Small Business SEO - an Introduction. By small businesses, we mean companies that have a limited marketing department with one or two people executing or in some cases we serve as their marketing department on the outside. Our clients typically do 1-20 million dollars in revenue and have a clear vision for long-term growth.
SEO has changed dramatically in the past few years. It's always been integral to online success, but with billions of pages on the internet today, Small Business SEO is critical to survival and flourish. And you must do it right, do it well and use only white hat methods (good guys) vs. black hat (bad guys trying to game the search engines).
Let's start with a definition for Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
“SEO is a marketing discipline focused on growing visibility in organic (non-paid) search engine results. SEO encompasses both the technical and creative [content] elements required to improve rankings, drive traffic, increase awareness in search engines and comply with their ever changing rules. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Part of SEO is making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand. MOST IMPORTANT - SEO isn't just about building search engine-friendly websites. It's about making your site better for people too.” Moz
Let's further define Small Business SEO today and SEO in general:
SEO is comprised of two parts:
- Search Engine Compliance (SEC) - technical factors
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - content, links and keyword strategy
Do it right and it should really be called $EO.
Enjoy the podcast. Pass it on to someone you know that runs a small business!
Hi, this is Dr. Stephie Althouse, CEO of Top Notch CEO. Welcome to our interview series of top experts called Top Notch CEO Geek Radio. As you may know, by "geek" we mean top experts who are both very passionate and extremely knowledgeable in their craft. It is my pleasure to introduce to you Robert Donnell from P5 Marketing. He's an SEO wizard, but more so, he's a small business SEO-driven marketer extraordinaire. Welcome, Robert. How are you?
Robert: I am good, Dr. Althouse. Glad to be here.
Stephie: Thank you. Yeah, thank you for being on. So let's go right into it. Some of our audience probably knows what SEO is, but some may not. So what is SEO?
Robert: SEO is an abbreviation for search engine optimization. The term's been around a little while, but its meaning I think has changed. But we can talk about that.
Stephie: Great. So why is SEO important, and how has the meaning changed?
Robert: Well, I think when we first started, we were always thinking about Google and Yahoo and all of the traditional search engines, but if you understand that Facebook is driven by a search engine ... That's how they organize things. That's how they display what gets shown. The same thing with YouTube. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, with amazing amounts of new content being added every second. So the internet is about searching for information, so SEO on all the principles may have changed, but they're still holding true. It's just a much broader base.
Stephie: Right, so in a nutshell ... I have a website for my business, and obviously, well probably, I want to be found. That's the reason why I have a website. Or maybe I don't market myself online, I just have an online website, I have a website as a reference point for credibility. So if I want the first part, if I want to actually be found on the internet, that's when I need SEO. Is that right?
Robert: That's absolutely correct. There are ... some crazy number of pages that are out there, billions, or something like that. You're just not going to get found by accident by anybody. They have to know who you are if you don't have SEO and type in your complete URL.
Stephie: Right. So if you think that someone is looking at page three or further, or even ... most of the time we don't even look at page two of any search engine result these days.
Robert: Right. You got to be on that first page.
Stephie: Right. So let's imagine I am a small business owner. I'm kind of a small fish right now. Does it make sense for me to have small business SEO, and does this have good return on my investment for me?
Robert: And that's obviously the million-dollar question, or maybe a smaller number than that, I hope. It's a qualified yes. At a bare minimum, I think that every website where you might want to be found should be free of technical flaws so that the search engines can at least index it and find it. So if you have what we call a business card or a proof of credibility kind of a website, where you have a few pages up and they never change, all you really need to do is make sure it's technically correct. That's not a high budget item, and it's a one-time event unless you change the website.
Stephie: Let me just butt in for a second. You have done a fabulous job educating me behind the scenes, and I've worked with you, and it's been really an amazing eye-opening and life-changing endeavor. From that, I just know that there are ways to shoot yourself in the foot with your website that the average layperson, as far as SEO goes, has absolutely no idea about. It's been very eye-opening.
Robert: Well, thank you for the kind words.
Stephie: Yeah, I would encourage even the so-called small fish business owner to at least do that part, to make sure you're not shooting yourself in the foot with the basics being violated, which is easy enough to do.
Robert: Right. You know what it is, it's that saying about a house has good bones or a good foundation. You want to at least have the foundation part right if you're ... ever want to have anything happen with your website.
But the ROI that you talked about, which is so important, today if you want to get found on the internet, you're going to have to spend some money. I mean, you're talking about developing content. You're talking about doing a lot of writing and a lot of optimization. You've got to have the images. You've got to have the thoughts, and it's got to be part of a coordinated strategy. Our experience has always been that one of the biggest gifts we can give somebody is the gift of focus because it takes a considerable amount of time, money, and effort to rank for a particular niche that you should really put a lot of thought into those niches and understand just exactly what the most important part of your business is as far as being found on the internet.
Stephie: Great. So let me see whether I hear you right. Essentially you just said, and in fact you've taught me in the past, that it's not a very profitable or promising endeavor to say, "Okay, my business is this, let's slap a little SEO on top of that, and add some online marketing to our business." But rather, you need to look at, "How can I even have a snowball's chance in heck chance to stand out with these other millions and billions of websites that are out there? How can I stand out in a way that I can even have a realistic chance to organically stand out and show up on page one of Google for particular keywords or focus words?"
So, in other words, the SEO analysis and strategy needs to be set in order to be most effective, at the beginning, or at a point of revision, essentially, when you want to bring your company to the next level and really make a serious go at adding to your revenues and profits from online marketing. Is that right?
Robert: Right. Very nicely put, because it's ... you've probably heard my favorite example of a chocolatier. Say you have a little chocolate shop, and you want to compete directly with Toblerone, or Lindt, or one of those people. You make exactly the same chocolate as they do. Good luck. I mean, they are spending millions on online marketing. They have a team of people that do nothing but churn out content, optimize it, and they do everything right with SEO.
But if you make a handmade organic chocolate, and let's say you specialize in a particular area like ... or even downtown San Diego, or Newport Beach, or whatever it is, now you're starting to develop a niche, right? You're a handmade chocolatier inside a particular geographic area. Now you've got your niche. Now you can focus in on that. You can beat Lindt in that game if you do it right from a marketing perspective. I think that's a pretty good example of how choosing your niche requires a marketing insight, then developing the content that's going to allow a chocolate buyer takes a different set of skills, but they're all related to marketing, and it's the SEO that's driving the perspective across different skills.
Stephie: Yes. What's so amazing in the work that you do, the way you do it, is that you actually spend the time and put really quite a bit of passion into sitting down with the business owner and their team and figuring out what really is their passion and their talent, and to combine that with the SEO strategy.
So for example, in working with us at Top Notch CEO, you figured out that, hey, we come from the geek angle. We didn't ever say that before, really. We didn't even dare to say that, to be honest with you, because we thought ... I personally thought, okay, geek could have a good connotation. It could also have a bad connotation, so we decided to actually just explain what connotation we have in mind. So, what is a geek? So when we say "Geek Radio," we explain right away what we mean by that rather than leave people guessing.
But also the sub-niche of our geek coaching training and executive services business is women in STEM. And I am a woman in the science, technology, engineering, and math field. That is my background, and that is one of the things that makes me very unique and therefore makes my company very unique. So this is a really powerful example that I just want to lay close to the hearts of those business owners who are listening here. SEO can be a really powerful way to add ... it's essential for your online marketing if you want to add dollars to your revenue and profits that come from online marketing, not just online business card that you send people to. And at the same time, it is an incredible tool to focus yourself finally into a niche, which I know from my own coaching and working with business owners, it's a difficult endeavor oftentimes because we are so good at so many things. We could work in so many areas, and often if we don't quite make the money that we'd like to make it causes us to go broader rather than what we need to do which is deeper in a particular field to become known as a cardiovascular surgeon rather than a general doctor.
So what I found is, is that small business SEO, the way that you do it, Robert, and your team does, is really a very powerful tool to finally accomplish that goal. And it causes people to at least in their online marketing let go a quite a bit of the broader approach they may have been taking before.
Robert: Yeah. It's interesting. We went through this in our own business. There are a lot of things I like to do in terms of digital marketing. I enjoy building websites. Those are all fun, creative kind of things. But I learned that I had to focus because it's very hard to describe yourself to others without a little bit of focus. If you seem too general, they don't think you can do all those things well, and they're probably right. Building a website's not my highest and best use. SEO is. It also happens to be what I'm passionate about. So that focus allows me to do the very deep dive that I need to do to become somewhat of an expert in a field that's crowded with a lot of experts.
Stephie: I think you're being way too humble there. You're definitely a master in this area, and really I would describe this like this. If you want to do online marketing ... and you tell me whether this sounds correct, that I've been a good student of yours ... online marketing that is driven by SEO is like saying, SEO is the foundation of the business house you're building. It's also the manual with which you construct the rest of your marketing and business focus.
Robert: It does seem to touch all of the different facets of marketing because if you're going to do even a radio show like this, you're going to want to go back to the keyword that you're going to place this kind of great content on. I mean, we're actually practicing our own skills here, right?
So by doing this radio interview, we're going to transcribe this information, we're going to put it on a blog. But that blog's going to be about a particular topic, so before we started this interview, we thought about our audience, our target market, what kind of questions they would have, what kind of keywords we would be speaking with. And we didn't drive it that way, but it certainly influenced our thinking and our decision-making as we laid out the interview. It touches every facet of marketing if you're doing it right.
Stephie: Excellent. So looking at the clock, let's spend maybe the last two minutes giving people just a quick introduction to the steps that you need to go through when you start working with you and say, "Okay, Robert, I have basically no online marketing going on, or it's not very effective. My phone is not ringing. My email box is not filled with requests for business conversations, and I want to change that." So what are the steps?
Let's just touch on it. I would suggest at a top level right now, and then we'll have some other interviews in the near future where you can go into each of those steps in detail. So what does it start with?
Robert: For me, it always starts with what we call a site audit. We will sit down with you and get a rough idea of your passions, where you want to drive the business, what you think your current keywords are, what you think your current market focuses are. Then we go away. We go into our computers and kind of study your website ... not kind of, but study your website in detail. We study your competitors. Two or three of the ones that you feel are your competitors, but we also include what we call keyword competitors. So if we see an obvious keyword or two or three that you're trying to rank for, we look at your competitors for those keywords. What we're trying to do is find out which keywords are attainable, which keywords are possible. We want to set goals, but we want it to be smart. That's the purpose of the audit.
When we're done with the audit, we meet back with our client and present our findings, get their touchstone, how does all this feel to them, making sure we're still on the mark. Then we go into a strategy phase with the client input and our input. We're going to lay out a 60 to 90-day plan that's going to cover getting all of this work done, building the content that we have to do, building all of the backlinking strategies, and we'll get into that. But basically, we're going to lay out a marketing plan that's SEO based for the next ... foreseeable, short term future.
Stephie: That's basically similar to saying, "Okay, we analyze what your current house looks like, and in order to make your house better, we're going to put forth a plan to basically reinforce the house or maybe in part even rebuild the house, and here's the plan." That's the strategy session?
Robert: Right. And then we go into implementation mode. The implementation mode is a 30-day cycle where we say what we're going to do in that 30 days. We begin to get to work on it, we work on technical factors. and content. and blog posts. and strategy, and begin to lay out the social media strategy. And at the end of that 30 days, we report back to you and say, "We said we were going to do this, we did this, and this is what we plan to do for the next 30 days." It's definitely a rinse and repeat kind of a process for a while until everything starts to stabilize, but that's essentially the process for small business SEO.
Stephie: Excellent. And how much commitment does the business owner need to bring in if they work with you past the audit and the strategy session, where they work with you on the implementation phase? Is that a matter of just a couple of months, or is that something that you would hope they would at least stick with for a year plus?
Robert: Ideally if we're producing results, we'd like them to stay with us for a year plus. We have clients that have been with us for three years. They've doubled or tripled the number of visits that they have to their website. The particular client that I'm thinking of, they went from 15,000 visits per month to 30,000 visits per month. Their business was just kind of a way to detect ROI. We can value the incoming traffic from search because those keywords cost money if you were to go buy them. So this particular client would be spending, if they didn't have SEO, they would be spending over $30,000 a month bringing in that amount of traffic.
Stephie: That's fantastic. So let me just make sure that our audience is getting this. This is something like a 20 to 30x, meaning factor. A factor of 20 or 30 or somewhere in that range of what the investment is in SEO versus the outcome that you get. Where in the stock market have we last seen investment possibility like that? Not very often. So you don't get that in the first month, but you do get it over time, and if you stick with it, and you participate in it, and you're really willing partner with you, this is where you get the best results. Am I right?
Robert: You are absolutely right. I think if anybody stops doing this after 90 to 120 days, they probably are quitting at precisely the wrong time. What is nice is that you may not have these big bursts in traffic, but you'll start to see particular keywords, rank ... you'll start to see trends. You'll have enough indicators where you can go, okay, this is starting to make sense and I should continue to make my investment. It's not like you have to throw a year's worth of resources into something and just wait a year and hope that something happens. You'll get measures as you come along.
Stephie: Well honestly I have done that before. And it's really now to me very laughable. I spent at one point $1,000 with an SEO company that said, "We will get you on page one of Google for whatever keywords." They had a salesperson reach out to a bunch of companies that wasn't the actual person who knew how to do the SEO themselves and promised all kinds of things, and really it never did anything. So yes, would I spend more money with you? Absolutely. However, did I get any value for the $1,000 I spent with them? And the answer is a resounding no. And you see that a lot, don't you?
Robert: I do, and the one thing I would say to all of our listeners is, make sure that whatever they're doing, any SEO is doing for you, is very transparent. It's not a black box. It's a process, and the process should be documented. You should be seeing monthly reports of data, and you should have access to some of that data yourself. That's kind of our operating philosophy. Much of this is available on Google Analytics. There's no reason why that shouldn't be available to you. You can look at it yourself anytime, and just make sure that you're getting work and effort, and you can document it and see it, and you shouldn't go long without seeing some results.
Stephie: Excellent. And you're more than willing to actually educate the clients so they can understand what you're doing so it isn't a black box. Am I right?
Robert: We're happy that ... the process of working with you was joyful because you got involved. This isn't something you can just delegate away. The more our clients participate, the more they learn, and the more value we get and are able to deliver for them because we see their perspective.
Stephie: Excellent. Well, I hope, I expect that our audience really enjoyed this interview. It's honestly quite rare in my experience to be able to speak with someone as knowledgeable and passionate about this topic, who's so grounded in what this actually does and what it doesn't do, and to go away from all that hype-y stuff, these hype-y promises that lots of people in your field make and then don't really deliver on. It's really refreshing, and so I can't thank you enough. I look forward to our next interview and go deeper into what is really an SEO audit? How does it look like? What really does this SEO strategy thing looks like, and how do we do the implementation in such a way so that it won't eat up all my time but yet work? How does that sound? Are you willing?
Robert: Sounds like a plan. Let's get it on the calendar.
Stephie: Awesome. Thank you, Robert.