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Can Small Business SEO be Affordable SEO?

For most of America’s small businesses, SEO is one of the last things on their mind. Most businesses still don’t have a website, and those that do think of their websites as a nominal web presence — they have it because they’re supposed to, not because it’s part of their marketing plan. If they understood how effective and affordable SEO could be, they might be singing a different tune.

Putting together a killer webpage isn’t actually all that difficult. The chief thing to recognize is that, unless you’re already an expert in HTML, Flash, Cascading Style Sheets, and graphics design, you don’t want to do it yourself. You need someone who does professional business websites for a living — if you’ve ever visited a small business website and recognized the web styles of the late nineties in action, you know why.

That means that before you even worry about SEO, the money starts to flow. But the best website in the world is just a placeholder without traffic — and that’s what SEO is for. So you spend more money on SEO.

At that point, a dichotomy emerges: there are those websites that will simply never pay for themselves, because they’re not written in a way that drives customers to spend money online or drive them to walk through your front door — and then there are websites that successfully make money The definition of affordable morphs, at that point, from a perspective of “how much of my budget can I afford to spend on this” to a perspective of “is this bringing in more than it costs?”.

If you’re a small business, you can make money from your website in several ways. You can sell things directly from your site. You can offer coupons that people can print off and bring in. You can even offer emailed newsletters that tell subscribers all the reasons why they should come into your store week after week. The options are limited by your imagination and your budget — there’s no reason why any business should ever have a website that isn’t making money.

If the combination of website+SEO is making money every month, then your SEO is affordable, end of story. You might find a more cost-effective deal elsewhere if you poke around (it’s actually less likely than it might seem), but as long as the bottom line is net-black, congratulations — you’ve built a website that’s good for your business! Keep it growing and watch the profits improve.

Organic SEO vs. Social Marketing: Which Wins?

Organic SEO is the tried-and-true way: go forth, get backlinks, build authority, rank for keywords, get traffic. Social marketing is the cutting-edge method: go forth, build a crowd, raise fervor, post links, get traffic. Both are being promoted strongly by professionals in the traffic-building industry. Both are about the same cost per month (which is to say, they vary wildly within the same range. ) So which one is the better choice?

Organic SEO
Organic SEO is reliable. It’s stable. It’s been proven to work. You have to invest a bit of money up front, but in the long run, if you stick with it, organic SEO will always pay dividends. SEO companies have been around far longer than social media gurus, and they by and large have their business down pat.

The advantage of organic SEO is that the only way you can really fail is by quitting, or by hiring a complete nincompoop as your SEO guy. Any decently skilled SEO company will eventually get you a healthy dose of killer traffic if you pay them for long enough. The questions with SEO are not “will it work”, but “when will it work?” and “how much will it cost to attain first page placement?”.

Social Marketing
Social Marketing, on the other hand, is a higher-risk, higher-reward proposition. You can imagine SEO as a linear graph: for every $X you put in, you get Y amount of authority, which eventually translates into search rankings and thus into traffic. Social marketing, on the other kind, is kind of like buying scratch tickets. For every $X you put in, you get a chance to nail huge traffic, but most often, it’ll just sit there and spin.

Social marketing, when it hits, hits HUGE. There are some long-term, small crowds that do build around anyone who sticks with Social Marketing for a long time, but the goal in SM is to go viral. Viral, in this case, means your ideas leap from one head into a thousand heads virtually overnight, and traffic comes beating down your doors.

Which is better? That depends largely on your tolerance for risk. Most small businesses should probably start with organic SEO — most successful businesses should probably pursue both in varying degrees.

PPC Management: What If You Could Hire Warren Buffet For A Day?

Imagine for a minute that you had ten grand just sitting about, but a contract that said if you spend it, you must invest it in some form of long-term financial instrument. If you’re like most people, you have almost zero idea of how to do that. You’d probably put it in the safest vehicle you can find just to make sure you didn’t lose any of it.

Now imagine the same scenario, but you have Warren Buffet on your payroll for a day. He’s perfectly willing to share his massive pile of investment expertise with you. Do you think you’d be more willing to put your money in investments that were ‘higher risk’ knowing that one of the best investors in the world was there to guide your decisions?

Hell yes, you would.

Now imagine you have one grand sitting around, but a contract that said if you spend it, you have to invest it in pay-per-click advertising. If ever there was a piece of software more occult than the investment industry, pay-per-click advertising is it. It’s so easy to lose a grand doing pay-per-click that the Wall Street Journal referred to PPC as a “potential budget drainer”.

So who is the PPC equivalent of Warren Buffet? Well, no one really knows — but there are a lot of very talented firms out there who will happily sit in for him in this particular example. They’re organic SEO companies that specialize in a service called PPC management. PPC managers essentially add their own small fee to the cost of your PPC campaigns at the beginning of each month, and in exchange, they drive your campaigns, making all the right decisions to maximize your campaign’s profitability.

Managed PPC campaigns make money for their clients, period. Unmanaged campaigns might — but they also might be throwing your money down a hole. If you have the opportunity to have Warren Buffet sitting on your staff, why would you pass it up? Because he might charge you a few bucks? Get yourself a PPC management firm today and get your website kicking and screaming to life tonight.

Traffic Doesn’t Matter If You Are Not Converting: The Power of Targeted Email Marketing

Everyone knows that you can’t make money online if you don’t have traffic coming to your website. It’s such a fundamental law of internet commerce that it’s easy to read it as “if you have traffic, you will make money” — but that’s like saying if you have eggs, you have a quiche. There are other ingredients in the equation. The most difficult for a young website to master is the ingredient of conversion — convincing a surfer to click on the button that gives you money.

That’s where targeted email marketing comes in — it gives you hundreds more chances to get any given visitor to open up their wallet and give you cash. By convincing a surfer to leave you their email address and permission to use it, you’ve opened up a continuous fishing line from your hands into their wallet. Sure, any given person you send emails to might only read 5% of them and might only click ‘buy’ on 5% of the emails he opens, but it’s a game of numbers.

If you have a targeted email marketing campaign that adds an average of 500 new addresses per month, and you keep it running for five years, you’ll have about 30,000 names on that list. If 1,500 of them read any given email and 75 of them buy from the email they’ve opened, you just made 75 sales you never could have without your email marketing system in place.

And you can repeat the cycle every week or two indefinitely. 75 additional sales every two weeks turns into more than 1,500 extra sales every year — so as long as your individual sales are noticeably profitable, you’ll see the difference very quickly.

So how do you get people to give up their email addresses? Start by signing up for an autoresponder service and building a set of emails that they will receive. Theme it around some sort of relevant problem-solving information. Then add the ‘sign up here’ link to your website. If it’s getting ignored, consider adding a web presenter to point it out to passing surfers. Then it’s just a matter of building the list and keeping up with the emails as they go out.

Forum Posting vs. Article Writing and Distribution: Which Is Better SEO?

There are a lot of very different activities that all fall under the umbrella of ‘SEO’. One of the things that SEO companies do constantly is evaluate their processes to see which if any of these processes is going out-of-date or otherwise becoming a less efficient thing to do. It’s an in-depth and very complicated process, because there are often no clear answers. Unless Google comes out and says “we’re devaluing XYZ backlinks” (which they have done in the past!), it’s all inductive logic and pattern analysis.

So let’s look at two common SEO activities: forum posting and article writing and distribution.

Forum Posting
The essence of forum posting is to go onto a forum, make a name for yourself there, and then slip in a few backlinks to a few choice sites. The advantage of forum posting is that it’s a backlink that comes pre-equipped with a pile of potential traffic: the forum-goers that respect your efforts are quite likely to click your link and check out your wares. The disadvantage of forum posting is the administrator: if they decide that you’re a marketer and you’re spamming, all of your effort can vanish with a click of their banhammer.

Article Writing and Distribution
Writing and distributing an article is a time-consuming effort that begins with research, continues with writing original content, and ends by finding the right place and method of making that article available to the public alongside a link back to your webpage. The advantage of article writing and distribution is that your article will generally rank well in the SERPs all by itself, creating an entirely new crowd of people who will see the article and might click the link bank to your main page. The disadvantage of article writing is the enormous amount of effort that goes into creating a proper article that will drive proper traffic.

The question of which makes better SEO depends on a lot of variables. If your goal is raw SERPs, you’re probably better off with forum posting; there are a lot of very high-authority high-relevance forums for just about any niche out there, so forum posting can nail you lots of quality back links relatively quickly. If your goal is traffic, the articles may get you better in the long run since they score for SERPs on their own in addition to raising the ranking power of your website.

First Page Placement Isn’t A Goal, It’s A Process

When you go to an organic SEO company, you want the same thing that everyone wants — you want your website to get traffic, and that means getting your website placed on the first page of Google SERPs for your chosen keywords. But that vaunted first page placement isn’t something you can attain. At least, not in the sense that once you’ve attained something, it’s yours to keep.

SEO is more like natural selection — there is always a very real danger that your predator of choice will be outstripped by something faster, stronger, or smarter than your beastie. Every website that wants to rank is (or should be) constantly in the process of adding new backlinks — new more authoritative, more relevant, more powerful backlinks. In fact, in many ways the race to attain a first page placement is little more than a contest to see whose backlinks (and on-page SEO) is stronger.

Back off, and you’re toast. Someone who wants that keyword more than you do will hire a keyword analyst and a link tracker, figure out everything that you did right, and then do it just like you did only 15% larger. If you’re not on top of your game, noticing the up-and-comer and using his own tricks against him, your first page placement will rapidly become a third page placement, and you can kill your traffic goodbye.

Of course, not every keyword is that hotly contested. Some low-competition keywords can actually be pretty easy to stay on top of — but unless you find one of the rare ‘traffic bubbles’ that is getting lots of searches but not a lot of competition, you’re not going to get a lot of traffic from the keywords that allow you to sit pretty at the top of the list. (And those traffic bubbles always pop sooner than you think they will, too.)

If you want to target a keyword that gets solid traffic, you’re going to have to hire someone to work their butts off in order to get your site on the top of that pyramid. Then you’re going to have to keep paying them to make sure you can stay there.

Blog Posting Is A Discipline Every Business Owner Should Master

Custom blog creation — that is to say, having a blog built for your business that has automated SEO features set up by an SEO professional — is a good idea for every business that doesn’t already have one. But once you have your customized blog, you have a choice to make: who is going to do your blog posting?

You can always hire a content writer to get it done for you — there are no shortage of people on the Internet who will throw some words together for a few cents apiece. Maybe your SEO company has some of these people on staff (or knows a few reliable ones to outsource to.) But the problem with hiring other people to write your blog posts for you is that none of them know your business like you do.

Even if you don’t have the time to write a new blog entry once every week (and really, that’s the absolute minimum you should be producing), you still ought to get involved and write at least one unique post every other month. The reason why is simple; your customers want to get to know YOU. They don’t care about some researched-and-rewritten hash from a content writer. That stuff is great filler, but it’s not specific to your business.

Blog posting isn’t really all that difficult, especially if you only toss out one blog post every other month. Save up your news, and share it with the world. Every time you put on a new sale, introduce a new product, service, or employee, or basically anything else interesting happens, put up a blog post about it. It breaks the mostly-monotony of the content-producer posts and gives the customers a sense that you really are personally interested in sharing your business with them.

If you don’t think you’re a writer, don’t stress — just make sure you have a solid spellchecker, and you know what’s going in on your business. Your honest words of success, despair, or even silliness will help you connect with your clientele and bring them into the fold.

The Voice of Reason: A Web Presenter

A web presenter is a little man or woman that pops up onto your screen and talks to you while you surf a website. Like a popup window, the web presenter comes with a small ‘x’ somewhere on the screen (usually next to or just above them) that you can click that makes them shut up and go away. Unlike a popup window, the web presenter exists as part of the same page you were already on, and it moves with you as you scroll up and down the page.

A web presenter offers small businesses or web-based businesses the opportunity to have something that they might otherwise lack: a face and a personality. For web surfers that are accustomed to dealing almost entirely in text and maybe the occasional flash video, a web presenter can be a very arresting and captivating element on an otherwise humdrum website.

That said, it’s easily possible to misuse a web presenter. Generally, you want to craft your presenter’s script so that they act as a tool that increases conversions, much like a targeted email marketing campaign or a carefully-crafted sales letter. But because the web presenter uses voice rather than text, it has a very different threshold for driving traffic away.

More specifically, it’s OK to write in all red capitals letters with arrows pointing at them if you need to make a major point in text. But if your web presenter tries to perform the vocal equivalent, they’ll get shut off before they finish their second word. Web presenters should present themselves as informational, friendly, and laid-back.

Think of it this way: remember the last time you walked into a brick-and-mortar store and you were genuinely impressed by the guy or gal behind the counter. You want that kind of attitude — helpful, engaging, friendly, and ready to leave you alone if you want. Those web presenters get listened to, and they make sales — which is ultimately the point.

So if your conversions are lagging, hire a company to put together a professional web presenter for your site. When your surfers find that there’s more information waiting in a friendly and interesting format, they’ll stick around — and that’s often the key to converting them in the end.

The Cutting Edge of Small Business SEO: Going Social

Small business SEO hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past few years. You get your small business website, you find some decent keywords with good traffic, and you localize them by adding a word or two describing the location the business is in. People search for the keywords with the town name attached, they find the small business website, and they know where to go to get what they need. Simple as pie.

But as social media like Facebook, Twitter, and the like have began to hold massive sway over the Internet, small businesses started realizing that people were making serious money by gathering followers and pointing them toward their stores. As some were wildly successful with this, SEO companies started to take notice. Today, the cutting edge of small business SEO has less to do with keywords and backlinks (though both are still critically important), and more to do with going social.

So how does an SEO company drive social networking through a website? There are a few ways. The most obvious is setting up social accounts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FriendFeed, LinkedIn, MySpace, and a half-dozen other major social networks. Then, you simply start telling people about those accounts. If they like what you do, they’ll Like, +1, Retweet, and otherwise start spreading the word about you.

But that’s just the beginning. There are hundreds of social resources on the Internet, from the obvious social networks to secondary areas like social bookmarking, Web 2.0 properties with their built-in social nature, and video marketing on sites with social elements. The more places your company and product show up, the more you’ll have the opportunity to be judged by the masses.

Assuming your business model revolves around producing a quality product and having excellent customer service (it should) and you find someone to market for you that has a bit of pizzazz, you should be able to do well in the social market — and for a small business, that kind of social proof is today’s equivalent of the all-star-athlete endorsement of yesteryear.

Which Is More Affordable, SEO or LBM?

LBM, or Local Business Marketing, is a concept as old as businesses themselves — it’s an umbrella term for any activity that encourages people to be aware of your business. Putting an ad up on the backstop of your local T-ball diamond, buying a radio spot on a local county channel, and paying someone to stand on the street corner and wave a sign at traffic are all classic examples of LBM.

SEO, on the other hand, is online marketing — meaning, among other things, you have to have a website. SEO doesn’t drive people directly through your door; it drives traffic to your website instead. Then your website has to either drive them through your front door or convince them to part with their money online.

So which is more affordable: SEO or LBM? It’s a difficult question to answer, because neither one is a direct correlation of dollars spent to dollars made. The very meticulous can track their daily numbers and do a day-by-day comparison of a month before they put up that ad on the backstop and a month afterward and see if business spiked on or the day after a T-ball game, but it’s not a certain thing. Neither is SEO; just because you did a hundreds hours of backlinking work doesn’t mean that the traffic increase to your page is entirely because of the money you spent on SEO.

There is one factor, however, that definitively tilts the balance in favor of SEO: rankings are persistent. If you spend a year with your ad playing three times every day on the country channel and then you stop, your net ‘residual’ benefit is zero for all reasonable purposes. If you spend a year building backlinks to your website, those backlinks (if they’re made correctly) will last essentially forever, which means your search traffic will stay high even if you stop spending money on SEO.

That’s why, as you might expect from an SEO company, we firmly believe it’s wiser to invest your advertising budget into SEO rather than LBM. The long run will thank you in the end.