Should companies invest in SEO during a recession?These are tough times, no doubt. The pinch is on every business to cut unnecessary costs and improve efficiency. Those businesses that were squeaking by to begin with are now in danger of closing their doors. Advertising is usually one of the first items on the chopping block (though it shouldn't be). You've got to cut costs, and you certainly don't want to lay off any employees if you can help it, so you start looking a bit more closely at your marketing budget to see where you can rein in ad spending. It's a natural reaction to a tightening budget, and there is a good reason for it. Most business owners know that you need to advertise. Sure, word of mouth is great - there's nothing like a referral from a happy client to instill trust in a prospect - but you still need to be proactive in getting the word out. The trouble with advertising in the traditional sense is that it is difficult to know whether your efforts are working and what is generating the best value for your dollar. The uncertainty makes it hard to keep throwing money into your ad spend. When your budget tightens it is even harder to justify the cost when the benefits are fuzzy at best. But marketing on the web is different. The costs are lower, return on investment can be much higher and traffic data allows you to chop out the dead wood and optimize your budget. Search engines are a primary driver of traffic on the web (second in use only to email according to a report by Pew Internet & American Life Project and comScore). Search engine optimization (SEO), as a result, has received an increasing amount of well-deserved attention. For most small businesses, SEO is new. Some have considered it, perhaps even done a bit of research on the topic, but haven't yet invested in it. Others have invested in it in the past and found themselves disappointed with the results. A few have found real success. In this economy, why should a company consider a new marketing channel like search when they're already looking to cut their budget? What about the risks involved in such a new endeavor? What if it doesn't work? These are all valid questions. For those who spend most of their time building and maintaining their businesses and systems, reading up on what makes search engines tick is unlikely. Understanding SEO enough to truly leverage it for growth can seem a long way off. So Why SEO, and Why Now? 1. Unparalelled ROI A 2006 MarketingSherpa survey of 3,053 client-side marketers determined that SEO was viewed as the most valuable marketing solution in terms of ROI, even higher than email marketing to in-house email lists. ROI is everything - especially in uncertain economic times. 2. Targeted Traffic Traditional "push" marketing/advertising options often have you publishing an advertisement in a place where you're hoping it will get a lot of eyeballs. That's great, but the real question is: who owns those eyeballs? Are they the right people? Do they want or need what you're offering? With SEO, up front keyword research can tell you a lot about your market and what kind of language they're using. When you choose your keywords and optimize for them, you're addressing an existing need or desire - and you know that at least a good portion of visitors referred from search engines through your target keywords are looking for exactly what you're offering. In short, SEO helps to drive high quality traffic to your website and gets your message in front of the right people at the right time. 3. Precise Tracking Web analytics allow you to track your users with a great deal of granularity. The most basic and easy to set up analytics platform is Google Analytics - and it's free. Out of the box, Google Analytics will tell you where visitors are coming from (including what search engines and keywords), what pages bring in the most users, what keywords have the lowest bounce rates (the measure of users who immediately leave your site after viewing one page), what keywords drive the most pages per visit and average time on site and a lot more. With basic conversion tracking you can even tie keywords to conversion rates - an incredibly valuable way to identify the most valuable keywords and focus on them. Bottom line: with web analytics you can identify the dead wood in your campaign and focus on better opportunities to optimize your marketing budget in real time. How should you approach SEO? If you're considering investing in SEO as a marketing channel there are two basic options: 1. Take the SEO work on in-house 2. Hire an agency or consultant and outsource SEO The In-House Option Hiring for an in-house SEO position is often out of the budget range for small businesses - in this economic climate especially. Existing employees, on the other hand, can play an important role - especially those who are already regularly updating your website. It requires careful research, planning and execution, but with the right training and guidance much of the work required can be handled in-house. There are also some simple things you can be doing in-house to improve your SEO.
- That company you partner with - do they have a website? If so, consider asking them to link to you (after you link to them). Links are a powerful way to improve your search engine rankings.
- That trade organization you belong to - do they have a directory on their website where they list and link to members? That could be the source of a quick and easy link.
- Thinking about starting a blog? It's a great way to build content on your site and bring in attention and links - just keep in mind you've got to be serious about it and actually post regularly.
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