Have you ever bought a small business SEO package and several months later felt it cost too much and delivered too little?
This happens because of a mismatch of expectations. Once upon a time (as in 4 years ago), making technical SEO adjustments to your fairly static website was enough to obtain a high ranking.
While this in and of itself is no longer sufficient, firms have continued to offer lower cost small business SEO packages, even though their effectiveness has diminished.
So why has their effectiveness diminished?
Mostly, It’s Economics
What it takes to rank now is the publishing of content to your website that is interesting and (most importantly) useful to your desired audience.
Your website overall, and your content has to be properly formatted for SEO, but good SEO formatting is no longer enough.
These small business SEO packages were priced in the range of $300 a month to $1,000 a month (depending upon the size of your website) and that did not include the generation of fresh content.
The small business SEO package pricing has survived. Probably because small businesses came to develop an expectation of what “proper” pricing is.
Yet that much money doesn’t buy enough fresh content to do anything significant.
And that is why small businesses SEO packages are now almost universally ineffective.
How are Inbound Marketing and Business Blogging Different?
They’re not, which begs the question, if they’re the same thing, why do we use different names?
My hypothesis is the phrase “business blogging” doesn’t sound professional enough. To make it easier to sell to businesses, someone coined the phrase “inbound marketing”, and it is a good phrase. It’s descriptive of how it works.
Inbound Marketing Options for Small Businesses
Because of the economics described above, small business SEO packages priced in the range of $300 to $1,000 are no longer effective. To be clearer on this point, those packages do work, but with the small amount of content that pricing buys, it takes years to achieve a high ranking, rather than months.
Any business looking to grow their audience through search engine optimization has four options available to them.
1. Hire an Agency or Consultant
The catch is, unless you can budget $2,500 a month or more, you’ll be stuck in the rut of “takes years”.
No matter how you may feel about what it takes to rank today, what it takes is publishing a steady stream of quality content and to continue to do so until your desired audience shows up in large enough numbers.
2. Learn How to Do This In House
When you’re a small business who simply doesn’t have that kind of money, you can learn to do it yourself. It’s not rocket science and anyone can learn it and do it.
When someone on your team devotes 1 to 2 hours a day and does it properly, you can see results in months.
3. Some Combination of the Two
Someone in house learns how to do it, manages the overall process and does some of it themselves, while specific tasks (i.e.: writing articles, social media sharing, etc) are sub-contracted out to others whom your person manages.
4. Don’t Do It
While this may not seem like an option, not every business needs a strong online presence. If you sell mortgages or insurance and have for 20 years and have a very strong book of business, do you need to expand your business by growing a strong online presence? Maybe you don’t.
Common Inbound Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make
I suspect this sounds repetitive by now, but the #1 mistake is not recognizing that Inbound Marketing looks like journalism.
Not thinking like a journalist gets you started wrong.
1. Not Understanding the Basics
Publish good stuff often.
There is however more to it than “just” publishing quality content.
2. Ignoring Technical On Page Aspects of SEO
There are technical aspects of SEO that need to be attended to.
When you use WordPress for your Inbound Marketing website, you don’t need to understand all the technical details. You simply adjust the WordPress settings as needed and install “plugins” that provide specific SEO functions. Then the technical aspects get taken care of on your behalf.
3. Not Publishing Enough
I cannot state this strongly enough. You’ve got to publish, and you’ve got to publish a lot.
4. Not Publishing Good Stuff
You’ve also got to publish quality stuff. Google works to quantify what we often consider to be a subjective experience of the “quality” of a webpage.
They hire human rates to “tag” webpages with a quality rating. These ratings are not visible to us, but nonetheless exist and affect our rankings.
Google uses a four point rating system.
Before I reveal their rating system, understand that it relates to what Google calls “user intent”. Per Google there are three user intents for looking for webpages. You want to learn something, you want to find something, or you want to do something.
In order to rate a webpage, the human rater must decide what user intent that webpage serves.
And related to the user intent for a specific webapge, the four quality ratings are:
- Slightly relevant
Notice that in the terminology of Google “high quality” = “useful”.
5. Not Publishing Often Enough
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but since it happens to be both true and important, I’m saying it again.
Sites that are updated more often rank higher, plain and simple.
6. Not Publishing Long Enough
In this context, long enough means months, not words.
Older websites tend to rank higher. There is also a phenomenon called the Google Sandbox Effect, where brand new sites don’t yet rank.
The chart below illustrates this concept beautifully.
This website was updated 3 times a day, and for the first 2 ½ months, very few visitors arrived. After 2 ½ months, visitors started showing up through organic search in large numbers.
7. News Websites Tend to Outrank Business Blogs
Because news websites meet the criteria described above very well. They are very large repositories of high quality content that are updated very often, and they’ve been online for years.
8. The Wikipedia Effect
I refer to this as the Wikipedia effect. Wikipedia is not a news site, but it is one of the largest repositories of useful stuff on the Internet and it is updated almost constantly.
The closer you come to that ideal within your industry or industry niche, the higher your website will rank.
9. Not Networking Enough
Way back when Google was a brand new search engine, what made them different was a patented algorithm named PageRank.
PageRank is a way of assigning values to webpages based on the values of the links coming into those pages, and a way of assigning values to links based on the values of the pages the links originate on.
In essence, what made Google into Google was the idea that the Internet is a popularity contest. The more people who link to a webpage, the more valuable it must be.
While Google is slowly backing away from the importance of links to search rankings, links are still CRITICALLY important.
You may have heard the term “link building” as part of what you do to raise the search profile of your site. I call this “networking”.
It is conceptually similar to the face to face networking you do with other businesses, except you do it website to website rather than person to person.
From an SEO perspective, there are three aspects of networking that matter greatly.
As described above, links to your site raise your search profile, and links from high ranking sites raise it higher than links from low ranking sites.
Links provide a direct positive benefit to your SEO, but there is such a thing as bad or negative links. Links are so important that a few years ago it was common for people who had high ranking sites to sell links. This led to the creation of what became known as “link farms” which was nothing more than websites which because directories (similar to the yellow pages) whose sole purpose was to hand out high quality links for a price.
This business model lasted a few years until Google focused on rendering it ineffective in one of their algorithm updates.
So while you need links to rank, don’t do anything that feels like a “trick” or a “loophole”. If you find yourself thinking in those terms, DON’T DO IT, whatever it may be. If it’s a trick or a loophole and enough people learn of it and do it, Google will undo it in a future algorithm update.
Websites that are updated more often rank higher.
When you publish a post, you update your website. When someone later comments on that post, that is another update. When someone else (or you) replies to the comment that is another update.
If discussions take place in your blog post comments, you’ve hit a home run.
Comments provided a direct positive benefit to your SEO.
12. Social Shares
Social shares provide an indirect positive benefit to your SEO.
The benefit is both real and indirect because while social media shares do not directly affect your search ranking (with the possible exception of Google+) they expose your blog posts to a wider audience. When someone who sees a post likes it, they may link to it or comment upon it, and those have direct SEO benefits.
Why It’s Hard to Get Initial Traction with Inbound Marketing
Because in order to be found online, you have to have already been found online.
The prior few paragraphs described the importance of links and comments. Links and comments don’t happen overnight. Before people link and comment to your posts you’ve got to publish stuff worth linking to and commenting upon.
As with everything in life, we improve with practice. I tell people who are new to Inbound Marketing that their first 50 posts are going to suck (for some people it’s their first 100). But in order to write good stuff, you’ve got to have practiced enough, which means you wrote a lot of bad stuff. I tell them not to let that stop them because everyone goes through that learning phase.
1. Not Enough Content
That is (just) one of the reasons why you have to publish a lot. In order to get better, in order to publish stuff that is useful enough that other people want to link to it, you’ve got to publish your fair share of stuff that’s substandard. We all do.
2. Not Enough Networking
Initially networking to obtain links and comments is like “priming the pump” of your website ranking. This is sometimes called “promoting” but I prefer to think of it as “sharing”. It’s a really good strategy to join with 100 other people (or so) doing the same for their businesses, and to link to and comment upon each other’s posts. By doing this you create a “rising tide” phenomenon that lifts the search rankings of all the sites participating.
We all promote our content to our social media connections. It’s helpful to think of this group as a set of social media connections who are more dedicated to each other’s success.
The problem is finding 100 people who will really do this. In my experience for every 20 who say they will, 1 really will. So building such a group takes time and persistence. But it’s worth it.
How You Start Inbound Marketing for Your Business
From an infrastructure perspective you need very little. A domain, a WordPress website, some plugins and settings, and you’re ready to start.
1. WordPress Website
Why WordPress? Because WordPress takes care of 80% to 90% of the technical aspects of SEO without you having to even understand how they work.
You’ll have enough to do finding topic ideas for a steady stream of fresh content. The last thing you need is to have worry about sitemap.xml, robots.txt, meta data and the rest. These details matter big time, but since WordPress takes care of them, you don’t have to.
You just check the boxes, fill in the blanks, and WordPress translates that into the SEO technical details for you.
2. SEO Aspects
This specifically refers to getting those SEO technical settings right in WordPress (which is something you do once then forget about) as well as using Categories and your SEO Plugin (of which there are quite a few to choose from) to properly (and easily) set the secondary title (sometimes called the title tag) and the meta description properly.
If you don’t know what those terms means, what’s most important is you use a popular SEO plugin and fill out the fields properly for every page and every post.
3. Royalty Free Images
This is more important than it may seem at first glance. While people use each other’s images every day, there are a few organizations who “troll” for image copyright infringement and demand money if they find you’ve used one of their images.
Most notable among these companies is Getty Images. I know people who have paid hundreds of dollars just to make them go away. Since there are websites providing royalty free images on the Internet, it doesn’t make sense not to use them.
4. A Community to Network Within
It can be argued this is not critical, but the initial priming of the pump I referred to earlier is highly beneficial to your ability to rank quickly. You need links and comments to “kick start” your efforts. In order to gather a community through organic search, you need to first gather a community any way you can, and this an efficient way to do it.