I was speaking with my cousin last night. He's an award winning investigative journalist in a major metro. I was asking about some of his stories. They include a piece on how a mattress company dumpster dives for used mattresses, wraps them in new fabric and sells them as new, as well as a registered sex offender who pretends to be a plumber, therapist and private investigator. I started telling him a bit about the search engine optimization (seo) industry for small businesses and how I think there's a story in it. My points:
- The industry continues to sell SEO the easy way. They try to tell SMBs that SEO is easy and they can just do it for them. Fact is, that it can't be fully outsourced and hands off for a small business owner.
- Many high volume seo resellers find things that are easy to do and make them seem like a big deal. For example, they'll work with a business owner to come up with search terms that have very very little search volume which are very easy to rank for, do a bit of work and then pretend to "maintain ranking" for those keywords. Even though they're not doing any ongoing work, they continue to charge a monthly fee.
- Many of these companies have extremely high cancellation rates. Some of them lose 30-50% of their customers every year!
- I have first hand knowledge of some of these companies. The saddest part is that they know the right way to do seo, but they don't do anything to change their service offerings. Some are. I have hope. But, it's a slow change for the big players in the industry. Fortunately, there's lots of smaller agencies who are offering the right seo service.
This morning, Kuno Creative wrote an article about how there are two ways to do SEO:
- Approach #1 is the approach that the companies above use. They pick a handful of keywords and do aggressive link building in order to rank for those competitive keyowrds. Or if they take the really easy way, they do a little bit of link building to rank for keywords that they pretend are competitive.
- The approach that HubSpot advocates and Kuno Creative excels with - is to just create lots of content and not worry too much about what keywords you're ranking for, knowing that you'll receive lots of traffic from lots and lots of relevant long tail keywords.
Kuno shared some compelling data from internet marketing expert, Douglas Karr, that supports #2 as well. Douglas produces a high volume of high quality content and most of his search traffic comes from keywords that he's not even ranking on the first page of google for.
I like to use the "college application" process when talking about SEO and keyword selection. When applying to college, most people apply to reach, target and safety schools. Don't expect to get into your reach school, but make sure you put some effort into it. Then, make sure you choose your target schools wisely and apply to some safety schools to make sure you're not sleeping in your parent's house next year. For example, reach schools might be ivy league; safety schools might be community colleges. With keywords, targeting long tail keywords with relatively low search volume and low difficulty is like applying to safety schools. Trying to rank for short tail competitive keywords with high search volume and high difficulty is like trying to get into MIT or Harvard. The HubSpot keyword app makes this process really easy because you can categorize your keywords by "safety" and "reach" and quickly see your progress towards getting traffic and leads from both groups of keywords.
You can even extend the 'college application' metaphor a bit and talk about how people who work hard for years and get great grades are likely to get into ivy league schools. Similarly, with SEO, if you work hard at creating great content and an audience over years, it becomes easier and easier to rank for short tail, competitive keywords. In other words, sites with lots of quality content tend to have higher authority, so it's easier to rank for competitive terms on these sites. At HubSpot, we've found that link building when a site already has high authority has very quick results with relatively few inbound links. While link building to non-authoritative sites requires tremendous link building effort for competitive terms. Further, with Google's continuing semantic algorithm updates, I'd be willing to wager that link building for lower authority sites will become less and less effective, rendering content creation the only viable SEO strategy. This is what Google has been telling us to do for years. They're finally getting around to making it non-optional.
So, what's a small business to do? Launching a blog and publishing daily is an extremely difficult chore for most businesses. The businesses who do it and start asap will be winners in the long run. Companies like Douglass's, Kuno, HubSpot and others have a tremendous head start. It'll be hard for others to catch up or surpass. So, for most businesses, I'd recommend they should collaboratively create and share great content with other small businesses, in order to catch up. I'd recommend they get involved with the Inbound Networking movement. Whatever you do, don't invest in an SEO program that gets you ranked for a handful of keywords. There is very little long term gain in that approach without a content creation strategy.
PS. Here's a great free step by step guide for SEO.