Is SEO a Good Investment for SMEs in 2017/18?

The purpose of SEO (Search-engine optimisation) is for your website to appear on Google for relevant keywords. A hair salon wants to rank for "hair dressers near me", a furniture shop wants to rank for "tables" and an IT company wants to rank for "IT solutions".

SEO has long been a popular marketing channel for new businesses, but the modern business now has to consider so many other channels. As the internet evolves, as website visitors migrate to become app users, as social has become so integrated into our daily lives, is SEO still relevant?

In a word, yes.

The great thing about SEO is that in many ways it is ‘the sum of all parts'. Whilst it can be easier to view marketing channels in their individual silos, there is a lot of cross over between them. SEO performance benefits from all the other marketing activity your business could choose to invest in and likewise, by investing in SEO, you are investing in a foundation of good online marketing. Here’s why.

Looking at The Components

SEO is both complicated and challenging. It can take months (even a year) to really reap the benefits of SEO activity. However, achieving good ranks on Google is generally a result of the following:

  • A well-built, optimised website
  • Good content and user experience
  • Outbound marketing resulting features across the web

All of the above are not just important for SEO, but essential marketing strands irrespective of SEO. In other words, good SEO and strong ranks come as the result of having a good website and marketing it well.

Therefore, it’s a great channel to focus on because, by default, you will be enhancing mission critical aspects of your business anyway. Furthermore, you’ll be forced to pay attention to elements that can otherwise be forgotten such as website speed, mobile performance, product description quality and many, many others.

It’s important not to obsess over keyword ranks and overlook the benefits of all the associated activity that ultimately leads to a successful SEO campaign. The activities listed here will contribute towards SEO while driving their own specific KPIs simultaneously.

On-Page (or Technical) SEO 

On-page SEO should be a high priority for any new business.

The key to good on-page SEO is getting it right to begin with. I.e. building a website with SEO at the core of the brief, not an afterthought. This is important because it's a lot easier and less time consuming (therefore cheaper!) to build an SEO ready site than it is to try to repair the damage of a site built with no SEO consideration what-so-ever.

A typical Technical SEO audit for a smaller site generally consists of: 

  • Keyword research
  • Site structure and URL mapping
  • Meta data
  • Technical Audit and Support

The above will probably take at least 4-6 days of outsourced time, plus developer to time implement on a new build site. That might sound like a lot but expect that estimate to double if you plan on optimising your business website, retrospectively. 

The purpose of technical SEO is to create a strong foundation and set your business up for SEO success in the medium to long-term future. More importantly, the benefits will improve user experience and increase conversions with immediate effect.

Take mobile optimisation for instance, Google’s 'mobilegeddon' was a massive deal for the SEO industry in 2015, forcing businesses to prioritise mobile optimisation and improve user experience or risk their positions dropping. The story even made the BBC.

As a result, the single largest digital marketing spend for business in 2016/17 was the website, specifically, “technology that provides for more responsive, mobile friendly and personalised online and digital experiences.” This outlines exactly how SEO and good user experiences are so perfectly aligned.

By investing in technical SEO, traffic will grow over time and the earlier you do it, the earlier the returns. However, it is unlikely you’re going to rank effectively on Google just because your site is optimised. You need to be executing Digital PR and Content Marketing strategies to really drive SEO performance.

Digital PR & Outreach

With the website in good order, consider investing in Digital PR & Outreach. This is the practice of building relationships and brand advocates through outbound communications. Doing so will yield coverage in online publications for increased brand awareness and will help to boost your SEO performance. 

There are many different types of Digital PR campaigns you can try and there’s plenty of how-to guides out there. The key is not to focus on promoting your brand or products, but instead talk about something of interest to others, offer advice, share expertise, generate insight and if all else fails, be funny!

Typically expect to do at least two days digital PR a month, ongoing. Any less, and it’s very hard to gain momentum or do anything of value. Above all, be prepared to invest in creative content and ideas. To get the most from digital PR, you will need good content. Therefore, content marketing is a must.

Content Marketing 

Content Marketing is becoming one of the biggest fields in the digital landscape. Definitions can vary depending on who you talk to and this is a result of just how vast the term ‘content’ is.

To clarify, we are referring to editorial content campaigns. These come in many shapes and varieties including:

  • Infographics
  • Surveys
  • Research Papers & Analysis
  • Guides
  • FAQs
  • Industry Insight

Many businesses are becoming more and more like publishers and for good reason. Content is extremely valuable and versatile. At a top level, content can:

  • Drive more targeted search traffic
  • Showcase your expertise
  • Increase enquiries or conversions
  • Attract links for SEO
  • Be shared on social media

You could say that content is the “centre hub” of online marketing and the stronger your content is, the better everything else will perform.

It can be quite a hard channel to quantify in terms of ROI and has left some a little under-whelmed amidst the hype. This would be a fair assessment for those jumping on the “content for content sake” bandwagon, but a decent content marketing strategy truly adds so much tangible and intangible value which can be utilised across many channels. 

Likewise, content marketing will only be as effective as the marketing enables it to be. I.e. there is no point having a fantastic blog and not telling anyone about it. For this reason, content marketing typically goes hand in hand with Digital PR, and/or social media as a means of distribution.

Local SEO 

Finally, Local SEO is perfect for smaller businesses whose target customers are relatively nearby. It has grown in popularity in line with the growth of mobiles (and we all own one of those). The reason for this is because a large number of people searching Google on their mobiles are doing so with some kind of local intent. Search for ‘restaurants' or ‘pet shop’ and you’re almost certainly looking for something close.

Local SEO is great for businesses on a tighter budget too. It’s a lot easier to appear in Google as a “local listing” than it is to compete nationally because, locally, there is far less competition, plus the end user’s location impacts the results significantly.

You can almost win by default so long as you have some of the basics down. You just need a well-oiled Google Maps profile and a few tricks of the trade to boost your prominence. All in all, this makes local SEO a no-brainer.

 

Summary 

SEO is a great channel for driving perfection and raising the bar. The reason for this is because ultimately Google decide on who ranks and who doesn't and no SEO can force the matter. Google is by far the most discerning customer your website will ever receive and the expected standards are inescapably high. 

All SEO’s can do is give your business every fighting chance of success, by making your online business as attractive as possible to potential customers.

The key is that no marketing channel works it's at its best in a silo. They all feed off one another in some respect and contribute towards the end goal. So, the best strategy for 2017/18 and probably indefinitely, is to put the customer first, think holistically and integrate your efforts to drive as much value from your investment as possible.

 

About the author: Dave Clough heads up the Digital PR team at Belfast-based consultancy Glaze Digital. His background includes Marketing Management at Argos and senior positions for numerous leading digital agencies in London.

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