When Social Media & PR Matters More Than SEO

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.

no searches

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. SEOKudos | July 13, 2009
  2. Sorry, but SEO ALWAYS Matters More Than Social Media or PR » AVID Design | Blog | April 29, 2010
  1. Rachael A. says:

    Matt, Thank you for your honestly. Telling people that they need PR and other services more urgently shows your trustworthy and speaks well for the industry in general.

  2. what a great post. It’s so true. When the web was pretty young to most people, people were naive — though I was doing social media (not a term used then) and it was pretty successful based on grass roots working on the forums and reaching out WOM.. however the web is much more vibrant and trafficked now and it can be easily leveraged via various sites (digg, delicious, stumbleupon) groups/forums (twittermoms) as well as apps like twitter and facebook.
    It makes sense for business people to use these as a way to engage in the beginning as part of an outreach media campaign– because it helps speed the process.
    I have found there are some people who are shooting themselves in the foot by not listening to advice like this (which I said similar things). If you don’t push that envelope, you may be forever stuck in that spot.

  3. Zack S says:

    Nice article. I agree, particularly with networking and advertising offline. Sometimes, particularly with a niche business like the one your client operated, you’ll see better results to start offline and more localized.

    Why not work with a local grocery chain for a few weeks and introduce the product and idea directly to the people who would be buying it?

    SEO and social media are great tools, but “old fashioned” PR never hurt either!

  4. Ed Reese says:

    Dead on, Matt. It’s a very common topic with busineeses. Just like you mentioned, some are so targeted/niche that you just have to let them know that while it’s great that they are excited about SEO, other marketing strategies should probably take priority for the time being. I even had someone want to hire me as an SEO for a new invention web site. Had to break it to him that since he just invented/named his new gizmo that nobody was searching for it yet.

  5. S. says:

    This almost sounds like ‘the revenge of the old-school marketers’ :) It is very true that off-line and more traditional marketing methods have long been neglected in favor of seo.

    But now the old-school marketers can come out of the closet again, as long as they have made shure they have kept up to date with modern marketing techniques. So yes, it is an excellent idea to send out press releases, but don’t forget to include your url!

  6. I think the site should have been optimized for the most relevant keywords possible at the time and this coupled with performing social media and some PR would naturally allow here site to climb at least a little bit. It might take here some time to rank for “baby safety” but it is still important to get those words into the website.

  7. Agra says:

    I agree that offline marketing is really helpful when you have more local product but I have found it very expensive to advertise offline then online. I have always been searching for some less expensive ways to advertise offline in news papers or some local magazines.

    Sponsoring local sport team is the way I like most and going to try it.

    Thanks for the great article to give me some ways to save business money.

  8. Elizabeth says:

    I think it is definitely a question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? If they don’t know your product exists (if you don’t tell them about it), SEO isn’t going to do you much good. But if you don’t have strong SEO efforts in place, they won’t be able to find you when they search for you. I think it’s safe to say that the focus should be on creating valuable content both with PR and with online content.

  9. Michael says:

    Matt, another good post. When will you write a post on ways to use Twitter. I am a smart guy with SEO skills, but can’t seem to find a REAL use for twitter for my clients (and for me).

  10. Dori says:

    Elizabeth is right in terms of having SEO efforts in place, however, I didn’t see anyone recognize that your organic search ranking naturally will improve if you do the things Matt is suggesting. If you get inject your brand into relevant conversations and participate in social media, it’s going to bump you up and make it easier for people to find you. Plus, it’s providing third-party validation, getting your customers to sell for you. For the right product and right target audience with the right execution, SMM is a beautiful, powerful thing.

  11. Great points. I think you need to capitalize on all marketing methods. There are many other marketing methods that are better than SEO, like word of mouth marketing.

    My opinion is to perform organic SEO right, and then if you effectively market your company and/or website – you will get the links needed without even working on it.

  12. Matt Leonard says:

    Very good post and, oddly, the exact discussion I was just having with an internal group. I’m doing work on a family site and explaining that just because people are ‘families’ does not mean they will identify themselves as such via search (ie; NYC family hotels will be searched disproportionately low relative to the amount of actual families looking for hotels in NYC). We identify types in strategy and often forget that they’re not likely to reciprocate and identify themselves via keywords. Brilliant, insightful post.

  13. Tim Yaukey says:

    Aside from being involved with email direct marketing I’m also involved with an small brick and mortar garden store, and SEO is largely irrelevant for us for a different reason.

    Nobody finds local storefront businesses with Google, they either ask a friend or open the phone book. We are in the process of developing a Facebook presence, but for us right now our big promotional channel is a weekly email to our existing customers. We divide the content roughly 50/50 between promotional offers and advice/information of other kinds interesting to our customers.

    Because we are a locally owned business in a small town, and we’ve been in business for over 50 years, people tend to see our emails as coming from a neighbor more than a business. In that sense our emails are more of a social networking/media vehicle than a traditional direct marketing activity.

    This strategy has worked very well for us, and we think it would work for any small business with a neighborhood orientation, or repeat business with an established clientele.

  14. Matt McGee says:

    Tim, I would argue with your statement that “Nobody finds local storefront businesses with Google.” Countless studies have shown that people are using the yellow pages less and the Internet more. And I know, as someone who’s been running four hyperlocal blogs for more than a year now, that people ARE looking for local storefront businesses on Google. I know because when we write a review of of the little diner or cafe across town, our blog post ranks well for their name and we get traffic from people searching for those kinds of businesses.

    That said, I do think it’s super smart what you’re doing with your email list, and local businesses than can follow your lead would be wise to do so.

  15. Jacob Stoops says:

    SEO can be tough a lot of times since many people either A) Don’t know how to do it, B) Don’t have time to do it, or C) We can’t control the SERPs.

    Getting traffic can often be less about quality SEO and more about good old-fasioned elbow grease. Sometimes site owners should roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty when it comes to going out and getting traffic.

  16. Stephen says:

    Social media can definitely be extremely powerful for marketing these days. I think we should also remember the impact YouTube and other sites that promote videos like AdWido can have on a marketing campaign. After the past Super Bowl, everybody looked for the best commercials on YouTube and showed their friends who’d missed them.

  17. nil ghosh says:

    Thank you for this useful blogs yes its quite true that now new techniques have to apply for getting a good pr and this is case social media is quite an inportant and useful tools for online advertising

  18. Joel Gross says:

    Well written post Matt! Too many entrepreneurs are heading in the wrong direction by devoting too much time to high tech marketing strategies such as SEO and failing to promote their business through old-fashioned and modern (social media) PR outlets. However, I would argue it is beneficial for any company to have a presence in the online world, specifically within search engines such as Google. I think we underestimate the amount of time people are spending online. Even a small presence online can be beneficial for the company to maintain a positive reputation with its customers. At the very least it is an outlet to communicate with existing customers (maybe the only ones who are aware of the company’s online precense) and in turn these customers will bring in new customers through word-of-mouth marketing. Even building a blog is painless, easy and free marketing for a company.

  19. Koyel says:

    Step by step guide to grow a small business. Really you have explained well.

  20. James Cooley says:

    Search will always be around. PR and Social Media are the way of new advertisement, but customers that know what they want will search.

  21. Michelle says:

    In my opinion, This interaction, and the manner in which information is presented, depends on the varied perspectives and “building” of shared meaning among communities, as people share their stories and experiences.

    Listening: Gathering intelligence on your market and your customer

    1. Build sentiment measurements – “showing how people feel about a subject and how those feelings are changing over time.” Listen to the larger web for how people are talking about your customer.
    2. Learn which bloggers might care about your customer.
    3. Build conversation maps for your customers using Technorati.com, Google, Blogsearch, Summize, and FriendFeed.
    4. Collect case studies of social media success. Tag them “social media case study” in del.icio.us.
    5. Search Summize.com for as much data as you can find in Twitter on your product, your competitors, and your space.
    6. Make WebsiteGrader.com your first stop for understanding the technical quality of your website.
    7. Make Compete.com your next stop for understanding your site’s traffic. Then, mash it against competitors’ sites.
    8. Learn how to NOT ask for 40 pieces of demographic data when giving something away for free. Instead, collect little bits over time. Gently.
    9. Track your inbound links and when they come from blogs, be sure to comment on a few posts and build a relationship with the blogger.
    10. Find a bunch of bloggers and podcasters whose work you admire, and ask them for opinions on your social media projects. See if you can give them a free sneak peek at something, or some other reward for their time and effort.

    Talking: Engaging in a two-way discussion to get your message out (and get messages in)…more on my blog

  22. Chris says:

    Good stuff. But I have the same question; what do we do with twitter? I’m not sure how it help a plumber or an attorney gain business.

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