I recently came across an article in Forbes written by Josh Steimle. Josh happens to be, owner of an SEO firm. He submitted his article as a guest blogger. After I read it I could not have agreed with him more. The article was titled “4 Tips for Hiring the Right SEO Firm.” The article summarizes some of the pitfalls of trying to choose an SEO firm. This issue seems to be a problem for most small business persons. The smaller their Internet marketing budget, the bigger the impact this decision will have on business.
As Josh says it’s typical for every SEO firm to promise to get you ranking on the first page of Google. Not only is this ridiculous, since everyone cannot be on page one, but it is also sometimes impossible to do so within the limits of the monies the business is willing to spend. How fast and with how much effort it takes a business to rank high in Google is totally dependent on how much competition there is in a particular niche and in a particular geographical area.
It has been my experience that there are a number of types of so-called professionals dealing in digital marketing services.
The hit and run, build a quick website and leaving you with no recourse for SEO services to be implemented by anyone but they are firm. These groups are typified by offering a low monthly fee to build and rank your site. In the capital district of New York, one such company would be Townsquare Digital Media. Their sales staff promises to build you a website AND get you to page one of Google within 90 days or your money back. They price their service in the neighborhood of $360 a month regardless of your niche or your competition. This hit and run tactic will get the un-savvy business persons attention because they think they’re getting a deal. There are firms that charge upwards of $3000 just to build a website. But the bottom line is that at the end of 90 days you are not on page one and you don’t even own your own domain or website. Everything is owned by Townsquare. Of course, you are mad but what can you do but lick your wounds, kiss away your 1000 plus dollars, not to mention all those leads that went your competition, and start over.
There is the SEO shyster that builds you a website with lots of pretty colors, plagiarized content that is scavenged from someone else’s website and stock photos that may or may not have been obtained legally. This leaves you at risk for a lawsuit or at the very least Google shutting down your site. Once again you are left high and dry, out a lot of money and leads and needing to start over. This happens all too often, in fact, it happened to an associate of mine, C&D Stump & Tree Removal. When the SEO firm was confronted with the issue, they shut down the website and refused to return his calls or my calls. My associate was a little more easy-going than I would have been and he just moved on, this time a little wiser.
There are a number of legitimate firms, some are very big, there is little personal interaction with the business and very little invested in the success of the small business. They may do a good job for you if you get lucky or if you know the right questions to ask. Beware, most expensive does not always mean the best bet. Do your homework.
Last but not least there is a digital marketing service that is just right for you as the small business. You can find them if you do your research or happen to get lucky and listen when they call or email you. You can find them if you ask the right questions. I would say these firms are small to medium size and show much more attention to exactly with the business owner is trying to achieve. They ask questions about what your expectations are as the business person. They are honest when they tell you exactly what it will take to rank high in your niche. They will tell you if your budget is in the right ballpark to achieve what you desired outcome. I think the right digital marketing service will be honest with you but find a way to help you grow at a case you can afford.
Obviously, going too slowly is not good for business. For this reason, I encourage business owners to formulate a business plan and stick to it. Make sure along with payroll, product, and equipment, do not forget to include business promotion otherwise known as marketing. Successful businesses always have a complete business plan.
Internet reviews are double-edged swords. Every business craves those 5 start ratings singing their praises. But what happens when you get a negative response? Maybe it is well-deserved criticism or maybe your customer is just a jerk that is having a bad day. Since no business is perfect, you should expect an occasional ding to your otherwise “spotless record”. Would it surprise you to know that the negative review does not have as much impact on your reputation as your response to that review?
I consider myself a savvy shopper and I make a point to check out those negative reviews as well as the positive ones. If the business owner addresses the negative customer experience in a positive constructive manner, It is more likely to lessen the impact of the negative review and actually paint a picture of a business owner the is genuinely concerned about customer service.
Jay Baer has written extensively addressing just this situation. In his book entitled “Hug Your Haters” he illustrates various ways actual business owners have used negative reviews to fortify their customer service and at the same time take the opportunity to discover flaws in their own business systems. Not only does this lessen the sting of a poor experience for the customer, but it gives the business owner an opportunity to shore up vulnerabilities in the business process or discover the need for employee retraining. Any business owner that is arrogant enough to think there is no room for improvement in the services the business provides should be prepared for a lot more negative feedback to avalanche his way.
How should you handle negative reviews? Here are some guidelines to follow. I also suggest you read Jay Baer’s material on this subject.
With digital marketing being the 21st century’s top method of advertising, it is no wonder that thousands of digital marketing companies have come on the scene. It’s not bad enough that the business owner does not usually understand digital marketing and search engine optimization, SEO for short, but he is also now faced with dozens of propositions every week. A large part of these come in the form of telemarketing calls which take up time, are confusing, and are dealing with companies that need be out of your state or even out of the country. It’s no wonder this is owners sometimes fail to start a digital marketing program!
Well, let’s start from the beginning. When looking for digital services, I suggest you start with a list that you can keep handy with questions for use when talking with various service providers. Before you try to make that list might be a good idea to just sit down with a computer crank up old Google and check out who you are competing against. Since we dealing and local marketing this discussion will be targeted strictly small businesses dealing in a local market. Try going into an incognito browser window and pretend you are a customer. Search for a word or phrase that you would look for if you wanted to hire yourself. Since this is local marketing include the name of your town or city or one that is nearby where you would like to seek out new leads. The names that come up will give you a good idea of how many, and who your competitors are. Take the time to view some of their websites. Take note of how many pages and how many words are on each page. Now if you don’t have the time to do this is the kind of research and SEO specialist can do for you. Look for one that will offer you some insight into your business niche on a complimentary basis.
Once you’ve seen how many competitors you have, it should give you a good idea of how difficult it will be to get yourself on the top of the heap. Internet marketing is no different than newspaper, direct mail or any other marketing source. Generally speaking the more competition, the more money you will need to invest in advertising your company’s services. So that is saying that a lawyer or a contractor will need to spend significantly more than say the local photographer. Talk to other business people and as to how much they’ve spent for websites and SEO. At this point I’d like to make it clear that you must understand that just having a website is no guarantee that you will generate any business unless that website is properly than built and has good optimization. We’ll handle this in later articles.
I would just like to suggest that you educate yourself as much as you can within reason. I know that you have a business to take care of. Find out who not to deal with by discussing experiences with other business people. Just because it has a big price tag doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good job. On the other hand, if the deal sounds too good to be true it probably is, so beware.
While this should give you some food for thought our upcoming articles will try to dial it down into terms that you can understand. Do yourself a favor and don’t jump on the first offer you get. Be smart and don’t use the same guy that ripped your buddy off. It’s just like buying a refrigerator. Do your research, compare your prices and decide how big a website you are going to need. Don’t rush into a deal blindly. Look for a local person if you can. They will be more likely to know your area which can sometimes prove helpful. Know exactly what that SEO company can and will provide you. Know what your marketing budget is and be able to calculate the return on investment so that you know your money is spent well.
Did you ever see an Icebox, maybe in a museum? I had the occasion to see one when I was a kid. We had a neighbor that lived in a one room, I guess you would call it a shack. The story goes that his house had burned down years before. He was confined to a wheelchair, but he managed to plant a small garden every year and he shared some of the cucumbers and tomatoes with us. One day he asked for some help transporting vegetables into the house, my mother said it was OK to help so over the fence I went. We had a large family so we had a refrigerator with a top freezer as well as a huge chest freezer. You cannot imagine my surprise when I entered the small home to put vegetables in an actual Icebox! This is true you cannot make a story like this up. My only other exposure to the notion of an icebox came from my Grandmother’s accounting of the “good old days”. If you are the curious type, check this out the Smithsonian Institute at http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/ice-harvesting-electric-refrigeration.
Well, that was a fun start, but this blog is about marketing. Just like refrigerators, marketing has evolved over the decades. At one point print was the biggest form of marketing. It focused on local markets since the reach was very small. The coming of radio and television expanded marketing’s reach from thousands to millions. But television is now and has always been out of the reach of a small local business. These meant newspapers were still the way to go for marketing of small local businesses.
I don’t know about you, but when was the last time you picked up a newspaper? The few newspapers that are still around publish editions that are smaller and except for classifieds, advertising is virtually nonexistent in newspapers. That just leaves a few local publications that are strictly targeted at advertising and a few articles focusing on community events. The problem with these publications is that they often go straight to the trash unless the reader is looking for a particular service. A decent sized ad in one of these rags is not particularly expensive but to get the coverage you think that you want you often end up with several upgrades without the assurance that you will actually reach your ideal potential client base. Let’s face it these newspapers are in the “sales” business and their telemarketers are pretty good at convincing you to buy more than you need or want. They often catch the business person off guard and they fail to sit down and strategically calculate if this type of advertising will reach their ideal customer.
So now let’s look at 21st-century advertising. It relies almost exclusively on Internet connection. It can be very affordable and targeted if done properly. Downside is businessmen are not always marketers. They have no clue where to start. They don’t set aside enough capital to cover a campaign. And they are foolish enough to think that just putting up a web site is going to make the big bucks. Instead, the site turns into an expense, sometimes a huge expense instead of an asset. Yet a problem here is there are many unscrupulous marketing companies that take that advantage of the uneducated business person. We hope to offer advice on how not to make a big dollar marketing mistake in our future posts.
Wishing you the profitable week and we’ll talk again soon about moving from the icebox to the bottom freezer refrigerator.