Growing a small business is nothing short of exhausting work. But it can be rewarding, too. The challenge lies in identifying and pursuing the strategies that deliver a high return on value for your time, while offloading everything else so that you can focus your energy.
And when it comes to standing out and gaining visibility in both crowded niches and upstart industries, there’s nothing that moves the needle quite like a well developed and strategically implemented SEO plan. The only question is, do you know where to start?
In the most basic sense, SEO – which stands for Search Engine Optimization – is the practice of making website pages more visible to search engines like Google in an effort to generate organic traffic (which is basically another word for free, passive traffic).
Google has a complex algorithm that it uses to rank websites, including hundreds of factors. Some of these factors are known – like keywords, site speed, and a variety of onsite technical elements – while others can only be speculated. Either way, SEO is about making Google happy.
And why does making Google happy matter?
Well, it’s all a numbers game. If you want to siphon visitors to your website, you need clicks. And if there’s a sure-fire way to get clicks, it’s to rise the SERP (search engine results page) rankings.
In other words, SERP real estate is precious. And much like the real estate you can touch and feel, it’s all about location, location, location. Finding a way to get onto page one – and then climbing to the top of the page – is challenging but worthwhile. And proper SEO is the only way to do it.
There are a variety of ways to drive traffic to your website. So you might be wondering, why do small businesses need to waste time and money on SEO? Can’t they just generate traffic in other ways?
The answer to that latter question is yes, but you probably don’t want to stop there. While it’s possible to get clicks and website visitors via paid search (like PPC ads), social media, email marketing, and other reputable sources and mediums, each of these methods takes work. And if you aren’t actively working on them, your traffic dries up.
To acquire website visitors via paid search, you have to pay per click and constantly optimize to ensure you’re paying a competitive rate. With social media, you need to post several times per week (if not per day) and engage with your audience – like, commenting, and sharing their posts. With email, you must constantly build your list and then nurture those subscribers with the right mix of content. (Too many emails and you make people feel like they’re being spammed. Too few emails and you don’t get any traffic.)
There’s nothing wrong with paid search, social, or email – we recommend including all three in your marketing mix – but they don’t hold a candle to SEO. Here’s why:
Now if you really want to amplify your results, you need to combine SEO with aforementioned tactics like paid search, social, and email marketing. In doing so, you’re able to implement a comprehensive strategy that leverages the right mix of organic and paid exposure. Over time, this will lead your business in a better direction.
As we mentioned all the way back at the beginning of this article, the challenge for small businesses lies in determining where to start with SEO. There are a variety of paths you can go, but not all of them are as cost-effective or rewarding as they should be.
With all of that being said, let’s explore the different options most small businesses have:
All four of these options have their place. But when it comes to the average small business, there’s one choice that stands head and shoulders above the rest.
An SEO agency is basically a company that offers customized SEO services. The goal of an SEO agency is to help businesses, like yours, improve their online visibility so that they generate more traffic and grow the bottom line.
Benefits of working with an SEO agency include:
You can see why so many small businesses turn to SEO agencies to get off the ground and running. When approached from the right perspective, it can yield a long list of benefits.
Working with an SEO agency isn’t right for every small business. You have to approach the decision with the right context, otherwise you could end up doing your business more harm than good.
Here’s a look at some of the potential challenges and/or risks associated with hiring an SEO agency:
These issues aren’t necessarily prevalent for every small business, but they are something to be aware of. The more you have them on your radar, the less likely it is that you’ll fall into a situation that’s detrimental to your larger business objectives.
In most cases, hiring an SEO agency is the right move for a small business that wants to enjoy benefits like more visibility, better traffic numbers, and a more cohesive marketing strategy.
If you choose to go this route, you’ll need to be intentional with how you narrow down your options and select the right SEO agency. Here are some suggestions:
The quickest way to narrow down a list of potential suitors is to get clear on what you don’t want. This means identifying the warning signs of bad SEO agencies and giving them the stiff arm.
As a general rule of thumb, be wary of SEO agencies that make promises and guarantees (other than money-back guarantees). If a company is promising to have you ranking number one on Google in 90 days or less, they’re full of it. Nobody can promise a number one ranking under any circumstances.
It’s also wise to think about your budget and cross off agencies that far exceed the price you’re able to pay. (There’s a case to be made for stretching your budget slightly to get the right fit, but if you’re having to 2X or 3X your budget, you’re searching the wrong aisles.)
An SEO agency can help you refine your objectives, but it’s wise to begin with a list that you’ve developed independently from them. This will help you filter out agencies that don’t align with your direction. It’ll also give you more information to use when vetting and interviewing potential fits.
It’s easy to get swept up in different online marketing and advertising campaigns. And unless you’re using some sort of private browser or tool to mask your online activity, you’re going to get hammered with Facebook and YouTube advertisements from hundreds of agencies. The only problem is that 75-80 percent of these agencies are full of it.
The best way to avoid entering into the wrong relationship is to start your search with a list of references from people you trust. In other words, don’t Google, “Who is the best SEO agency?” Instead, ask your network that question. You’ll get a variety of responses and you can then continue the vetting process with greater peace of mind.
Any SEO agency can make promises. You want to work with companies that already have results. While past results aren’t always indicative of future success, they certainly provide a strong starting point.
When interviewing agencies and whittling down your list, ask for case studies. A detailed case study with data, analytics, and supporting evidence will help you see if the agency is actually capable of getting the results they advertise.
Finally, how is the agency’s communication? Do they respond to your emails right away? Do they pick up the phone? Are they transparent in how they answer questions?
An SEO agency’s communication will tell you how well they respect their clients and pay attention to the details. If there’s any friction here, it’s a sign of future troubles.
If you’re the owner or a marketer in a mid-sized business and you aren’t already using an agency to help you get the most out of your SEO link building program, consider enlisting the help of one. Working together, you can create a plan that works for your budget as well as your goals.
At SEO.co, we specialize in providing our clients with full-service small business SEO and enterprise SEO solutions that are laser-focused on driving organic visitors and growing revenue. We do this through comprehensive strategies that are centered around keyword-driven, long-form content, custom graphics and video, and SEO-friendly link building.
Want more information on how we can help you enhance your brand visibility and grow your business? Contact us today and we’d be happy to cast some vision for you.