Let’s agree on one thing first; every business in existence today needs a website. We’re in a digital age where business can be easily secured simply through a website’s content; a good website can be the deal clincher if it portrays your brand well, or the asset that opens the door to new business leads. Either way, to be ranked high by internet search engines should be the Holy Grail of your online marketing strategy, as it offers highest exposure to your potential customers.
There are, however, many risks and pitfalls associated with search engine marketing, as I shall discuss in this post.
I launched my business in 2008 and despite it taking a while for the penny to drop regarding the benefit of an online marketing strategy I soon began to enjoy some great results.
Having commissioned a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) agency to help build the visibility of my website for key search terms related to my very niche product, results were quickly achieved and were delivered consistently for my business. The work undertaken appeared to be getting results and so other than monitoring the overall performance of the campaign, I was happy to invest my time into other business activities.
Ignorance was bliss. I thought ‘I’m ranked number one, why should I worry about it’. But in May 2013, Google changed their search algorithms – complicated rules which decide what sites to rank higher in search results – and my complacency soon turned to despair as our search rankings plummeted.
What is Google trying to achieve?
When drafting content your website, it’s important to consider what Google are actually looking for when devising a website’s ranking. Google’s mission is to rank websites that are relevant to the user; hence its algorithms decipher the relevancy of the sites content. How users react when on the site, how much social engagement is on the site, how fresh is the content, how many other websites link to this website and provide votes of confidence to it, how good the user experience is on the website and many more factors. That all makes sense, right?
Google want us to find something that is relevant so that we return to use its search engine, so it rewards businesses that treat the internet in the way its founders wanted it to be used – to share good quality information.
In business, you have to learn from your mistakes. Even the most successful businesses have ups and downs; the key is how you react to your mistakes. As the owner of a small business, I know that downs feel magnified by how limited your resources are but, with confidence and hard-work, almost everything is repairable; that goes for your online marketing strategy too.
Here are some of the key lessons I would like to share with you.
I thought I understood the murky world of SEO during the good times; I didn’t. When things started to go wrong I was already on the back foot, reacting to the problem. As a business owner, it’s important to always be proactive in as many of your business activities as possible, being reactive means you are just trying to catch up.
I implore all of you whose business relies to any degree on its search presence to understand the mechanics of SEO and to stay up to date with it as it evolves. Google does not reveal its algorithm but it does give strong clues on key themes so if you follow its announcements and reputable industry voices you will hopefully be as knowledgeable as you need to be to lead or at least police your strategy with confidence.
Monitor your marketing team
It’s quite obvious that I was not monitoring my external provider’s activity; I merely looked at pretty graphs and prodded them if there were ever any minor fluctuations. If you heed my advice to understand SEO you will be well armed to oversee your marketing teams activities. Are they building content that is consistent with industry recommendations, are they building healthy links, do they have a strategy that is consistent with what is deemed ethical SEO? Harvesting the knowledge is a waste of effort if you don’t apply it. Hopefully your marketing team demonstrate good practices to you but your regular appraisals of their strategy and work will definitely keep them on their toes.
In it for the long game
I was naïve enough to believe that the great search rankings my business enjoyed would stay forever. SEO is constantly evolving to ensure that the needs of the users are always met, what works today may be obsolete tomorrow, as I found out in May 2013. Hence, a good strategy is about having a balanced approach to ensure that bases are covered if search engines change the focus of how they rank a website. Your business should therefore not plough all energies into the latest buzz strategy, your business could suffer long term pain if the engines see that as unnatural behaviour. Be natural and be balanced in your strategy.
How to source a trustworthy digital marketing agency
This isn’t an easy one to address. I believe that the SEO industry is littered with sales agencies that are very good at talking the talk. These agencies spin industry terminology around small businesses and commercially packaging a service with promises of pots of gold. There are, however, some gems out there who do understand the industry and more importantly do care about your brand.
My advice is to utilise the knowledge that you harvested in understanding SEO and use it to appraise agencies that you speak to. If you find people who have a social audience and they speak in well-respected industry communities, then this is a very good signal that you stand a chance of success with them. My final tip is not to go for the cheapest price, the damage that the wrong person could do with your brand could cost you 100 times the cost savings.
I have learnt all this the hard way. Thankfully, after a lot of self-education, research and application of the advice I have detailed above, I found the right SEO partner. In working with them, the ranking of my business is, over time, recovering and in the long term will be in even better shape than it ever was.
I hope that this honest story is of use to people. The overriding lesson is that you are accountable for your own brand and the consequences of any mistakes made with it. A well-thought-through strategy will help to deliver your small business the growth you desire.