Search engine optimization (SEO) occupies an interesting space in the entrepreneurial landscape. Old misconceptions are long dead and buried, and CEOs know that many customers will first encounter them at the top of a search engine results page. But too many business leaders see it as a functional rather than transformative factor.
This is a mistake. With the right SEO strategy, you can genuinely change your business’ fortunes—bringing in new, relevant customers with clockwork regularity. And if you do it right, you’ll only bring in more over time.
I can speak to this from experience: by deploying a comprehensive search marketing strategy, my company generated over US$1m in new business.
Searching for a strategy
In the early stages of the business’ existence, we relied heavily on referrals. I didn’t begin my working life as an entrepreneur, and my previous career in PR gave me a reliable stream of contacts who were predisposed to enjoy working with my company—and recommend it to their friends. Relentless networking efforts also helped.
But no book of contacts is inexhaustible, and there are only so many friends that happy customers could refer us to. Networking was also proving highly inefficient: the ratio of irrelevant to relevant conversations is five to one on a good night at a quality event—and good nights and quality events can be hard to come by. The business was doing well, but we were working incredibly hard for new customers.
Then I learned about SEO. I decided that the old strategy was done for.
The key(word)s to success
My curiosity about SEO was piqued when I realized that the term ‘B2B PR agency’ was the subject of a great many Google searches—and that we had a ‘B2B PR agency’ page on the company website. If we could get it closer to the top, we could benefit from more visitors and more leads.
But this was more easily said than done. Search marketing is a complicated undertaking, especially when it’s done properly. Google uses three main criteria to determine how it ranks pages:
- Links pointing to the site
- Quality of content
- The search algorithm—particularly RankBrain the machine learning part
These are listed in no particular order. Among ‘black hat’ (meaning dodgy) SEO specialists, the conventional wisdom has long been that 1 and 2 are simply too difficult to bother with. Instead, they focused on manipulating the algorithm by planting hidden text in web copy, creating content stuffed with barely-relevant key phrases, and spamming links in comments sections. But that’s complicated in its own way, and the thing about machine-learning algorithms is that they’re always getting better. So any benefit gained from these dark tactics would inevitably be short-lived.
Alas, the business needed a proper SEO strategy, which entailed:
Creating an SEO-friendly site structure. It needed to be logically laid out with categories, parent and child pages—and internal links to other pages on the site wherever appropriate.
Building the website’s reputation. Improving Domain Authority (DA)—a metric created by Moz to determine how well a page will rank—was paramount. The higher it is, the more trusted your site.
Finding relevant keywords. We needed to map key search phrases to our sales funnel to figure out which would attract customers and encourage conversions. Since we couldn’t reasonably expect for terms like ‘PR’ or ‘marketing’, it was important to find long-tail keywords to attract a more specific audience.
Writing rich, keyword-focused content. We couldn’t just shoehorn keywords in: that gets you in trouble with Google. It was important to create blog and web copy that was relevant to the key phrases and relevant to the interests of our target customers.
Generate links to the site. As a primary ranking factor, links to the site were all-important. Submitting articles to trade outlets (and occasionally mainstream media outlets) was a good way to both raise our profile, generate these links, and increase our domain authority (an important measure of the reputation of your website from a search engine’s perspective).
Continuous optimization. Google’s algorithm changes all the time, and competition for keywords can be intense. A search marketing strategy isn’t a one-and-done thing: it’s vital to work on it constantly.
So what did all this accomplish?
Nothing overnight. That’s not how it works: SEO is a process, and it can take weeks or even months for results to show themselves. But, over time, the business:
- Ranked in the top 20 for 60 of our target keywords
- Ranked first for some of our key search terms, like “B2B PR agency”
- Generated 21,000 new organic visitors to the site in a single year
- Earned 180 leads
- Accumulated over $1m in new business from search
It was hard work, and as a communications agency it was easier for us than most. Nonetheless, it was very much worth it. Invest time, effort and resources into your SEO strategy, and you’ll see tangible results—and profits.