps the best way to figure this out is more in asking those that are more expensive, since they are likely to be able to comfortably defend the investment recommendation – if they can’t then you should write them off too.
You should also consider potential additional costs. Is it likely that the SEO program will require updates to your Web site? This will be the case nearly 100% of the time, so if you are outsourcing or potentially have difficult code or platform-related circumstances, you should probably budget for that time and effort. No SEO can tell you exactly all the changes that you need to make to your site without fully understanding your environment, so if someone tells you that “it should take no more than 5 hours” without having first discussed your Web site’s technology, this could be a flag.
As I mentioned in the introduction, deciding on a product or service to focus on for SEO can be a great way to get started versus trying to boil the ocean. I like to look for the Achilles Heel within your industry, specifically for types of products or services that are not dominated by the primary online competition. If you happen to sell soccer equipment for example, you may wish to start by going for just cleats, shin guards, or even goalie gloves and beginning to build up those products through SEO best practice implementation.
One piece of insight from the Wikipedia page linked above describes that “The marketer must also consider the product mix. Marketers can expand the current product mix by increasing a certain product line’s depth or by increasing the number of product lines.” This is actually a crucial thing from an SEO perspective. Without getting into nerdy details, just keep in mind that you don’t want too many of the same or nearly-same exact products or services being focused on at once. You want to show the search engines that you are trying to provide content that is worthwhile but not repetitive or even worse duplicative.
Some reading this may think that this is the simplest of the P’s when describing SEO: Place is the organic search results. Although this is partially correct, looking at Place also refers to an understanding of your overall marketing strategy, and especially the other channels that you are or will be using that can have an effect of SEO. If you are negotiating with an SEO and they haven’t asked you about some of your other tactics to drive traffic or brand awareness, the end deliverable may not include consideration of other activities driving visitors into your purchase funnel.
Understanding the landscape of the search results page is very important as well. If you have found that some or many of your targeted keywords have “different” search results pages including product listings or local results, you have to fully understand how this increases or decreases your opportunity with SEO and local/mobile marketing efforts. The Place that used to be just “10 blue links” has changed and it is highly pertinent that you understand your search engine results pages. (see also: Three easy SEO tests)
There are many similarities between high level considerations for Promotion and Place, but one way to differentiate them is as follows: Promotions are what you need to do to improve the success of your SEO efforts. Brand marketing, philanthropy and social responsibility and other forms of PR and evangelism will have an effect on your SEO, and should be a part of any SEO program’s consideration set. Although Google continues to vaguely deny that (non-Google Plus) social media has any current impact of your SEO results, many studies as well as raw research data shows a strong correlation between high ranking pages and the social signals that they or their brand enjoys. And Bing uses them to help determine search results for some queries.
As a marketer, you have to make sure that whatever means of promotion you are going to use to potentially help your SEO as well as drive its own ROI should be properly targeted! A recent study and infographic by Docstoc shows us that you must understand your consumers’ social behavior before spending money trying to reach Grandpa Wilkins on Facebook.
In conclusion, marketing decision makers in 2013 that are just beginning to delve into SEO should keep one primary directive in mind: don’t get your eyes glazed over by words like algorithm and panda. Stick to your marketing successes in the past and your overall industry knowledge and let it guide you towards including SEO as another piece of the pie.