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Avoid SEO Hype: Why Small Businesses Should Focus on Return on Investment

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As Seen on TVWith the recent controversy surround guest blog posting, it is easy to be pulled into the controversy. As always, there are contradicting viewpoints on small business SEO and the guidance from Google is, well, confusing at best.

Small business owners don't have the luxury of being wrong. They live close to the edge, and rainy-day financing is hard to come by.

For these reasons, small businesses need to be guided by statistics and analytics. They need to avoid wasting time in controversial discussions that have no end.

What Channels are Most Effective for Lead Generation

BrightLocal recently surveyed 20,000 U.S.-based businesses to assess sources of leads and found respondents indicated the following:

  • Word of mouth: 26 percent
  • SEO: 19 percent
  • Online local directories: 15 percent
  • PPC: 3 percent
  • Local TV advertising: 1 percent
  • Local radio advertising: 2 percent
  • Online marketing as a whole: 54 percent

These statistics confirm why many small businesses ask for SEO as their first online marketing product, they know this technique has worked for others. However, SEO is the worst place for a small business that is moving from word-of-mouth marketing to online marketing due to uncertainty, ROI time frame, and complexity.

PPC is the Best Starting Point for Small Business

Small businesses that are just starting online marketing distrust the newness and complexity of the Internet. They are likely coming from the Yellow Pages and local networking. While they don't like the Yellow Pages, they understand how it works (or used to work).

Agencies should steer inexperienced customers into PPC first because it is most similar to Yellow Page advertising. Furthermore, 72 percent of marketers that use PPC plan to increase their PPC budgets in 2014, which demonstrates it is generally successful.

PPC allows customers to secure new business rapidly. Trust will develop over time, and new products can then be proposed.

SEO for the Advanced Customer

As the cost-per-lead of PPC advertising becomes too high, the agency should introduce the discussion of long-term SEO and content marketing. SEO is a very popular migration path from PPC, and 93 percent of marketers plan to use content marketing in 2014.

It is optimal to run both strategies simultaneously as algorithm changes can be highly disruptive to SEO progress. But for the patient customer, SEO will have rich rewards as the cost-per-lead is widely recognized as the best available.

Whereas SEO used to mean link building, it doesn't anymore. 92 percent of marketers believe that content creation is either "very" or "somewhat" effective for SEO in 2014.

Social Media

Social media has had a more difficult time proving direct ROI and Google's recent announcement affirms that Twitter and Facebook do NOT get special treatment in the algorithm. While social media quickly merges with PR and customer service, 46 percent of marketers believe it is crucial to their business. In a recent newspaper interview, I described Social Media as the yeast in the bread. It helps make the recipe work, but is not generally something you can taste directly.

Where is Email Marketing?

Email marketing is old, and therefore not interesting to small business. However, overlooking email is a grave mistake.

By some estimates, the average ROI for email marketing is $44 for every $1 spent, when executed correctly. Email marketing amplifies all other activities as users are brought back after an email address is captured via PPC, SEO or social media.

Email marketing technology is inexpensive. Any small business that isn't actively maintaining and growing at least two email lists (prospects and existing customers) doesn't have their house in order.

Conclusions

It's easy to be swept up in the hype of controversy about which linking strategy is OK and Matt Cutts' latest cryptic video response. But small business owners know they have very little room for missteps.

Data shows that the migration to online marketing generally starts with the wrong product (i.e., SEO).

Furthermore, integrated strategies work much better than stand-alone initiatives, but small business budgets are prohibitive.

Finally, the oldest tool in the drawer (e.g., email marketing) is often overlooked.

Small businesses should be guided by statistics, which clearly suggest starting with PPC advertising, because it works. As trust with the Internet develops, they will naturally seek a lower cost-per-lead. At this point, they can migrate into content marketing – launching social media and email marketing simultaneously to build an integrated online marketing strategy for the decade.


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