When SEO, AdWords and print ads are a waste of money

South of the Border sign 17 - Time for a PAWSNot long ago I was on a road trip that took me through South Carolina. Soon after crossing the GA/SC state line, billboards promoting a roadside attraction near the SC/NC line began appearing every few miles. They were big, boldly colored and there were a bazillion of them (or so it seemed). Though the signs were campy, they boasted of amenities I’d be looking for at the next stop. Why not refuel and refresh someplace fun, I thought.

When the place came into view, it was clear even from a distance that it was run down. As I drove closer I realized ratty was a more apt description. No way was I stopping there. Obviously I couldn’t judge the condition of the restrooms and restaurants from the vantage point of I-95, but my gut told me to keep on going.

Driving past the kitschy roadside wonderland I marveled at the fortune the owners must have spent to erect promising billboards up and down the highway. They could have put up a tenth of the signs and still had plenty, and used the rest of their advertising budget to tidy up the ramshackle compound. How many people had they initially attracted, then repelled, because it didn’t look like they could deliver on the promises they made? How many people stopped anyway, but spread the word about what a letdown the place was?

Wow – an *actual* SEO expert

I had the opportunity recently to sit down and chat with Peter O’Driscoll, a consultant for digital marketing agency Local Positions. Peter showed me some of the truly amazing ways they can analyze not only a client’s site, but some of their competitors strategies – all essential in developing an effective plan to drive traffic and leads for the client.

I’ve heard the sales spiels of so-called Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts who are keener on their own short-term ROI than they are on actually doing something that will help a prospective client long term, so I tend to be skeptical when anyone tells me they “do SEO.” Within a minute of talking to Peter I knew that he was the real deal.

Organic SEO

When working with a client on a new website, I build it with organic SEO in mind. Organic SEO is a nerdy way of saying a site is created with the needs and wants of actual human website visitors first. It’s always a bad idea to simply pander to the current Google algorithm, because Google always changes to improve results and foil the panderers. It’s karma, and I like that.

Boost Organic SEO
Need SEO help? Click the rocket.

It should go without saying that, in addition to organic SEO, it’s imperative that a business establish a polished, professional web presence. Organic SEO and good design are the basics. If the business is in a tight enough niche or does a good job building relationships with prospective customers, they may never need to worry about further search engine optimization or what AdWords keywords to buy. But the rest of us better make sure our sites are in order (pleasing design, easy to use, mobile-friendly, organic SEO) when we go to spend money on SEO.

Unfortunately, after what Peter showed me it is obvious that some businesses are spending money without understanding how SEO works. Sure, he can get leads to a website. But if it’s a shoddy website, those visitors will bail on it. If that’s the way they’re going to do things they might as well flush 60+% of their marketing dollars down the commode.

Buy business intelligence, not keywords

In more competitive market niches, businesses can easily lose out because they spend money in the wrong places. They buy keywords without an analysis of what the competition is doing or what their prospective customers are actually searching for. They overspend on print ads in the wrong publications because they don’t realize the market has shifted. And the one that makes the least sense to me is spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month to attract leads to a poorly designed website that repels visitors like the rundown tourist attraction I mentioned above.

Ask better questions

The question shouldn’t be “How much is a website going to cost me?” It should be “What is my marketing budget? Is it sufficient? Am I allocating it wisely? Is my website effective or not?”

How much did it cost you to get that prospect to your site? How much will they contribute to your business’s bottom line if they choose you? What kind of ROI can a decent website bring to your marketing efforts?

If you can deliver on the promises you make to prospective customers, why not ensure that what is likely their first meeting with your business will be one that underscores your ability instead of making them question it?

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