Judging from the amount of inquiries that have come in this year via my contact form, there are a lot of small businesses that are just now starting to dip their toes into this whole SEO thing. I’d love some cold, hard stats to back up what I’ve seen … but short of that, gut instinct tells me a lot of people are wondering how to get started with SEO.
Getting Started with SEO
Here are some questions you’ll need to answer and things you’ll need to know if you’re just now getting started with SEO.
1. “I want to rank well in Google” is not a goal; it’s a means to reaching a goal. Why are you getting into SEO? What do you want to accomplish? You’re a business owner. Your goals should be about making money and growing your business, whether it be through selling more widgets or acquiring more leads. It sounds cliché, but you need to begin with goals. Don’t focus on rankings.
2. Will you hire a consultant or do it yourself?
This is the first question you need to answer. Once you have a clear list of goals, it’s time to figure out how to get there. If you have more time than money, you’ll probably need to learn SEO yourself. Don’t feel overwhelmed. You can do it. Most SEO basics are not terribly complicated. If you have more money than time, you’ll probably need to hire an SEO consultant. But you still need to be involved and as active in the project as possible. Don’t just write a check and assume your SEO consultant will take care of everything without any input from you.
3. Who in your company will be involved in your SEO campaign?
Whether you’re doing SEO yourself or hiring a consultant, you’ll need to know who all will be involved in the SEO project. If you’re a one-man band, move on; it’s all you. If you have employees, though, you’ll need to get your staff on board and make sure the right people are contributing in the right ways to the SEO work. SEO will probably involve updates to your web site. It’ll probably require new content, in the form of articles, blog posts, maybe even videos. It may require some tweaks of a technical nature, so if you have an IT person/department, make sure they’re involved. Everyone needs to be committed; one person not pulling his weight can quickly derail an SEO campaign.
Hiring an SEO Consultant
If you’ve decided to hire an SEO consultant, here are some things to consider:
1. Hiring an SEO consultant requires due diligence. While there are all kinds of SEO training/certification providers out there, our industry lacks an all-encompassing oversight organization. That means the burden is on you to find a good, honest consultant. Take this seriously. You’ll essentially be putting your business in this person’s/company’s hands for a period of time. This isn’t like hiring a company to service your copy machine. If you make a bad choice in hiring an SEO consultant, it could substantially damage your business or, at minimum, cost you a lot of money with no return.
Interview potential clients and ask a lot of questions. Ask for references/testimonials. Ask them if the tactics they typically use are risky, or are within the search engines’ webmaster guidelines. Make sure you’re on the same page as the consultant where risk vs. reward is concerned. Don’t hire someone that tries to get you to take more risk than you’re willing to accept.
2. Don’t hire anyone who contacts you first. SEO is very much in demand these days. The best and most trusted companies don’t need to spam you with offers of free web site analyses. Delete those emails right away.
3. SEO is usually not inexpensive, but usually is a great source of new clients and revenue. I’m sure there are some good SEO consultants out there that are only charging $75 per hour or so. I just don’t know who they are or where they are. Most top SEOs, and certainly the ones I’d recommend, charge $200 per hour and up. Some SEOs charge as much as $500 or $1,000 per hour, and these folks are not lacking for business. When done right, SEO offers tremendous long-term ROI. Spending $10,000 on an SEO campaign can often lead to years of business growth that dwarfs the original investment.
Learning SEO Yourself
If you plan to devote the time to learning SEO, the following should help you get started:
1. Basic SEO is not terribly difficult. You can learn the basics, and don’t let anyone — especially an SEO consultant who wants your business — tell you otherwise. SEO basics include a lot of low-hanging fruit — things you can do relatively quickly and easily and begin to see some rewards. Most of these low-hanging fruit are the same no matter how big or small your company is, no matter what industry you’re in, and no matter how competitive the landscape is. I’m talking about things like improving your page titles, improving your usage of keywords in web site copy, improving the anchor text of your internal links, and other on-page factors.
Where SEO gets more complicated, and where an experienced consultant can really help, is in keyword research/selection, competitive analysis, link building, content promotion, technical issues like redirects and URL rewriting, and so forth. Still, there are a lot of great resources on the web where you can at least get the basics. Read on….
2. Continuing education is a must. While the basics of SEO are pretty much the same today as they were years ago, the overall search/SEO landscape never stops changing. Fortunately, there are a lot of places where you can learn for the long haul:
- Sorry for the self-promotion, but I’ve been writing this blog for almost four years with the goal of teaching SEO and online marketing to small business owners. I think the world should read and print out my SEO Success Pyramid, and read all the related articles linked from that page. I also think beginners should spend $25 on my How to SEO Your Site in 60 Minutes e-book. It covers all the basics of on-page SEO with specific instructions for improving your web site. Also watch for the link recap posts I publish at the end of every month, with links to the best articles I read during that month.
- I’m also biased in this recommendation, but I think most SEOs would agree that Search Engine Land offers some consistently great instructional content. In particular, check the Small Is Beautiful column every Thursday, and the Locals Only column (local SEO tips) every Monday.
- Search Engine Guide is another excellent source of instructional articles, and it focuses specifically on small business issues.
- The SEOmoz beginner’s guide to search engine optimization is in the process of being updated, but is still a great resource in its current version.
- GetListed.org is a great place to learn about Local Search, especially the Resources section.
- Some of the best how-to material written over the past couple years can be found in the nominations for the SEMMY Awards. You’ll find lists of excellent articles about SEO, Local Search, Link Building, and much more. (Disclaimer: I’m one of the founders of the SEMMY Awards.)
- You can learn a ton at educational conferences, and for small businesses I’d especially recommend Small Business Marketing Unleashed (don’t know when the next one will be, however), Learn About Web (ditto), and SearchFest, which will take place next March in Portland, Oregon. Two larger conferences, SMX and SES also offer sessions specifically for small business owners.
3. Read every day, and with a critical eye. I spend at least an hour a day reading other SEO blogs and web sites so I can stay informed on current strategies and tactics. You may not need an hour, but I do think a consistent schedule will be helpful. Also, read critically — don’t believe everything just because an SEO blogger said so. When you can, test the strategies and tactics for yourself and see what works best in your situation.
There’s one more thing you’ll need a lot of when you’re getting started with SEO: patience. SEO is not a quick-fix; it usually takes at least a few months to see any real benefits from your SEO efforts. It usually takes a year or two to build up a site that search engines trust enough to rank highly for semi-competitive terms. SEO is a long-term process, not something you do once and see results from as soon as you’re done.
In fact, you’re never really “done” with SEO. Search engines regularly tweak how they rank pages, so you’ll need to adjust over time. Plus, your competition probably isn’t “done” with SEO, so you’ll fall behind quickly if you stop. The most important thing is to get started — the sooner, the better. Whether you’re doing SEO yourself, or hiring a consultant, there’s no better time to start than right now.