Welcome to the information age, the era in which data is everywhere. Anyone can find the answer to all their queries at the tap of a keyboard and the click of a mouse. And as search engines provide the window onto the online world, taking steps to ensure SMEs’ websites are listed on the Google search results is vital to their online success. Right?
Sort of. There has been a lot of debate recently on forums and blog posts written by those in the know around whether or not SEO is ‘dead’. The basic premise seems to be that the people who were calling themselves SEO experts, are now calling themselves social media experts, and the entire profession has lost any degree of authority – and the social networks are full of noisy, useless content. Thusly, sceptics argue that SEO should be part of the job of an internal evangelist, rather than an outside agency or ‘consultant’.
But what about those small firms that can’t afford to take on a search specialist? With more than 80% of web traffic being driven by search engines, this isn’t a party to which SMEs can afford to not RSVP. So how do they ensure they have the relevant experience without the cost of hiring an extra body?
Marty Wightman is an account director at digital marketing agency and SEO specialist iProspect. He says that enlisting the help of an agency is one way of ensuring that small businesses have the prerequisite levels of knowledge about digital marketing, without having the cost of taking on a dedicated person in-house. “If you want to be doing SEO well and you want to be making an impact, it’s essentially a full-time job,” says Wightman.
Aside from obvious cost-saving benefits, an agency will also bring a breadth of experience – not just across small businesses in general, but in different verticals. An SEO specialist in the retail sector may give slightly different advice to one who works predominantly with technology companies, for example.
Having the experience of someone such as Ben Spray, head of key accounts at digital marketing firm Adtrak, can also prevent small businesses making silly mistakes. “I’ve seen lots of emails offering SEO for £99; if it’s cheap and offering a quick service, it’s probably not going to offer you a good deal in the long run,” he explains. “I’d go more for a reputable company that has a track record for proving what they can do, because the last thing you want is to get short-term gains to later be penalised.”
He is referring to self-styled ‘SEO gurus’ who may provide bad-quality links and spam users of businesses’ websites with keywords. This could be potentially disastrous for SMEs, as Google’s algorithms have become more sophisticated and are able to pick up on suspicious links and content. “Quality content is king,” says Spray.
Elite’s six steps to sparkling SEO
1 Use Google Adwords research tool – This is essentially a piece of technology where you can find out what your target market are typing into Google, because everybody starts a search with a key word or a key phrase. The best thing about it? It’s free.
2 Optimise your site for the right keywords – That’s about doing some on-site optimisation towards the terms your target market is searching for. And you only chase the keywords that your market is going to be typing in. Nobody is going to be fooled by you advertising your website as something it’s not. It will just make customers go away from the website and never come back.
3 Get set up on Google Webmasters and Analytics – These are two free pieces of software that Google gives you. And if you get set up on Google Analytics, you will learn loads about the visitors who are coming on to your website. It’s almost like doing instant market research: you know what keywords people type in to Google, you know which keywords are converted on if it’s a sign-up to an event or if they are buying something from a retail site. Webmasters is about learning all about your actual websites – and not the customer. How quickly Google can find your website, for example. It’s almost like a diagnostics tool.
4 Hang out where your target market hangs out – Make sure you’re visible. Either online or offline if you’re doing marketing, it’s all about link building – all the time bear in mind that you should be making sure you’re getting a link back to your website.
5 Don’t forget about localised marketing – SMEs need to make sure they’ve got local touch points within Google. Setting up accounts on Google Plus and Google Places – and being active on those – is a good place to start.
6 Get social – Everyone’s on Facebook, some people are on Twitter and others are on Pinterest. It’s not just about sending out posts about your latest product or the newest sale that you’re running. It’s about starting and leading conversations that your consumers are wanting you to talk about. It’s about tapping into their passion points because if they’re on a social platform they’re looking to be in a social mood. They want to be engaged, they want to be brought to life with a conversation.