Estimated Read Time: 7 Minutes

Just about every small business owner I talk to these days seems frustrated by SEO. Sometimes they feel progress is too slow. Occasionally they feel neglected or taken advantage of by their SEO provider. More often than not, false expectations have been set up front and there is a disconnect between expectations and reality.

I feel for small business owners. SEO is worth doing if you’re willing to put the effort in, be patient, and commit to the long run.

This made me think. What is the shortlist of things people really need to know about SEO? What knowledge, if they had it, would mitigate this risk of disappointment and failure? What is it I know now, that I wish I’d known when I first started out? What short list of realizations could ease the path to a successful relationship between small business owners and their SEO providers?

I can think of six.

1. SEO is NOT a One-Time Event – It’s a Process

A large number of people come to me expecting I’ll be able to flip a switch on the back-end of their website and they’ll magically rise to the top.

Honestly, a few years ago, when Google was still evolving and maturing and there was very little competition, it was almost that easy. Not so today. SEO has evolved to become an extremely complicated, always shifting beast of a process that takes constant care and nurturing.

  • SEO is a moving target. The rules change daily. Best practices evolve. Competitors come and go. The way people search adapts and changes.
  • SEO takes months, sometimes years, to produce results. It’s about hundreds of things that add up over time and contribute to your overall business quality and reputation.
  • Things break. SEO is highly technical and we all know how quickly technology advances. Left alone, it will slowly begin to accumulate errors that erode your ability to achieve your objectives.

In computer science, there is a term (“garbage in, garbage out”) that describes the concept that flawed, or nonsense input data produces nonsense output or “garbage”. If you try and short-change Google by offering up flawed inputs (poor website structures and design, irrelevant or unhelpful content, and artificially-acquired backlinks), you will trigger this phenomenon. You might achieve some short-term gains, but those gains will not hold up over time. Two steps forward, five steps back.

SEO is a process that takes time, commitment, quality, and patience on the part of small business owners and SEO workers alike. You get out what you put in. You reap what you sow.

2. Know Your True Competitors

Have you heard the joke about a bear on a rampage?

snap of a big brown bear half submerged in water

A bear jumps out of a bush and starts chasing two hikers. They both start running for their lives, but then one of them stops to put on his running shoes.

His friend says, “What are you doing? You can’t outrun a bear!”

The first guy replies, “I don’t have to outrun the bear; I only have to outrun you!”

All the effort you put into SEO only has meaning in the context of what your competition is doing. Ranks are relative, meaning you don’t have to outrank every other website on the planet, you only have to outrank the ones that are trying to show up for the same search queries as you.

If you are a small e-commerce provider, don’t chase Amazon. Be realistic about who you can compete against and go after them. Choose your competition wisely.

3. Focus on Your Best Prospects and Customers

With a seemingly impossible task in front of you, where should you start?

Start with your best prospects and customers.

Your best prospects and customers are the ones that keep you in business. They value the goods and/or services you offer, refer you to others, and give you the feedback you need to continue to make your business faster, better, stronger.

Hone in on what your best prospects and customers value most about the products and/or services you provide to them. Shine a spotlight on what you do best and refine it, polish it, and cherish it.

snapshot of Customers wearing rooster hats while waiting in line for the start of Scribblenauts launch event

Customers wearing rooster hats while waiting in line for the start of Scribblenauts launch event

SEO is a reflection of your real-life, brick-and-mortar business. Focus on making that the best it can be and the job of helping you rise to the top of search results becomes a whole lot easier.

Know and master your niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people.

4. Be Sure To Address “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM)

WIIFM (pronounced wiff’em) is a psychological theory of motivation. It stands for “what’s in it for me” and simply means people will expend effort if they believe there’s a benefit to be derived. The stronger the need or clearer, the more powerful the benefit, and the greater the likelihood the person will take action.

People search the internet because they’re looking to solve a problem or be entertained. They want options presented quickly, easily, and in easy-to-digest bite-sized pieces. They don’t want to be marketed to. They want answers.

Scan your site. Is it mostly about you and your company? Obviously, you have to tell people who you are and what you have to offer, but it shouldn’t dominate the conversation. Your content should emphasize the customer – what can they do? What problem can they solve? How will they benefit?

Create content that truly helps your search audience. Solve customer problems. People will remember you, come back for more, and sometimes – sometimes, they will even advocate on your behalf.

5. Understand The Big Picture

There are hundreds of search engines. The only one you really need to worry about is Google. Google commands 65 – 85% of the search market (depending on who you ask and what they measure). If you rank well on Google, you’ll have visibility with your audience.

Don’t waste time or money on other search engines.

If you want to rank at the top of Google search results, you need to understand, at least at a high level, how SEO works.

Watch this video – How Google Works. It’s old, but it gives you a really high-level understanding of the process Google uses to rank websites.

This one gives you a 30,000 foot view of how Google ranks content on the web. It’s less process-oriented and instead tries to explain the criteria Google uses to rank websites.

This video is helpful after you’ve decided that you want to start looking into which SEO companies might be able to help you. It aligns your expectations with what’s possible and helps you avoid hiring a bad SEO.

Finally, read this post – How to Avoid SEO and digital marketing scams. It will help you recognize red flags as you interview SEO service providers.

6. Hire an SEO Partner

I’ve said SEO is a complicated, ever-changing process and a competition. Don’t try and go it alone because you simply won’t have the time. You do, after all, have a business to run.

It is important to choose an SEO consultant or company you feel comfortable partnering with because you’re going to have to spend a lot of time together. The world is not going to stand still while you two work on optimizing your website. You’re going to have to catch up, and catch up again, and keep moving.

Make sure you hire someone who will strengthen, understand and support you.

cafe table top showing people working together with cokes, pens, papers and laptops. Trying to suggest you should pick a SEO partner.

If you can, hire a company that has knowledge of your industry, wants to learn your business, and respects your time, expertise, and wallet. Because of the ever-changing nature of search, SEO, social, and the market, also be sure to hire a company that keeps current and follows best practices.

You know your business and customers best. The right SEO and content marketing expert can compliment your business and help you uncover and showcase your strengths to Google and your intended audience. He or she is going to need you to provide that expertise. It’s not a turnkey service. Your input is needed.

Don’t go it alone unless you have little to no competition and time on your hands to learn SEO, come up with a strategy, and implement it in addition to running your business. Hire a company you know, like, and trust. Go through the same process you would for hiring a lawyer or accountant.

Put It All Together

Here’s what you really need to know about SEO.

  • It is a moving target and there is no silver bullet.
  • Focus on your audience first. Google second.
  • Give your audience what it wants. Do it quickly using easy-to-find and digest information that solves problems and entertains.
  • Give Google what it wants – findable, indexable, relevant, convincing, popular, and/or authoritative information it can share with its audience in the form of search results.
  • Partner with a trusted provider.

SEO is a long-term competition that requires commitment and patience. You can avoid past mistakes and have better outcomes working with an SEO that keeps current, adheres to published best practices, and respects your time, ability, opinions, and wallet.

Thanks for reading.

IMAGE CREDIT: Featured photo by Saksham Ganwar on Unsplash