Search engine optimization is a process where you make changes to your website so that specific pages on your site rank higher for particular searches on the search engine results pages (SERPs). This can be beneficial because in general, the further down in a SERP, or the number of pages from the first, the less traffic you’ll get. So the better your ranking, the more people are likely to come to your site.
“Great! Let’s do it!” you may be thinking. But wait! There are many good reasons to NOT do SEO for your small business. You may be wasting time and energy by focusing on this one marketing behavior instead of something that will serve your business better. I’ve pulled together a list of some of the most common reasons to do something other than SEO.
1. Don’t yet have a marketing strategy
Search engine optimization is just one tactic that can, and should be, aligned with a broader strategy. Try to fill in the missing information in this sentence:
I’ve chosen SEO as a tactic because it’s the best one to achieve (INTERMEDIATE STEP) which supports the larger business goal of (MEASURABLE LONG-TERM GOAL)
If it isn’t patently obvious what should go in those two blanks, try reading my previous blog posts on business goals and marketing strategy and work on those ideas before you ask your digital strategist if SEO is right for you.
2. Your ideal and most common client behaviors are a mystery
You get paid when certain people take certain actions, but the specifics of that ideal action depend on what kind of business you run. If you make money because of ads on your website, the “certain actions” would be visiting your website and occasionally clicking on an ad. If you have an ecommerce site, it’s adding an item to the shopping cart and going through the checkout process. If you sell a services, maybe it’s filling out a form to get a quote or request a website diagnostic.
Before you start doing SEO, you need to know a couple of things. First, you need to be very specific about what that goal behavior is, and on what page or pages it can happen (yes, make a list–even if that’s a spreadsheet of web links to every single product on your website). That’s the ideal behavior.
Also figure out what people actually do. It’s often not the ideal, but can reveal all kinds of interesting things about what they really want or need, and how they’re trying to go about it. The more you understand your visitors, the easier it will be to optimize your pages not only for the search engines, but also to guide them toward your goal behaviors.
3. Don’t know where your most likely “converters” come from
Following on the previous item, let’s assume that you know the ideal behavior is that you count as a “conversion.” Next, you’ll need to use some web traffic analysis to divide people into two groups: Those who did the thing, and those who didn’t. Once they’re divided—or “segmented” as it’s typically called—you need to see if the Converters group were more likely to come from a search engine than people who didn’t.
If you go through all that, and find that your Converters are indeed coming from search engines far more often than your Non-Converters, then SEO is a good choice. Why? Because it will likely bring you in more people who will do the thing that makes you money. But if there’s no difference in search engine traffic between the groups, or if the Non-Converters are more likely to come through search, then SEO isn’t the best next step for you. You might be working hard only to bring in the wrong people.
4. You need immediate results
One way to tell people who don’t know what they’re doing with SEO, or who are more on the scammy side, is when they say they can guarantee you quick and/or guaranteed results. Google and Bing use hugely complex and largely secret methods to determine what to show in SERPs. But what the real, legitimate folks in the field will tell you is that it often takes several weeks, if not months, to really start making a difference. And that’s especially true if you’re not looking in the right places for indications of change.
Part of what makes this complicated is that not only does nobody know for sure (except the software engineers at Google and Bing) what criteria are used to rank results, but where you rank is also influenced by everything that all of your competitors are doing. Not only that, but with a few exceptions, information about what the searcher is, and has been, doing affects the listings as well.
So SEO is a highly dynamic and constantly shifting situation. In a way, it’s kind of like a logroll—the longer you do it, the more impressive it is. That means lots of time behind the scenes, not results you can see in a couple of days.
5. Aren’t yet building a list
I often quote a phrase I first heard from James Wedmore when I was a member of Reel Marketing Insider: “If I don’t have a list, I don’t have a business.” He was specifically speaking of an email list of people who have expressed interest in what you do, but it could easily apply to more traditional forms of the same thing. (Do you still have a Rolodex? A file cabinet with paper copies of forms filled out by clients? Those are “lists” as well…just in a more inconvenient format for regular use.)
Don’t do SEO if you either haven’t collected your list, or aren’t using it as a business resource. This is a much lower-hanging fruit, and one that often can be more valuable to act on. They do say that it’s much easier and less expensive to make another sale to a previous customer than to bring in someone new. You can building your list, get permission to contact them so that they expect to hear from you, provide them value over time, and occasionally offer something they can buy. That’s far easier and more direct than optimizing all the pages of your website for the robotic spiders indexing the Internet and diving into the motivations of people who might be searching for something related to what you do.
6. You don’t treat your website like an employee
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking no further than “I need a website.” However, the most successful companies treat their website like an employee. You wouldn’t hire someone without knowing what you expected them to do, simply hoping that having them around doing whatever it is that they end up doing will somehow helping your business. Yet that’s exactly how many business owners treat their website—particularly new entrepreneurs or those who aren’t very into the technology.
If this sounds vaguely like you, and you’re considering SEO, first do some prep and write your digital “employee” a job description. What are they supposed to be doing with their time? Getting you more leads to follow up on? Making sales while you’re out of the office? Giving future visitors directions to the shop? Write down what you’re expecting your website to do for you. Give it performance targets. Until you have that information, search engine optimization isn’t going to do you any good. And you might find that you’ve been optimizing the wrong pages, or optimizing for the wrong kinds of searches, once you do figure out what the website should be doing for you.
7. Your website doesn’t do its job very well yet
To extend from the previous item, if you’ve got a job description for your website, it’s time for an employee evaluation. How well is it doing what you set out for it? Has it met its performance targets? Is there room for improvement? The result of SEO, if done correctly, is more of the right people coming to your site. But if it’s not performing optimally, you’re throwing away opportunities. It’s better to make sure your site will handle more visitors the way you want before you send more visitors to it.
Have you ever had the experience of being in the express checkout line at the grocery store and thought that they must have put the new trainee cashier there because the regular non-express lines are going faster than the express ones? Well, that’s the experience you’re giving your customers if you do SEO before you get your site working effectively and efficiently at carrying out its duties.
Doing this will take some careful looking at your web traffic numbers. Traffic analysis, customer paths, conversion rates, and more will be your friend when turning your site into a smooth-running machine that does that thing you want done from #6, above.
8. Looking at the code scares you
There’s a whole big chunk of search engine optimization that requires you get into the code that makes up your website. If looking at HTML code seems daunting, or you have no idea what rel=nofollow or meta-description means, then SEO isn’t something you’ll do well…at least not for a while. Now, you could hire someone to do it for you, or you could just focus on what is going to make your business successful: serving your customers well, and developing loyal relationships with them. And you know what? If you’re not being too sales-y on your website, and not trying any tricky short-cuts, but just being helpful and useful to your potential customers, you’re doing most of the non-technical SEO stuff anyway.
For example, some of the high-impact SEO elements that don’t require much technical knowledge include providing high-quality content, making the text (regular page or article text, as well as titles, headlines, captions, and so on) clear about what that particular page is for or what question it answers, and being an authority in your field that people might link to or share on social media. And you should be doing those things anyway, whether you’re “doing SEO” or not.
Search engine optimization is a powerful, though complex, activity that can really improve your business. However, many small business owners jump straight to that when there are many other things that might be more effective. Particularly early on, you need to spend your time and energy where it’s best used, and that’s often not doing SEO.
What are your experiences around this? Did you go the SEO route? How did that work out for you? Did you pick something else? Are you happy with your choice? Leave your answers in the comments below!