Being satisfied with as little as possible may be an excellent strategy for enjoying a simple life, but it's a recipe for disaster when it describes your approach to promoting your presence on the web. One of my favorite aspects of my job is conversing with new prospective clients about the nature of their businesses, their plans and hopes. I love hearing their stories! Sometimes, though, these conversations go nowhere because of poor logic on the part of the business owner, and no matter what I say, my own hopes dim for their chances of success on the web. Recently, I had just such a conversation.

A few weeks ago, I was called by a gentleman asking for help in improving the visibility of his local-focused business. He was an extremely pleasant man, but as our chat progressed, it became clear to me that he was very unlikely to become a client because of the following things:

1. Satisfied With A Poor Website

His relatively new website had been built in Front Page by a relative, and, it looked like it. Cross-browser alignment issues, poor structure, poor contrast, poor Usability and no real on-page SEO were the hallmarks of this homemade site, meaning that room for improvement was huge. I am so polite when I speak critically of a company's site, but despite my mild words, he became somewhat defensive, saying he was very happy with the site and that it had been built by a professional.

2. Satisfied With Doing The Least Work Possible

The nature of the business called for the various services the company offered to be broken up into dedicated, unique pages - one for each service, optimized both for the service term + geographic region, in compliance with basic good SEO and Local SEO practices. His objection to this suggestion was that his competitors are ranking well with one page websites. This was true - lazy, one-page websites had a presence in Google's top 10 for his keywords because no one was making any effort in the industry to do more.

When I asked how he would like to blow his competitors away, a motivated response simply wasn't there. If his competitors were doing the bare minimum, why couldn't he, too? The poor logic in this is obvious: what about the competitor who comes along 3 months from now and does hire me, and we oust the lazy folks from their positions with our well-built, properly optimized site? Waiting for a competitor to make the first move before you make any effort is a really strange business strategy.

3. Satisfied With Poor Copy

In trying to help this man see how his website could be improved to meet his stated goals of improving his visibility and conversions, I turned next to the minimal text copy on his few pages. Like the copy on so many business sites, it was speaking to itself instead of speaking to the site's users - this man's potential clients. The passive language of:

We have been in business for 10 years. We are a reliable and trustworthy company. We are proud of our customer service. We, we, we...

was as far as the copy got, never once making an offer to the user to benefit you, help you, serve you, solve your problems and meet your needs.

I explained that the copy needed to be expanded and swung in the direction of the user instead of speaking in this insular, uninviting manner, but again, I met with resistance and an explanation that he had worked very hard on the copy. I didn't doubt this; some business owners genuinely do find it really hard to describe their business in the written word, but this is what I am here for. I explained that, as part of the redesign of his site, I could help him turn his copy into something that would showcase the benefits to the user and call him to the desired actions of making a phone call to set up a consultation. Somewhat dismissively, the gentleman expressed the opinion that this would seem like an advertisement. And, of course, none of his competitors were doing it this way.

"Well, yes," I agreed. "Your website is an advertisement. In fact your website is a sales rep, working for your 24 hours a day. While you are working, eating and sleeping, your sales rep should be working for you, welcoming clients, answering questions, showing what you can do for them and inviting people to contact you. That's the whole point."

Our conversation ended with great amiability and he thanked me for my time, but it was very clear to me that I had failed to help this fellow get past the mindset of doing the least possible. I really liked this man and wanted to help him. He had come to me hoping to find a way to get more contacts and contracts and make more money. I tried to point the way, but because no one else in his town was making the slightest effort to effectively use the web to attain these kinds of goals, he remained completely unmotivated to invest time and money in the very things that would enable him to outrank his weak competitors and start hearing that phone ring more often.

There is nothing strange or new about this scenario. Fellow designers and SEOs will have sat through calls like this many times before, but it really made me think about how, in the business world, we take cues from one another, for good or ill.

If my colleagues and competitors blog twice a week, is this my permission to do no more than equal them, or should I blog twice as much in hopes of seeing twice the benefit? If my colleagues have never hosted a promotional contest, does this mean this just wouldn't work in my industry, or does it mean I've got a secret weapon no one else has tested yet? If no one in my industry is on Twitter, does that mean there's no point, or am I going to be a pioneer in using Social Media in an untapped business sector?

How you respond in your gut to questions like these likely says a lot about your drive to succeed on the web. One thing I can guarantee: every business owner reading this article would like to make more money. In the industry I took a glance at for this gentleman with whom I spoke, it would take just one person motivated to do the most, instead of the least, to wipe the competition off the map. Your industry may not be as neglected and wide open as this, but the same healthy resolve to be bold and do as much as you can is sure to serve you well.

A lax attitude troubles me, because it represents lost opportunities, but on a karmic level, I suppose it represents opportunities won for someone else. Where do you want to stand on the scale of things? Jog along with the pack or set the pace? Money's waiting at the finish line.

January 28, 2010

Miriam Ellis is the co-owner of Solas Web Design and CopyLocal, providing SEO-based website design, Local SEO and professional copywriting for small-to-medium North American businesses. She is the Local SEO Associate in the Q&A Forum at SEOmoz, a moderator at Cre8asite Forums and an annual participant in David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors report. When she and her husband are not working on the web, they're farming organically and working on increased sustainability or roaming about in nature having the time of their lives.


This is a great post highlighting how important it is to take responsibility, this is not a game it's a business. Sure you can have lots of fun doing it but there are still processes to follow that make all the difference. Thanks so much for sharing with all of us. Mark

Funny I read this today since I had a similiar experience just this morning with a local business.

When this situation occurs, I usually give the business owner a few suggestions on how they can improve their website and search engine visibility, and leave my business card with a note that once they start getting a few leads/sales from their website to give me a call and I can put together a package that can really kickstart the online revenue and lead generation.

More often than not, about 3 to 6 months later, that business owner calls me back and wants me to either 1) take over his website and link building because it is taking too much time, or 2) take over his website and link building because he has become addicted to the small stream of online lead generation and really wants to kick it into high gear.

I feel the same frustration you do when someone wants to do a "just good enough for today" job, but I have found in many situations the business owner hasn't come all the way from offline advertising and marketing to the new online world.

It's not that the business owner isn't smart, usually they're very bright, but they just haven't made the mental jump to the value of the online world. They just need a little nudge/taste to get them over the top.

Thanks for the comments, all.

Brian, yes, this is a situation all designers will run into at some point...maybe even frequently. Thanks for sharing your process and the typical results you see from that. It sounds like, in your past experiences, potential clients have at least had websites capable of generating some leads and funding, in which case, there is potential for them to invest in going to the next level. But when the site isn't capable of that, there doesn't seem to be a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Totally agree with you that this isn't about's about not seeing opportunities when and where they arise. In my experience, small business owners are some of the smartest folks around!

Thanks, again, for taking the time to comment.

I just read Linchpin a couple months ago (which I absolutely loved!) and this strikes me as the work of the "lizard brain". That nasty little part of our brain from our reptile ancestors that keeps us alive by avoiding any risk. And building or managing a website to blow away your competitors in a local search sounds pretty risky to those who are still suspicious of the Internet. I also think that the Net being "invisible" in cyberspace (as opposed to print material, ie the yellow pages) makes it more scary for some people. Sure, you can see a website in a browser window, but where does it all go when you turn off the computer? That's threatening to some people. Also hearing news about viruses, trojans, malware, identity theft, etc., just reinforces their personal mindset that the Net is dangerous. Doing the least possible for a website is the least risky thing to do.

I bet you anything the person who built his website is a close relative and he feels he's disrespecting them if he even considers changing things. A client like this has to be handled with kid gloves. Baby steps, to use a well-worn phrase. Maybe bring out comparisons in other geographic areas, especially ones that are more competitive (larger metro areas). I feel the business mentally can be very different in small towns than larger cities. People live in small towns for the illusion of safety and security, so the boat is rarely rocked in doing something new and risky. This might be a contributing factor of why small towns are dying.

Great article!

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Search Engine Guide > Miriam Ellis > Poor Logic: Letting Your Competitors Hold You Back