Search Engine Optimization – What is it and why is it so important for Small Businesses?

SEO Search Engine Optimization for Small BusinessesThe internet has been around for a while now, and so has Google… Yet, most small businesses have no idea how the internet or Google work, leading to one of the major reasons for business failure in today’s market.

There is no escaping the fact that almost all sales (business and consumer) start with an online search, and this isn’t new. About ten years ago, we used to share a stat that around 50% of sales start with an online search—and this was ten years ago. Since then, that percentage has grown exponentially to 87%, quickly making online search one of the top facilitators for how buyers find and conduct research around items they are looking to purchase. This quite simply means, regardless of your business type, size, or industry, if you do not have a proper online presence or have a key understanding of how online search platforms such as Google work, you are losing business (not a little amount of business, but a lot). There are plenty of businesses that have embraced the internet and online search full-heartedly, making it a core part of their business functionality. As a result, they close a significant amount of business and are thriving where others are failing! Some have even created models where their entire online presence is geared around a touchless sale, allowing customers to find, research, and place orders for their products and services 100% online without ever having to interact with a representative. However, there are still 36% of small businesses that still do not even have a website. And the number of businesses that just have improperly formatted websites or a complete lack of understanding of how Google works, is quite staggering. Why is this the case? Well, it’s a reoccurring theme that comes up in most of our writings but comes down to the lack of understanding of how the internet really works, or just a general resistance to change. In this article, we’ll cover some of the basics of developing an online search presence.

As a starting point, we need to drive home the point that almost all business and consumer purchases start with an online search. Furthermore, when online search is solely used to start the process, there has been a transition to continue to use online search throughout the entire lifecycle of the buying process. Essentially, what this means is once a buyer has locked in on a prospective company, they will continue to conduct research on that company, industry, competition, along with the various product and solutions offerings. Again, this all boils down to the fact that if your business is not focused on online search, you are setting yourself up for failure. The starting point for all these searches and research efforts is Google! Google currently directs 92.81% of all online search traffic, making Google one of the most single important strategies businesses should be focused on from a marketing perspective. The strategy in relationship to Google, is what is commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization or SEO. Search Engine Optimization is quite honestly a very simple strategy for optimizing your website and online presences to be properly found (or indexed) by Google and showcased in their search results. Although fairly simple in its nature, even bigger Fortune 500 companies do not know how to properly deploy SEO strategies and often get it wrong (Toys R Us pays $5.1 million for Toys.com domain name, forgets to set up 301 redirects).

With all of that said, let’s focus on the basics of Search Engine Optimization:

The very first item to understand is that there are two types of SEO: Paid and Organic… This leads to the biggest myth/issue when it comes to SEO strategy, as many believe the only way to properly rank in Google, is to pay Google. This is not entirely true as Google showcases results that are both paid and organic… Paid results are indicated as “Ads” and typically live in the first few results of a Google search, but then just below are the organic results. Let us break out the difference a bit:

Paid Search: Google Paid Search, has been Google’s bread and butter for revenue generation since the beginning. Essentially, Google allows individuals to bid on very specific keywords, so that their business will be ranked in Google searches. As an example, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The first three or four results in that search with the little “ad” box next to them are all paid results. Each business in this section has paid Google for their ranking… How it works: each keyword essentially has a value associated to it and Google will assess its value on how popular a keyword might be. Keywords that are more popular cost more money… But it doesn’t stop there; Google has created a bidding process around each of these keywords. Meaning, for example, if you wanted to outrank a competitor within Google’s paid search results, all you need to do is outbid them. Then, as people see your results and click on your links, you pay Google… Here is the catch: the minute you stop paying Google, you are completely dropped from their paid placement. The easiest way to think of this concept is renting a billboard on a super busy highway getting your business a lot of attention until your ad is removed… This also has the tendency to get expensive real quick, and remember, you are only renting this space.

Organic Search: Organic Search is the other way Google profiles businesses in their search results. Again, pull up Google and search “Search Engine Optimization.” The results that show up just below those paid ads were 100% free… That’s right, the companies that rank for that term did not pay Google a dime for that placement. What is even better, is unlike paid search where you are dropped the minute you stop paying Google, they maintain those rankings as long as they maintain a higher authority ranking in the eyes of Google… In the simplest of terms: where Paid search is like renting for that placement billboard, Organic search is like owning the placement… But like anything, there is a catch. Organic rankings take effort to properly rank within Google, and in some cases, organically ranking for super popular keywords such as “Search Engine Optimization” are almost impossible for newcomers. Ranking in Google organically doesn’t happen overnight—it takes time and effort combined with the knowledge of how SEO works to build up what Google referrers to as Authority. How Organic Search works is instead of paying Google for placement, Google looks at a series of characteristics of your online presences, and more importantly your website, and compares it to competing websites to determine which keywords you should rank for and where. In this article we will not cover the specifics of how that works, as there are plenty of articles online that cover the specifics of SEO in great detail.

Again, understanding how Google search works is quite honestly one of the most misunderstood aspects of online marketing for any business… If Google is so simple, why is it so misunderstood? Again, it comes down to a lack of understanding of how the internet works and just a general resistance to change, especially in small businesses. However, there is another aspect that comes into place as well: the website development community. When you look at small businesses, they typically have zero knowledge regarding how to develop a website, so they look to website developers to create a site for them with the thinking they know best. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth as most designers are taught how to develop a site for looks and functionality, but not for Google. It’s not their fault as colleges and other website design courses are historically slow to adapt to change. This results in website design courses that are built around how to develop a website for looks and functionality, not Google Search… Sure, slowly but surely, more colleges are adding Google SEO to the curriculum, but it is too late for a decent amount of the website development population as they are already out in the field building websites… All of this is a long-winded way of saying that most developers (not all), when building out a website for small businesses, build websites for looks and functionality and not Google. What this all boils down to is that the minute most websites publish, they are already at a disadvantage.

All is not lost… Unless you have a Flash-enabled site (Google does not like Flash sites), most existing websites can be modified with little effort to be optimized for Google. And then from there, it just takes time an effort to build up the proper elements that Google looks for to properly rank a website… Again, it just takes time and education to develop a proper SEO strategy. Spend some time searching Google around Search Engine Optimization Strategy or look at our recommendations: https://blog.hubspot.com/, https://moz.com/, and https://searchengineland.com/. This is also something 3SixtySMB can help with… Regardless of how you develop a strategy, it is important to get started sooner and not later! Your business’s future depends on it…

Another Manufacture Rushes to Market and Fails

We continuously talk about how business moves at the speed of light these days and how businesses need to react to the market just as fast, but how fast is too fast? Samsung recently has been receiving criticism for major manufacturing issues regarding their folding phone before it even hit the market. Over the past few weeks, Samsung had been sharing preproduction versions of their $2,000 flip phone, only to have them fail within hours of first use… This, unfortunately, has become more the norm than the exception. The problem is that businesses are rushing to get their products to market without using them first and doing the proper smoke testing before adopting consumers as beta testers. This recently took center stage with Boeing, where along with their recent failures, news began to leak about how they rushed the Boeing 737 Max Fleet to market, pushing for faster governmental approvals and skipping some steps completely in order to beat Airbus to the punch. And we now know the results of them speeding up the process.

This is not uncommon as time to market and cost savings have taken center stage for many, resulting in quality control issues out of the box. Another example is the fact that almost any web-enable device, even on the day of launch, typically needs a firmware or software update—or both—before the product can even be used. This essentially means that between the time it took to manufacture, ship, and get a product into the customers’ hands, they already found and fixed many issues with the product. However, the updates do not stop there as businesses continuously update their products on a regular basis as they find more issues.

Businesses the likes of Samsung and Boeing have the ability to overcome manufacturing issues, as they typically are quick to address major flaws and have massive amounts of marketing budgets to blitz the market to make you forget the issues in the first place. The same cannot be said for smaller businesses. In some cases, shipping a product before it’s ready can be fatal to a business as most small businesses simply do not have the resources to recover from a bad product launch. Not only does it put restraints on the entire supply chain, it also has major customer ramifications. As we wrote about not too long ago, it only takes a handful of bad reviews to hurt your business. We understand that time to market is extremely important for any business to stay competitive, however there is a limit to just how fast you can go. Don’t skip important steps and ensure proper product testing before you go to market! It just may save your business.

 

Picking a Job Based on your Potential Manager is a Huge Mistake

Anyone on LinkedIn most likely has seen an article or two floating around encouraging people to pick a job based on a manager vs the company itself… Let us first start off by saying that any manager absolutely has the power to make a job an enjoyable or frightful experience for their employees. And any good leader knows it is completely in their power to do everything they can to make a job experience as enjoyable as possible. We’ve all had good and bad managers; however, making a decision solely based on who your potential manger will be is a HUGE mistake… Here’s the reality: regardless of the manager, when starting a new job, you become married to the company and not the manager. If we were talking about the job market 20 years ago, our opinion would be different. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for employees to stay with an organization for many years—and in some cases, decades or full careers. In today’s climate, the average  employment tenure is roughly 4.3 years… That is employment overall and means on average, you are all but guaranteed to get a new manager every four or so years, regardless of how strong you feel about their management ability. However, it goes much further than that… As that number is purely in relationship to how employees stay with the organization and doesn’t account for shifts in position, team changes, or promotions. In reality, this means that someone as your direct manager has a shelf-life of somewhere between one to two years tops. From a personal experience, almost every organization I’ve been employed with throughout my career has seen at least one direct management change. Some have seen many many more… In Oracle for example, I experienced four direct management changes within a little over a year without personally changing teams once. Yes, that’s right—my team had four different managers in a little over a year. For others, it wasn’t uncommon to have had three to four management changes throughout a multiyear tenure.

With all of that said, do your homework on your prospective manager and ensure they are the right person for you, BUT do not forget to pick the right company for you as well. Chances are, they will not be your direct manager forever!

The Importance of Having an Online Digital Presence for Local Small Businesses

Online and Digital PresenceI was reminded the other day of exactly why it is important to have an online digital presence in this day and age… Even though online and digital mediums have been around for more than 20 years, it seems that many local small businesses are still slow to pick up on the trend. We do understand why, as it was not too long ago that all a local small business needed for marketing was a good Yellow Page advertisement, a good direct local mail flyer, and maybe a well-placed radio ad. These worked extremely well for decades… However, from a traditional marketing perspective, times have changed. For example, Yellow Pages have gone from the must have item for every home, to getting thrown in the recycling bin before even making it into the house. Why has this happened? Well, for one, Google has virtually changed the way people look for various goods and services. Looking for an electrician, carpenter, pizza, or even a restaurant? You no longer need to flip through various ads in the Yellow Pages—you can just search directly in Google. Not only will Google pull the most relevant results, but they also pull other various important details regarding these businesses including address, phone number, website, Google, Yelp and Facebook Reviews, Facebook profiles, and other endless information. These elements alone have factored into the demise of the Yellow Pages. Again, this is not a new concept, as this shift has been happening over the past 20 years… In fact, HubSpot’s founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, revolutionized how people look at this shift almost 10 years ago when they published their book on Inbound Marketing and founded HubSpot. They haven’t stopped preaching the word around Inbound Marketing since…

This begs the question, why haven’t local small businesses caught up to their times of creating and maintaining an online digital presence? The reasons vary from anything from ownership not accustomed to change, to lack of understanding and education around how a local small business can create and maintain an online digital presence. Regardless of the reason, if a local business wants to continue to be in business for the foreseeable future, they need to embrace going online and digital. Let me share a personal experience to why this matters so much.

Residential construction has historically been one of the industries reliant on Yellow Pages, advertisement flyers, or word of mouth to help run their businesses. Looking back maybe ten years ago, the Yellow Pages alone were enough to keep phones ringing off the hooks… but those times have come and gone. Now it is a feast or famine industry, with some businesses still maintaining a strong revenue stream, while others that have resisted change are failing. When inviting a construction company into your home, people want to ensure that they are inviting someone that they can trust to do quality work in a timely manner. As a result, they tend to do research on these companies before calling… which is what happened with me, and it reminded me why a strong online digital presence is so important. My wife and I are personally looking into having some major work done on our home. Like any household, we receive various local advertisement flyers and ValPaks in the mail. This past week, I decided to take a look and see if there were any businesses we should be considering as part to the process. Interestingly enough, in both the local flyer and ValPak, I found a construction company’s very well-made flyer, advertising the exact service we were looking into having done. However, there was an instant red flag for us: the price. The price on the flyer was too good to be true, but I’ve come to learn to never judge a book by its cover. So we did some digging… Naturally, we started with a Google search and then looked at other resources such as Facebook and Yelp. What we found was beyond a website—they had zero online digital presence. No Google or Yelp reviews, nothing on Angie’s List, not even a Facebook profile. This was a bit concerning, so we took our search one step further creating a post on both Nextdoor.com and Facebook asking if anyone in our community has ever worked with this company. We received no feedback on the business at all. When performing our search, we had been hoping to come across reviews from others who have had a great experience with this contractor, or maybe even a Facebook profile showcasing some of their latest work. We were looking for anything to give us the confidence in their business and that we could welcome them into our home—but nothing. As result, I moved on to the next candidate on the list.

Therein lies the problem for small businesses today. If you are not working on building an online digital presence, you are guaranteed to lose revenue to competition… Interestingly enough, while searching for information on this particular construction company, I stumbled upon several other businesses with fantastic online presence, and they were the ones that received a phone call.

Websites are not enough anymore, especially for local small businesses. Building an online digital presence isn’t entirely that difficult, and in most cases, has a zero-dollar investment to get started; it just takes effort and time. We’ve actually been writing about various tactics to improving one’s online digital presence… Here are a few recent articles to help you get started:

We also recognize that creating a strategy to develop or improve your online digital presence is easier said than done… 3SixtySMB is happy to help. Through our 3SixtyAssessments, we will not only evaluate your current online digital presence state, but we will also provide actionable recommendations to developing your own strategy. Feel free to contact us directly via 3sixtysmb@3sixtysmb.com if you need help. As always, we welcome comments or questions below in the comments section of this article. Again, if you have been resistant to adopting an online digital strategy, and you don’t act fast, you could be risking the future of your business.

 

Salesforce.com Pushes Businesses to Adopt New Lightning Platform

On December 17th, 2018 Salesforce.com announced a strategic move to shift all accounts to their new Lightning platform on a rolling basis… Salesforce.com’s new Lightning platform actually isn’t all that new as it has been around for a few years now, officially launching on XX. We find this forced shift to the new platform a little disconcerting, as most organizations are not ready for this shift. The challenge is that Salesforce.com’s growing customer base of 3.75 million users has become extremely familiar with the existing platform. Personally, I cannot remember much of a change in the overall platform for the past ten years. With this new change, Salesforce.com is essentially forcing their entire userbase (with the exception of early adopters) to relearn this new platform… This in itself is not a huge issue, as most users will grow to forget the old platform in little time, with the end result being some—but not total—disruption.

We have been working to strategically get more departments integrated into Salesforce.com over the years taking advantage of the platform’s full potential. Challenge is, once you go beyond sales, the inherent knowledge of a CRM system drastically drops. Anyone that has deployed a CRM to any department beyond sales has experienced a fairly significant learning curve to get these departments onboarded to the CRM. Therein lies the problem: with this change, you’ll find that those same departments that were so difficult to get onboarded will need to be retrained once again.

With this new platform being deployed over the next few months, we advise that businesses start their planning and training on the new platform now. Salesforce.com has made the new platform available now for select users within organizations to get familiar with the system. Our suggestion is to get your most active users on the new Lightning platform today, allowing them to learn the new system sooner than later. Then, start setting up sessions with the various teams and departments to educate them on the new platform… The sooner you can get them educated and adjusted around this new platform, the less downtime your organization will be subject to when Salesforce.com flips the switch.