If someone knocked on your door, pointed out that your windows needed painting and said they had some paint in the van and could start work straight away, how would you react?
You would probably say a polite ‘no, thank you’, in common with 99% of people in the same situation. But if a similar approach happened online, would your reaction be the same?
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a huge business, estimated to reach $80 billion per year by 2020 in the US (according to a report by Borrell Associates). The UK market is obviously much smaller, but still big enough to attract a huge number of SEO consultants. If you’ve been in business for a while, you’re likely to have had the online equivalent of a knock at your door in the form of an email offering SEO services.
Some of these unsolicited approaches are simply not credible - outlandish claims backed up by little or no evidence. These are easy it filter out and discard. It’s the middle ground that is trickier and potentially more dangerous. These usually make more sensible claims, accompanied by a beguiling marketing spiel and quote a reasonable hourly rate.
For established brands with deep pockets, SEO is likely to be a standard part of their marketing strategy. But for new and small businesses, the time and cost required to achieve meaningful benefits from SEO can be overwhelming. Before you click the ‘buy now’ button, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you really need SEO right now? If you’ve just started your business, there’s probably a long list of items that you should tackle before spending money on SEO.
- Have you completed your business plan, including a clear definition of your product and market? Attempting to optimise without clarity in these areas is unlikely to provide a positive return on investment.
- Does your website convey a clear message about your product or service to your target market (as defined in your business plan), with clear calls to action?
- Do you have social media business accounts set up in your business name, with consistent branding and descriptions of your business across all platforms?
- Are you posting content relevant to your business regularly through blogs and social media posts?
- Have you researched and decided on keywords for your business? There are numerous free tools out there that can help you identify popular keywords relevant to your business. Google ‘free keyword tools’ for some examples.
- Do you understand enough about SEO to know what it can do for your business? A few minutes of research with the help of Google should provide you with enough of an overview to get to know the basics.
- Have you set goals that you want SEO to help achieve; for example, driving an increase of x% of leads through your website?
- Have you defined a budget available to spend on SEO?
- Have you checked references and reviews of your potential SEO consultant? Look for specific evidence of tangible improvements rather than generic feedback such as ‘great to work with’ or ‘very knowledgable’.
If you’ve managed to answer yes to all or most of the above, then SEO might be a sensible option for your business. Setting out and agreeing on the work to be done and expected outcomes is essential, as SEO benefits can be hard to quantify. And beware of consultants who will only work for an hourly fee without a clearly defined statement of work. Poor quality output delivered at a snail’s pace won’t represent value for money. The old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ is apposite when considering SEO options.