8 Things the Search Industry Can Teach Small Businesses

Filed in MY BEST POSTS, Small Biz Marketing by Matt McGee on November 14, 2007 16 Comments

Many of the best search marketers own or work for small businesses. They share great advice and articles about SEO, PPC, social media, local search, and more. But these folks also share a lot of great advice for small businesses indirectly — by the things they do in their own businesses. Here are eight pieces of small business advice (in no particular order) from some of my fellow search marketers.

1.) It’s easier to be found when you make yourself visible.
Stoney deGeyter of Pole Position Marketing is a great example of this. He’s one of the most prolific writers in our industry. You’ll find Stoney’s articles on ISEDB.com, Search Engine Guide, Web Pro News, and the Small is Beautiful lineup on Search Engine Land. He also writes regularly on his own E-Marketing Performance blog. It seems like not a day goes by that I don’t run into something Stoney wrote somewhere. That also makes it a lot easier for potential customers to find him.

2.) There’s no substitute for hard work.
Barry Schwartz took a red-eye flight to New York after SMX in Seattle. His flight landed at like 6:00 am in the Big Apple, and rather than go home to get some sleep, Barry was at his office by 7:30 am. He’s got to be one of the hardest-working guy in our industry — tracking countless blogs, forums, and mailing lists. He manages the news on his own Search Engine Roundtable site, and for Search Engine Land, too. Visibility? Barry is the most prolific blogger around, and there’s not even a close #2. Did I mention that he owns a web development shop, and has a personal blog, too?

3.) Blogs can be active business tools.
There’s no better example of this than the crew at SEOmoz.org. It’s been remarkable to watch how Rand & Co. have used their blog to 1) grow a community, and 2) build a brand. And if that wasn’t enough, they’ve used premium content to 3) monetize it. Now, this small business has VC funding and is on the brink of much bigger things. Together, it’s proof that a company blog can do a lot more for the bottom line than you probably thought it could.

4.) Networking works.
When Jennifer Laycock was threatened with a lawsuit over her blog, The Lactivist, she immediately enlisted friends (myself included) to write about what was happening and draw attention to the situation. We blogged about it to the tune of nearly 300 mentions of Jennifer’s original post. The National Pork Board backed off gracefully, but to this day the situation is still visible in Google’s Top 10 listings for [national pork board].

5.) Don’t try to be everything to everyone.
There are a lot of great blogs that cover the SEO industry as a whole. Not everyone can pull that off; not everyone wants to. Successful small businesses often aim to serve a smaller demographic, as do successful blogs. Deb Mastaler writes about link building. Then there’s Bill Slawski, who focuses on search patent analysis. Search Engine Guide caters specifically to small business (as do I). Greg Sterling covers local search. Mike Blumenthal goes even deeper, focusing on Google Maps. The lesson? Specialize. Find your niche.

6.) Branding is powerful.
Once you’ve found your niche, you’ll need to know how to be a rock star in your niche, like Neil Patel has become. Neil’s an expert at personal branding, and writes about it on his blog, Quick Sprout. You’ll want to learn from his techniques to establish your identity in the marketplace and have positive thoughts associated with your business name.

7.) Your name and domain are important.
A memorable name can be a great way to get noticed. Just ask Patrick Schaber, who got attention and had to start fielding questions as soon he launched a blog called “The Lonely Marketer.” It’s a great name because it begs the question, Why are you lonely?, and curious people will go out of their way to get an answer. When they visit Pat’s blog, they get their answer and also get introduced to solid marketing content.

Another good example is Vanessa Fox, whose excellent blog is saddled with vanessafoxnude.com as its domain. Memorable? You bet! But it’s a problem because it doesn’t describe what you really get on her blog, and 43% of Vanessa’s traffic comes from people looking for nude pictures. Those folks probably don’t care about Vanessa’s thoughts on social media and search marketing, while a lot of people who do are probably hesitant to visit (esp. at work) because of the domain.

8.) The personal touch matters.
Great customer service stories usually boil down to this: a business treating a customer like a person, not an account number. If you’re a small business trying to distinguish yourself from bigger competitors, do what the big guys don’t: develop an actual relationship with your customers. Need a good example? Go back and read my Danny Sullivan story from 15 months ago. Danny has used the personal touch to become the leader of our industry. Ironically, I started that post by saying there’s nothing useful in it for small businesses, and here I am now saying otherwise. I think you’ll agree there is a lesson: If you want to make an impression with people, try the personal touch.

You’re welcome to leave your own examples of Things the Search Industry Can Teach Small Businesses in the comments…

Comments (16)

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  1. Matt,

    I think you’ve hit on an interesting aspect of search marketing. It’s such a rapidly evolving industry that those of us in it are constantly having to learn and relearn it. My bet is that curiosity and a desire to learn is a key trait of most people in this field. A desire to pass on that learning to others seems also to be a big factor – at least in the blogging world. Any business in any industry can benefit from perpetual learning and a willingness to pass on what they have learned to their customers.

  2. Great post Matt. I’m constantly drilling branding branding branding into my clients. Traffic means nothing if it doesn’t convert. Now if only I had a chance to work on my own, at least I have a new template in my inbox… now its time for some hard work :)

  3. pc4media says:

    Right on, Matt!

    I sat down with a client today who wanted to change the design of their home page for the 3rd time pre-launch. Each time he wanted to make changes, they were for valid reasons.

    We are launching a blog and using a fancy content management system with SEO research and lead tracking built into it. But, a lot of these concepts are very foreign to him.

    So, I finally said to him, “Only a small % of your site visitors will actually enter through your home page. So, we are splitting hairs and none of these hairs will have much of an impact to your bottomline.”

    He got it then. I went on to tell him that this is about “being found”. It’s not about jamming your “perfect” message to them. It’s about letting them find the information they are looking for. He’s jazzed about blogging and the “hard work” because it’ll pay off for him.

  4. AnitaC says:

    Matt, great ideas, all.

    I would add this one: Persistence matters, and it matters a lot. Unfortunately we live in a world of instant gratification. Building a business, though, is not about instant anything.

    You have to stick with it over time. If you do that, eventually your growth (and visibility online and off) will explode exponentially. But you have to be prepared to go through some lean, lonely times for the first year or so, until growth kicks in.

    Take this simple example: Start with a brand new website with just 500 visitors a month, and set a goal to double your visitors each month for the first nine months. Just run the numbers and see where you end up. What started out as an insignificant number starts looking impressive given the benefit of time. Extrapolate out to 12 months, and the numbers are even more impressive.

    You can’t keep doubling numbers forever but once you have a substantial base, even a 5 percent monthly increase adds up dramatically over the course of a year. And then the next year it increases even more. And the next after that it increases still further.

    My point is that time is your friend, but only if you have persistence.

    Whether it’s site traffic or number of customers or revenues or subscribers or whatever you are measuring, you have to stick with it and not give up.

    Anita

  5. Matt McGee says:

    Amen to that, Anita — so very true. Imagine all the great businesses and great ideas that never came to be due to someone throwing in the towel too soon. I like your example on web traffic goals.

    Thanks to the previous commenters on this one, too. :)

  6. BristolSEO says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more Matt regarding #8. The personal touch is essential. Every customer requires exactly what they paid for, and friendly service shouldn’t be an extra cost.

    Friendly genuine communication breeds trust for any business. For an industry of which is based on future results, the pay-off for the personal touch if often reciprocated by strong referrals before results are even complete.

    Great post!

  7. Chinasku says:

    @Anita

    I couldn’t agree more that persistance matters most in SEO, which is also the biggest barrier for SEOers.

  8. Matt et al -

    Let’s add listening. While the internet is still underutilized as a listening tool (not for music but for customer understanding)there are some examples of how listening to understand the needs and wants of customers can lead to success.

    When you do keyword/phrase research, you are listening to what people want.

    When you review web analytics data, you are listening to the customers.

    When you join the conversation in the social media space, you better listen before talking.

    When it comes to successful small business marketing and sales, listen to understand then execute.

  9. Jed says:

    Nice list, I can add a few that have been helpful for me:

    Delegate, delegate, delegate when possible. Work on detailing your game plan to take you to the next level, don’t get wrapped up on doing every single task to save a buck.

    Partnerships are very important, and more often than not, others want to partner with you if you offer a quality brand-able product or service

    Work smart, not hard. Don’t reinvent the wheel, instead look for missing gaps and future creativity jumps instead of reinventing the same widget.

  10. #1 and #8 are really important to make yourself successful in your business. If you cannot do your marketing, maybe it’s time to learn it! And it’s not that hard, you just need time to learn the ropes and it’s gonna pay off, I tell you.

    Personal touch is also important. Keep in mind that we are all customers but only few can be the one to give service. So think of yourself being in the customer’s shoes all the time and imagine how you would want to be treated. How you provide service to customers would really go a long way.

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