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Are you placing too much truck on Google?

I’ve begun to wonder whether small businesses are getting too het up on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) at the expense of the rest of their marketing strategy.

Don’t get me wrong, getting found on Google is important. But is it important enough to pin all your hopes, dreams and marketing budget on? I mean, are people actually going to Google for your product or service? And when they do, will it revolutionise your business?

A close friend of mine runs a retail company. She invested several thousand pounds last year in an SEO company who promised to get her to page one of Google since he’d done the same thing for two of her competitors. Given that she sells product online it seemed like a sensible thing to do. She has a nice looking website and although there are many improvements that could be made, the site looks good and is converting visitors at the moment.

A year later (and several weeks of nailbiting disappointment whilst she was blacklisted as he’d left the server open and some Chinese casino hackers had put dodgy code in her site) she is finally on page one of Google. And she told me that she used to think that this was the holy grail. That once she was on page one of Google her business would skyrocket. Well she’s getting an extra six hits a week. In what she does that’s not translating into significant sales to make the process worthwhile.

My feeling is that she should be using social media: blogging, twitter and facebook, to drive more traffic to the site. All of these things are free, but time consuming. There are also plenty of things that we could do to her site to make it more sticky and process visitors through it more effectively.

My experience is that small businesses regularly invest huge chunks of money in getting their sites optimised, without looking at the fundamentals.

I was talking to one business owner who was number one on Google in his particular niche… but he had an 80% bounce rate! He was loathe to have anyone touch the site because he didn’t want to fall off the bottom of the search engines. But the design of his website was putting people off, and that’s before he’s thought about the sales structure on there.

Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t optimise your site; but I do think that before you start paying for people to visit it you should make sure that every last element of your site will do everything it can to convert visitors. And I think that’s the missing link for many small businesses.

If you sell a product that people can buy online, then yes, optimise away. But only once you’ve got the rest of your house in order.

Start with the design. Is it engaging, arresting and attractive to your potential clients? Does it do you justice? Then take a look at the copy: objectively as a human being (not as a search engine). Writing for search engines is all very well, but it’s boring to read. And what you must remember is that once people get to your site they’ll need to be interested in what you have to say.

How about the way your website guides potential visitors to take action? Is that clear? For example, if you want people to buy a particular lawnmower this month, have you asked them to? Have you signposted them around the site?

What’s your imagery like? Naff stock photos or something that’s inspiring and represents your business well? Do you have an easy way of capturing peoples data, via a contact form or newsletter sign up box? Are you doing all you can on social media to bring traffic to your site?

I’d be looking at all of these elements well prior to search engine optimisation. What do you think though? I sense this might be a little controversial!

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