Preamble: Last week I posted my thoughts on SEO, after receiving a stream of great comments on Twitter that I thought were worth sharing. In turn, I’d posted because I was working on a project with a long-term colleague and friend, Steve Meleka. I worked with him at Imagination Technologies at the time we won the Sega Dreamcast contract, where I was the technical writer and Steve was the web designer. Now that I’m freelance, and Steve has his own web development company, we continue to collaborate on cool and interesting new projects.
Following from my post last week, and the resulting tweets, it struck me that Steve has a lot to say on the subject – as someone who works on the ground, day in day out, getting results for clients. While there’s a tendency in the social media world for people to think they’re the latest and greatest, we need to be reminded that community and content are not everything. We need to remember the basics. So here’s Steve’s take on this…
Good, effective copy is what sells a product or service to a real person. But, and it’s and extremely important ‘but’, the people who you succeed in selling to will always be a subset of the people who find you in the first place.
If the content of your page generates 500 visits in its ‘un-optimised’ state, and you manage a 5% conversion rate then you’ve got yourself 25 sales. Give yourself a big hand.
But, if you increase your traffic two or three times using SEO techniques while managing to retain your conversion rate you could manage 50 or 75 sales. If you’re selling large individual units – combine harvesters or something – that’s a fat wad of cash. Any don’t kid yourself for a moment tat the combine harvester outfit down the road aren’t trying to beat you to the top of the search results, because they are.
Appearing at the top and even getting more visits is only half the story though. The saying goes we should work smarter, not harder, and SEO probably falls mostly into the ‘harder’ category. The smart money is in converting visits into sales, which means writing compelling sales copy for people, not search ranking algorithms.
Tell me though, what use is one approach without the other? Pretty much a big fat zero. Like I said at the start, those people you manage to convert will always be a subset of those you manage to attract in the first place.
I know very well that quality content is going to get linked to from many other places than just search engines, but most small business people don’t consider themselves ‘experts’ and many consider giving advice dangerous since it could give their competitors an edge. So in the end, at this end of the market it’s not the norm for clients to generate (or even commission, sadly) enough new content to generate interest.
So what do I see the web doing for small & medium businesses now? Well, people said back in the 90s that the web was going to democratise business, and create a level playing field where Mom and Pop could compete with the conglomerates. In some cases that’s true, but only if Mom and Pop deploy their more limited resources in a new or novel way (see Mashable’s Small Business Success Stories to see what I mean).
The reality is that the web has just turned into another tool in the marketing box, and often a bigger budget will win out. Want more visits? Publish more content. Looking for more conversions? Test more high quality a/b tested content. More, more, more. In the end, more costs more. (Guess this page will rank better for ‘more’ than anything else.)
So at the coal face, working with small and medium sized companies, a strategy I’ve found to work is apply SEO in a palatable fashion to generate traffic into the site. At the same time, and ideally within the same content that ranks well in the first place, make the offer or suggest the solution to the problem the customer has and aim to convert them.
It’s a tall order, I know, and it’s not one I can manage alone. That’s why I hire a kick-ass copywriter like Brendan to fuse the two together for me. It won’t always work first time, but hey, this is marketing, we should be endlessly rinsing and repeating anyway, just like we did with direct response print ads back in the day.
Post-amble (is that even a word?): What do you think? Do we need to work harder, or smarter, or both? Is SEO dead, or live and kicking? Let me know.