I don’t know about you, but I barely have enough time to run my small business let alone manage a successful search engine optimization (SEO) campaign. Over the past 18 months I have hired two companies, fired one and interviewed many (large and small). I am midway through the process of getting my company “optimized,” with a new partner. The experience has been enlightening, bumpy and rewarding all at the same time. Below, I have listed a few things to think about before signing on.
Step 1: Determine your goal
Take your time with this one, and make sure you are able to articulate your goal clearly. Who are you trying to reach? What do you want to say when you reach them? As a small business owner, I am very protective of my company’s brand and the niche it dominates. Of course the end game is to increase sales and profitability, but I don’t want to change the company’s persona to do it.
Step 2: Select a partner that “gets it”
Unlike many larger enterprises in our space, we are relationship driven—we don’t have scores of operators standing by to sell one-offs. Our value is predicated on the expertise, resourcefulness and personal service we provide. I searched for a partner that was willing and able to understand my company’s unique qualities and then communicate them online while raising our visibility.
Step 3: The search
Two years ago, the idea of SEO was just trickling down to small businesses. I knew about SEO, but I really didn’t know anything about it. As luck would have it, while participating in a program at UCLA’s Anderson School, a professor suggested that I look into Hubspot—a do-it-yourself SEO provider. After several months of due diligence, and based upon a very enthusiastic recommendation from the professor, we took the plunge.
In my opinion the best part about Hubspot was that it:
- Gives its subscribers an insider’s look at the process in one convenient location
- Offers five hours of consultation, a forum to ask questions and have them answered and access to webinars, blogs and partners
- Enables users to see what their competitors are doing and compare and contrast the quality and effectiveness of different websites in the same industry
- Provides useful and specific information about visitors and visits
- Gives ultimate responsibility for messaging to the subscriber (good for me since I am a control freak)
Step 4: Don’t be afraid to change
But don’t be a “flag in the breeze,” either. After several months with Hubspot, I decided to cancel my subscription because, among other reasons, the process was more expensive and time-intensive than we expected:
- Also, the model seemed to be geared towards helping small businesses in local markets, and we are a small business in a global market.
Step 5: Now what?
Against my better judgment, I let go with one hand before grabbing on with the other. This said, I figured what we had in place was still working (fortunately we only moved our blog and not our website to Hubspot, so disconnecting wasn’t too painful). Almost immediately, I started a new search that entailed asking multiple resources for direction.
- I leveraged my business connections, first. One was able to make a personal introduction with their SEO provider—an industry leader. I called, spoke with someone and got a list of great questions to ask and things to look for.
- I reached out to our client base and received multiple leads—most of the companies were too large and had average monthly fees of $10,000-plus.
- I asked for recommendations from my LinkedIn Marketing Group (be careful if and when you do this. I was inundated with responses, nine-tenths of which came not from end users but prospectors).
- Based upon a more in-depth search, a process of elimination and a very detailed conversation with the sales team at my new provider, I made a decision.
Step 6: The takeaway
Unless you or someone in your office is highly skilled and has tons of time to devote to the process, I suggest you get professional SEO help. This is not to say you shouldn’t stay involved. However, because the rules of the game are in a constant state of flux (check out this New York Times article “Google Tweaks Algorithm to Push Down Low-Quality Sites”), it would take a team working every day all day just to keep up. Then there are the finer points of white hat, black hat, hidden site maps, link building, Meta tags, keywords etc. At some point you will need a real pro that is up to the task. In short, know what you don’t know, and then hire the best you can afford.
Want to hear more about how things are going today: the hiccups and successes? Stay tuned for the my next installment. To keep things interesting and relevant, our new partners (brave souls that they are), have agreed to join the discussion by responding to my comments and adding a few of their own.