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Hard Truths about Promoting Your Business Online (#3)

January 13, 2015

In the final part of the my Hard Truths series I'll kick things off by discussing why and how business owners need to get involved and play an active role in improving their online presence. I'll also explain why business owners need to stop obsessing about 'Google rankings' and I'll finish up by talking about the reasons why the website you got designed 3 years ago is already out of date. If you made it through part 1 and 2 that's awesome! If you missed part 1 or part 2 and then you might like to check them out now before reading on below.

Hard Truth #7

To achieve success with SEO you need to get your hands dirty

During recent discussions with a prospective client I discussed the goals they wanted to achieve. The business owner proudly declared 'I want my website to be number one in NZ'. A lofty goal, but we love a challenge and anything's possible, right? A series of questions followed from me:

  • Can you tell me what you're doing inside your business to help you reach your goal?
  • Are you/your staff the very best at what you/they do?
  • Is your level of service better than that offered by your competitors?
  • Is your business considered to be one of the most progressive or the most client focused in your industry?
  • Are you currently a spokesperson for your industry and if not, are you willing to do what it takes to become the 'go to guy' that the media want to talk to when they want expert opinion on your industry?

SEO is not magic and to achieve success you need to play your part. Gone are the days when you can hand your website off to an SEO provider, ask them to 'do some SEO on it', and expect to see quality results. That's not to say there isn't plenty of value your SEO provider can (and should) deliver off their own back, but to think you won't need to be involved at all is naive.

Depending on the level of competition and the nature of the industry, some niches require more business owner/employee involvement than others. Nevertheless, even at the lower end of the competition scale you and your SEO provider need to work as a team. That means you need to be open to learning, willing to consider suggestions and implement recommendations, and be prepared to get your hands dirty in order to make a real impact.

Without your buy-in and willingness to get involved, there's only so much impact any SEO agency can provide.

What type of things will you need to be prepared to do?
Some examples of the types of activities you might need to get involved with include:

  • Providing expert industry insight for blog posts or video content
  • Reaching out to potential link partners that your SEO agency has identified as being a good link acquisition opportunity
  • Asking your satisfied existing clients to publish genuine reviews for your business online
  • Responding quickly to customer reviews (both positive and negative)
  • Keeping your SEO agency up to speed with the latest happenings in your industry
  • Ensuring that your business delivers a quality of products or services that potential or existing customers want to talk about in a positive light

If you don't think you can commit the time or human resource required to boost your website's online visibility, then you may be better off considering using a paid search platform like Google AdWords to enhance your presence. Google AdWords is a very viable means of website traffic generation – provided the right strategy is in place and your campaign is set up well and is actively managed by someone who knows what they're doing.

Hard Truth #8

You need to stop thinking about success in terms of 'Google rankings'

SEO has changed a significant amount over the last decade. Hard-hitting Google algorithm updates, the advent of ('not provided') keyword data within Google Analytics, the ever changing face of Google's search results (and greater prominence of paid search ads), and the growth in personalisation are just a few of the events that have changed how we approach SEO and the process of improving our clients' online presence.

Step back 7 years or so and everyone was talking about 'rankings' and getting to the top of Google's list of 10 blue links. Unfortunately some people are still talking about it. Fast-forward to more recent times and it's clear that the top result in Google can be different for every single person. Search results can differ depending on the type of query, the location of the searcher (localisation), and whether the searcher is logged into a Google account or not.

The days of everyone seeing the same list of results or an identical search results page layout are long gone. As SEOs we'll continue to monitor keyword-specific data and rankings, but more so as a diagnostic tool rather than a measure of performance.

Without doubt, taking steps to improve your website's online presence and achieve page one visibility remains an essential component of promoting your business online. But it's just as important to understand that when it comes to measuring the success of your SEO efforts, rankings metrics aren't the be all and end all.

What should you do about it?
Cease typing your most coveted search query into Google and seeing where you think you rank in the search results. Instead, sign into your Google Analytics account and look at how your organic search traffic is performing over time. Set your date range to a year or more and you'll undoubtedly see ups and downs, but the overall trend should be one of growth. Organic traffic growth and the level of engagement of that traffic should be one of your key determinants of success. While you're at it, dig a little deeper and look at the conversions your website is generating from your organic search traffic - how is that performing?

Hard Truth #9

The website you launched 3 years ago is now out of date

Everything about the digital space is moving at a crazy pace. New technologies, new platforms, new devices – endless possibilities. With so much change taking place so fast, you can't afford to rest on your laurels.

The website you got designed 3 years ago is no exception. For starters, chances are it wasn't designed with mobile users firmly in mind, and it's likely costing you money. While no website is immune to aging, if you're running an e-commerce site then your 3 year old site is probably suffering even more at the hands of a less than streamlined checkout process and other functional limitations relating to shipping options, order tracking, up sells and voucher redemption.

Aside of the technological and design shifts we're seeing, arguably the biggest impact has come from the shift in user expectations about how websites should look, feel and behave. In 2015 viewing a desktop-width website on a mobile device is big turn off for mobile users. With the number of mobile devices being used to access websites growing rapidly, they're not an audience you can afford to neglect.

What can you do about it?

  • Have realistic expectations about the lifespan of your website - although your website won't fall over and die if it's more than 3 years old, it's certainly not going to be achieving the most desirable results your business.
  • Factor website redesign/redevelopment costs into your budget the same way you do with any other expenses. While a redesign might only be required every 3 years (plus or minus), you should also set aside funds for smaller updates in between full redesigns.
  • Think of your website as a key component of your marketing toolbox – remember that marketing is an ongoing process, not a one-off project.
  • Set aside time to critically review your website and your competitors' sites on a quarterly basis. Make notes of your findings and apply the easy improvements now, with larger changes being set aside for consideration in future redesigns.
  • Add new content to your site on a regular basis. Design and functional changes will most likely require designer/developer input (and therefore cost), but creating new content or improving existing content should be easy to achieve via your website's content management system.

So that brings my Hard Truths series to a close. I hope I've managed to open your eyes and deliver a dose of useful insight and knowledge along the way. If nothing else, on a slightly selfish note I've managed to get a whole lot of stuff off my chest and I feel much better now kicking off 2015! Finally, if I've ruffled any feathers in the process I'm sincerely sorry – I did warn you that some of these truths may hurt. At the same time, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.

Got any parting thoughts or comments? Got any hard truths you'd like to share? If so drop me a comment below – I'd love to hear from you.

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Filed under Digital Marketing

Written by

Mark is the Manager of Digital Marketing at Apex and has worked in the digital marketing industry since 2004. Prior to joining Apex he worked in a variety of traditional marketing roles in both the corporate and SME environment in NZ and abroad, but these days much prefers the tangible measurability and transparency of digital marketing.

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