I’ve been contacted twice in the last three months by small business owners looking for SEO help — but needing PR and social media a lot more than SEO. In both cases, the companies offered what I’d call fairly innovative products and services. The problem is that no one would ever think to use Google, Yahoo, etc., to search for what they offered. Joe Customer can’t search for something he doesn’t know exists.
So I had to tell both of them that SEO wasn’t really what they needed. That’s not something this SEO likes to say, but it’s true:
If you have a product or service that no one is searching for, SEO isn’t your ticket to success.
Real-Life Example: When SEO Wasn’t Enough
Many years ago, I had a web design client who sold a strap that held a baby carrier/car seat tight while sitting on top of a shopping cart. You’ve seen moms at the grocery store with a baby in the car seat just sitting on top of the cart, right? That can be pretty dangerous if the car seat is just sitting there loosely. This strap connected the car seat to the shopping cart so that baby would never fall. Great idea. But the business failed.
Why? The web site worked great and we optimized the site for the most relevant keywords. But no one searched for things like “grocery cart baby strap” or “keep baby safe when shopping” and things like that. Since this was a mom working from home, selling these straps from her living room, she didn’t have the budget to go after infinitely more competitive terms like “baby safety” and “baby safety equipment.” Social media, you ask? This was long before Twitter and Facebook was still for college students, when social media options weren’t nearly as plentiful.
If this sounds like you and your unique business, read on for some thoughts on how to overcome this challenge.
It’s Easier Today
The two companies I’ve chatted with recently have more options available to them. Yes, they should make sure their site is in good shape where SEO and design/usability are concerned, but those won’t be the primary ways they attract new customers. Here’s what they’ll need to do:
1. Use traditional PR. Thankfully, sending out press releases is easy and generally inexpensive. PRWeb and PR Leap are two options worth looking at. Target your releases to individuals and publications that might be interested in your unique product/service. If you’re only doing business locally, target it to outlets in your region.
2. Get on Facebook and Twitter. SEO is about bringing people to you. But if they’re not looking for what you offer, you have to go out and find them. That’s what social media is all about. Facebook and Twitter are, in my opinion, two of the best options right now for small business owners. If you’re not familiar with the possibilities of both, see this recent Chicago Tribune article for some help and ideas.
3. Reach out to bloggers in your niche. Entire articles and seminars are given about how best to do this, and I won’t pretend to explain it all in a couple sentences. You can find bloggers via Technorati, Blog Catalog, and any number of similar sites. Once you identify blogs that might be interested in your product/service, read their blog for a month or two before you email them. Leave some quality comments first. Your first impression can’t be a sales pitch.
4. Find local neighbors online. There are lots of places online where you can specifically find and connect with people in your own town. Read my article, 8 Social Media Sites for Local Networking, for some places to get started.
5. Advertise & network offline. Again, if people aren’t searching online for what you offer, you have to work harder to get noticed. That can include offline advertising, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Sponsor a local Little League team or your favorite high school sports team. You can (and should) also make local connections via your area’s Chamber of Commerce and other local networking groups.
That whole thing about having a Unique Value Proposition is undeniably important, but when it comes to SEO, there’s such a thing as being too unique. If people just aren’t searching for the products and services you offer, SEO won’t be your primary method of attracting new customers. That’s when public relations, social media, and a little bit of creativity comes into play. It’s not easy, but it can be done. You can create search demand by first going in different, non-search directions including PR and social media.