I've been reading a lot of posts lately from small business owners and search engine optimization companies talking about the push toward organic search during a bad economy. After all, good organic search campaigns tend to deliver some of the most effective (and least expensive) traffic your site is likely to see. Unfortunately, this isn't always the case. In fact, there are some instances in which you'd do best to focus your limited marketing dollars elsewhere.
A perfect example of this comes when you're trying to establish a new market. My friend Aruni Gunasegaram, founder of Babble Soft learned this lesson the hard way earlier this year.
This week, Aruni pens part four of a series she's written about search engine optimization. She writes this post several months after ending an organic search campaign with a firm she'd hired. It's an open and honest look at her experience hiring and using a search marketing firm.
There were things I should have researched and understood better before engaging a SEO firm. I made the decision hoping it could be part of a 'silver bullet' solution to raise our trial and conversion numbers and as we all know, the silver bullet doesn't usually hit where you want it to. I also think that the firm could have advised me better upfront on things like website conversion, dropped the ball a couple of times, and could have proactively paid more attention to the direction things were going. When I last checked their site, it looks like they have changed their focus more to SEM (search engine marketing) than just SEO.
I think this is a very important point. A lot of companies (far too many) will hire an SEO firm without really understanding what's going to be done or what needs to be done to their site. This is a big mistake. Search engine optimization at it's core is not complicated, but it's very easy to do wrong and it's very easy to claim you can optimize a site without having the skills to back it up.
Engaging a SEO firm is a lot like hiring a lawyer. The right one will save you tons of money in the long run. The wrong one will bleed you dry. It's absolutely essential that you understand at least the basics of what a good search engine optimization campaign entails. Reading sites like Search Engine Guide or books like Matt McGee's "How to SEO Your Site in 60 Minutes" can go a long way toward educating you enough to make good hiring decisions.
Aruni goes on to make an important point on why SEO didn't work as well for her as it could have:
The biggest lesson I learned was: SEO is not a good choice when you are creating a market! It's hard to predict what people will search for when looking for your product in a market that is not well defined. It's hard to even know how many or if they are looking for your product!
It's an excellent point and one that some companies really take to heart.
If you have created a completely new product that serves a completely new niche, there simply may not be enough people searching for it to make search marketing efforts worthwhile. If this is the case, you'd do far better to spend your money engaging a good public relations firm or working on a social media strategy that will help you break into the marketplace by engaging your customers in the places where they have conversations. You'll have to educate them before you have any shot at selling to them.
Aruni's full post is a must read for any small business thinking of hiring an SEO firm right now. While I disagree with her that search engine marketing companies are an expense that can or should be cut when times get tough, I do agree that SEO is not a practical expense for all small businesses.
Before you make your next hiring decision, consider things carefully. Make sure your company can benefit from search engine marketing services. Make sure you have a solid grasp on what the firm you hire should be doing and above all, make sure you are tracking the results and tying ROI to their efforts.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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