If you’ve got to this article, you’ve probably heard of search engine optimization, SEO, and roughly what it is (and if you haven’t, don’t worry. This is a great place to learn).
It’s a common misconception that SEO is really a matter of flicking some switches, that a one-off investment of say, an afternoon, is all you need. Sadly, that’s just not true. SEO is a long term commitment, are you ready for it?
If the answer to this question is anything less than “Oh hell yeah!”, then read on. SEO is a hugely cost-effective marketing channel, and now I’m going to convince you.
One of my favorite quotes is this one from John Wanamaker, who ran one of the world’s first department stores, Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. Of his advertising budget he said “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.”
Sound familiar? The thing is, regardless of how good your advertising is, this is a problem you’ll always face. But not with SEO.
Offline advertising is great for many reasons. It’s sexy, and it gets you in front of a great many eyeballs. But it just doesn’t work for small businesses, or most big ones actually.
The problem with all offline advertising is there’s no real way of targeting your messages. Sure, people who watch the news are largely going to be different than people who watch soccer, but what does that matter? Could you honestly say “that person is more likely to buy my product because he’s watching the news, not the game?” Of course you couldn’t.
Watch any program or read any magazine or newspaper: how many commercials are relevant to you? I rarely see an advert for a pizza when I'm hungry and have lost count of the number of times someone has tried to sell me a car even though I can’t drive.
The marketing directors of these brands would of course tell you that advertising offline makes brands more aspirational and ‘front-of-mind’, but is that really relevant to your business? Do you have have money to waste to spend on such luxuries?
Unless you’re listed in the Fortune 500, the answer is probably no. Offline advertising rarely costs less than tens of thousands of dollars and unless you're a large business, you need that money to give you the maximum return. Offline advertising just can’t do that.
Display advertising is the next step down from offline advertising. There’s a lot of cost involved (you need to design and build some online ads then arrange for them to be displayed on websites. This either takes time or costs money if you outsource it). Typically, you’ll pay on a cost-per-click basis or per impression (eg, how many people see your ad).
You’re then paying for traffic (or worse, just an eyeball on your ad) with no guarantees at all of what that traffic is going to do. They could wander around your site then leave, but you’ll still have paid for them. Very quickly, you could find yourself paying for thousands of visitors who don’t convert. When you factor in all the time and money you’ve spent, it’s often a lot of effort for not a lot of return.
PPC (pay per click)
The other side of search engine marketing, pay per click advertising, PPC, is where you sponsor a search term. For example, if someone searches for red shoes you’ll compete to have your ad shown against the term. While this can be really helpful to find out which keywords convert for your brand, it's based on an auction model, so can very quickly become very expensive. I used to work on PPC for a car insurance brand in the UK, and we’d quite often pay £50, about $80, for each click. Again, that wasn’t $80 per sale, it was $80 per click. This is what you’re up against.
So, we’re back to where we started. How do you ensure you don’t waste half your advertising dollars? Easy, just don’t spend them.
SEO gives you free traffic. Whether it’s one click or 10,000: whether you make $10 or $10 million, Google won’t charge you a dime. This means it very quickly becomes a great source of traffic. 24/7, seven days a week, and a strong position in the search engine rankings will keep traffic flowing to your website. You can then spend more of your time creating content, products and services that your customers want, and less time worrying about how to attract them in the first place.
So, if SEO is so great, why can’t I see my competitor in the search ranking?
The simple fact is, a lot of companies don’t invest in SEO because it takes time and effort. No bones about it, if you want to rank in the search engines you have to give your site some love. But that’s a good thing. A well-optimized site is a better site, your users will prefer it and you’ll make more money. But businesses are often blinkered, focusing purely on week-on-week, or even month-on-month sales.
This won’t work with SEO. Spend some quality time making your site as good as it can be, and you’ll see a jaw-dropping return on that investment in time. Give up or take short cuts and you won’t. If you’ve not done any SEO in the past, it may take up to six months to see a decent return, but hold in there. You’re doing the right thing, and we’re here to help you every step of the way.
Read more in this series
So what actually is SEO? What is it and why would you want to do it?
How does Google rank your site? Google loves authority and relevance. What are these and how do you get them?
SEO for Beginners How do you go about SEO'ing your site?
SEO checklist - 10 things to check right now The very first 10 things to check to see if your site is search engine-friendly.
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