An SEO Reality Check for Small Businesses

SEO. Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a TLA (Three Letter Abbreviation) in such common use that it’s now become a noun, a verb… and perhaps even a “four-letter word”. It’s given rise to a whole industry of “experts”. Yet SEO remains a mystery to most (even to many of the experts).

I made a strategic decision to not become an SEO expert.  SEO by its nature is such an inexact science, which doesn’t sit well with me. It’s like a “dark art” and worst of all involves too much trial and error. I have at least gleaned some SEO insights along the way, which I’ll share with you below.


SEO and related words in a wordcloud
TLAs and other SEO gobblydegook


(Note that I’m talking here about SEO to achieve “organic rankings” from Google, not the paid listings that you see at the top or on the right of a search listing. AdWords and other PPC (pay per click) methods aren’t necessarily easier, but they can happen much more rapidly than the organic listing.)


Here are 5 Insights on what SEO is Not


1. SEO is never a short-term prospect.

It is something that needs constant attention. Whether that’s from you as a business owner, or from an external SEO company, you can’t just set and forget your SEO strategy. Even if you get to the glorified PAGE 1 (the pinnacle of SEO), you won’t stay there without continued effort (and/or $$).


2. SEO is not cheap.

Or at least, good SEO won’t be. Be aware that ongoing SEO practices from external companies will require monthly investment from you, upwards of $400 per month (and a lot more for quality SEO). And because SEO is a long-term process you should expect to invest in it for at least 6-12 months.


3. SEO is not easy.

It requires time, effort and up-to-date knowledge. That’s why there are businesses that specialise in it, and why it’s not cheap. There’s no simple way to just “turn on SEO”. It works best when approached from several angles, with incremental steps.


Be aware that your existing website may even be a hindrance to SEO. For example, if it was written in Flash some years ago, it can be hard for search engines to read your content. For the search engines to understand what your website offers, there needs to be plenty of text as part of well-structured content and it must be updated, well-written text.


The website content is just your starting point…There’s also link-building and social media engagement, all of which takes a lot of time to do well. On top of that, the rules keep changing!


4. SEO is never static.

It’s a fickle beast. Or rather, Google is a fickle beast. You may have heard of the changes made by Google during 2012, code named after cute, furry animals like Penguin and Panda, and the more recent Hummingbird. To a lot of SEO companies, there was nothing cute or furry about these code releases. They left many SEO experts scrambling.

These new Google search algorithms were in fact designed to penalise dirty SEO practices that had started to spring up around the industry (or was it that an industry had sprung up around dirty SEO practices?). Either way, the act of buying inbound links from all sorts of other sites (not necessarily related to your line of business) and pushing out loads of cheaply written articles that link your site out around the net don’t cut it so much anymore. This is a good thing. Especially for people who rely on search engines to supply accurate answers and quality information.


Each year Google performs hundreds of changes to its search algorithm, presumably tightening the screws even further on websites that don’t deserve a high ranking.


5. SEO experts aren’t all in the same class. 

While Google performs constant work to return quality search results, there are plenty of unscrupulous SEO companies out there trying to get undeserving sites to rank. You may have received spam emails from these SEO “experts”, making all sorts of false claims and guarantees. Google themselves have said in their own guidelines:


“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

 Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings,
allege a “special relationship” with Google, or
advertise a “priority submit” to Google.”


Fortunately many of the dirty tricks will no longer work. But you can be sure that some dodgy SEO companies will work to find more loopholes, and try to convince you that they have found some…!


You need to do your research before engaging an SEO company. Get word of mouth reviews or find out who manages SEO for other successful businesses. Visit their website and see what proof they offer. I like the sound of Sydney-based (although I haven’t used their services, they do seem to favour quality over quantity).


SEO Secrets for Small Business One Day Training Courses in 2014

I also recommend this year’s newest beginner-level SEO training aimed at small business people, mumpreneurs, bloggers. It’s a full-day course to help you do it yourself. The cost of a ticket is about the same as you’d pay an SEO company for a single month of work, but now you can do it yourself (or choose to engage someone) and know you’re not being taken for a ride.

Book SEO Secrets training in SydneyBook SEO Secrets course in Melbourne  


These courses are being run by “Sydney’s favourite copywriter”. Kate Toon knows her stuff – she single-handedly achieved number 1 ranking on Google for the term “copywriter Australia” (and is still there – try it yourself).
Click the images above to secure your spot in Sydney (August 23) or Melbourne (October 10). Book before June 1 for early bird pricing (before it goes up another $100).


A final word of caution: If you are going to spend the money and embark on a good SEO program, or on Adwords and PPC, make sure your business is ready to handle a possibly large influx of new customers. If the SEO works and gets you to the top of the list but you run out of inventory and can’t deliver on your promises, the resulting damage could see you back at square one.


In the end, SEO isn’t everything. You can still drive visitors to your website through other methods such as print advertising (read more about this in my blog Is your website central to your marketing?).


If you want to start small and try your hand at some DIY SEO (that’s Do It Yourself Search Engine Optimisation), read the DIY post

Author: RobynRHD

I'm a small business web design specialist with interests in social media and other online marketing methods. As my blog intro states: "Steering small businesses in the right direction with what I hope is practical, realistic advice and useful tips, amidst the constantly changing noise and hype. I'd like to help you sort out what you really need and how to go about it." I'm a proud Aussie, living in Sydney, and an avid fan of Column 8 in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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