Good Search Engine Marketing May Be Bad For You

Good Search Engine Marketing May Be Bad For You

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Here’s A Story.

A few weeks ago we were awarded a contract to act as the online marketing company for a local business. That business had been paying another marketing company for SEO services and was firing them to hire us. I’ll be honest, I always feel a bit of an emotional crunch when we take business away from another competitor that is competent at what they do.

“A-ha,” you say! “But if they were competent, Ralph, they wouldn’t have been fired.”

Well. Maybe. But there is a catch.

In this case, the marketing company was good at what they did and did exactly what they said they were going to do. As it turns out, the problem wasn’t the marketing company, but the client. When the client said, “I want to be found on search engines,” what they really meant was, “I want more leads.”

So when the client went back to the marketing company and said, “Where are my leads?” what resulted was a conversation about page rank and authority and percentage increase in position and blah blah blah.

It’s not unfair for the other marketing company to take this position because after all, that’s what they got hired for. It’s hard for any company to deliver what they were asked to do and then get fired for it.

So to you, Dear Business Owner, Entrepreneur or Decision Maker, I say this…

Think about what you want for your business. Then think about what you’ve asked from your service provider or conversely, what your service provider offered to you. It could very well be that you are paying for exactly what you asked for, but that the thing you asked for is the wrong thing for your business.

If you listen to The Web.Search.Social Marketing Podcast then you know that from my perspective (and Carol Lynn’s), the core mission of online marketing is lead generation. Some hang me on the nuance that the objective should be sales and not just leads, but I can only bring the customers in. I can’t force them to buy your products or services. So for now I’m sticking with leads as the mission objective.

Is what you want leads? Then you need to say that. Because if you ask for good SEO, then you are going to get good SEO. Well, hopefully. If you want to hang me on yet another nuance and say that good SEO should result in leads then you should be listening to The Web.Search.Social Marketing Podcast because we spend a lot of time talking about why that might not be the case. I’m not going to get into it here because…

What’s that? You want me to get into it?

Ok. Fine.

So here’s the deal with SEO – and practically speaking with a lot of other disciplines in online marketing: when you hire an SEO company that explicitly specializes in getting you ranked well for keywords, they may sometimes overlook the fact that those keywords may be insignificant in the pursuit of leads. On the flip side, the content that SEO companies create is often geared towards consumption by search robots and not by humans. As a result, robots eat it up and humans don’t take action.

A good SEO company won’t do this. In fact, I argue that a good SEO company would balk at being called an SEO company at all, but that’s another matter.

The point is both you and your vendor need to know what you want and come to a consensus on how that will happen and how much it will cost.

Another of our recent clients was a total rockstar when you typed in any combination of keywords related to their business. Run a search… Boom! There they were. Run another… Boom! There they were again. It was like their business exploded an AwesomeBomb on Google’s first page results.

But when you took a look at their stats, they were generating roughly 3 or 4 unique visits a day and generating no leads.

That’s where the boom becomes the fizzle.

So here’s what I ask of you. Treat any marketing related to search engines like a piece of your marketing puzzle and not like a religion. I promise you that the folks over at Google aren’t talking about your business as much as your business is talking about Google.

Google does not awesome marketing make. You can take that to the bank. Unless you don’t generate leads. In which case you won’t be taking too many trips to the bank.

The best kind of marketing is the kind that concludes with a check and not one that ends on the first position in Google.

Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer at Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company that I founded in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn. In January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. I'm also founder and CTO of Podcaster's Toolbox, a SaaS platform designed to help podcasters plan, produce and promote their shows. I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I are home based near the Jersey shore but we're currently location independent and traveling the country for a year, working and podcasting. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera
  • Hi Ralph,
    You bring up several great points. Good SEO is just part of the mix. The goal is always to get more business, no matter what the business is. Being on page 1 of the search results can help that.

    If you are a company that does most of it’s business on the web then it will help you more, but if you are a local business that grows through word of mouth, then SEO will help build your brand and credibility but may not be enough to close the deal.

    It’s always important to look at the big picture.

  • Just three words about today’s post, Ralph: Clear communication counts.

    Marketing professionals can’t read minds
    They’ll provide you with what you ask for
    Don’t ask for SEO if what you want is leads
    Or an unpleasant consequence is in store

    Your marketing guy might be a genius
    He could be the best marketer on earth
    But an unfortunate gap in communication
    Means you won’t get your money’s worth

    You’ll be unhappy and so will he
    The relationship is bound to end
    Take this valuable lesson to heart
    Don’t be left with fences to mend

    Can’t wait for tomorrow’s podcast! πŸ™‚

    • Your little PSs at the end are the best πŸ™‚

      • What can I say?! I’m hooked on your podcast. πŸ™‚ After being online for a hundred years, there’s not a whole lot I look forward to. By the way, tomorrow’s guest sounds really interesting. I’ll try not to stay out too late tonight so I can catch the show as soon as it lands here.

  • John Durso

    Clearly you’re correct that good SEO does not necessarily equal good leads. But, in your scenario here, I think the blame still rests squarely on the SEO company for not setting expectations correctly up front. They are the experts, and that’s their job. They had to know that their clients business operated off leads (as opposed to a monetized blog or similar); did they think the client wanted to rank higher just for fun? (Side note – this question isn’t completely rhetorical, I have a client that has more business than she could handle but enjoys the game of ranking higher in the search engines. Of course, this is far from typical).

    I own a design firm, and we often have client ask for crazy colors, graphics, etc. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we said “Ok!” to every bad idea. It’s our job to educate our clients, take the time to understand their end goals, and then provide a service that gets them there. You sound like you understand that, but the other company sure didn’t.

  • I am finally subscribing to your podcast now, and adding it to my phone. Next step: listen. πŸ™‚

    • Way to go, Lisa! That’s the spirit! You’re in good hands (And I’m not talkin’ Allstate) πŸ˜‰

  • Hi Ralph,
    Very simple and easy to understand. I followed you all the way.
    As you read this, though, one might wonder, why doesn’t a company like that has a form with specific questions that their future client would have to fill out, so there wouldn’t be andy such missunderstanding – whatsoever – to start with.
    This say, yes, we need to make sure about what we want, and make sure that we’re asking for it. Great point. I can only imagine how many times this type of issues comes up.

  • Hi Ralph,

    In my years in web design, development, SEO and social I found it to be a no win situation just as you explained. Unrealistic expectations AND they don’t listen to what you’re telling them. I was also very specific to define the definitions and even ask them to initial next to them so that they could never misunderstand.

    But, the real problem really does exist with the client. The reason I say that is because the overwhelming majority of them have never done the hard foundational work and asked themselves:

    – What Business am I “really” in?
    – What problems do I “really” solve?
    – Who do I “specifically” solve them for?
    – How are my products and services a part of the solution?

    That’s why I transitioned my business recently away from creative work to helping business owners understand the answers to these questions and start learning how to think like their customers. When they do this, it unveils the opportunities the internet offers because they are no longer talking about themselves. Now they are talking with their prospects and customers.

    It really does change EVERYTHING!

    They have a whole package they can take with them now to their web team, seo team and social media team that will really help them properly position their clients. It’s a win-win for everyone.

    I really appreciated your article Ralph because it’s what most in the web industry experience when working with clients who don’t really know their businesses!

    Have a great weekend.

    ~ Don Purdum