How BIG Is Your Pond?

September 7, 2017 | Published by | Leave your thoughts

And the Myth of Search Engine Optimization

When it comes to your website’s search engine optimization (SEO) or marketing (SEM) strategy, or are you a big fish in a little pond, or are you a little fish in a big one?

In my website design and development business, most clients ask me to help them get their pages “ranked on search engines” for their site based on a limited number of very general keywords. And, of course, I do the on-page SEO work to help that happen. But, invariably, a client will become anxious that his or her site isn’t immediately coming up in search for their favorite keyword or two.

As if there’s a button, or some magic trick I can do to make that happen quickly. </eyeroll>

(And please, let’s not talk about “black-hat” strategies – they just plain don’t work anymore, and the last client I had who used some guy on Fiverr to do “SEO” found his site ranking for “male enhancement products.”)

Most small-businesses I work with are service companies who provide services to a specific geographic region. I live in Northern Colorado in the Fort Collins area, not a small-town certainly, but about 50 miles north of Denver. What is important to these clients is that they “rank” in searchability in those specific geographic areas.

A “small pond,” you could say.

But here’s the problem: they are still “small-fish” compared with other large sites that also show up in that small pond. They’re being beaten-out by some huge web directory site or company that has been around since the Mayflower.

Service companies encounter this problem frequently, because of large “directory” sites like Thumbtack, Moonlighting, Houzz, TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc… All of whom are advertising search-engines in their own right (kind of like a “dream within a dream” for you poetry-fans).

An example

I work with a local carpenter on his website, and he wants to perform well in his local area for kitchen cabinet installation. So, I did the work on the website and created new content to promote this service, so it could begin to be crawled by the search engines.

And, it is findable… just on page-two or three of Google (the best place to hide a dead body). Why?

Because the same website competition from the “big-fish” high domain-authority sites like Houzz, Porch and other directory-sites clog up the page. Plus, all the “how-to” sites for the DIY crowd, and the big-box stores like Lowes. He’s not alone; most other individual business pages get buried under these directories too.

So, he is also listed on those sites, and backlinks are added to his pages… but it doesn’t result in much of a bump, because those sites’ links are of the “nofollow” variety. They don’t even show up in tools that track backlinks.

So, often customers find his business from the directories, where they are also exposed to his competitors, not his website. So this begs the question – is this a real problem?

It’s not always about SEO!

Yes, the site should be easy-to-find. And it is, just not as obviously from the first SERP that Google spits out for those specific keywords.

The real metric we should look at is traffic numbers to the site, and where the visitors are coming from; and then how often they engage with the site and “convert” by contacting my client.

So… I took a look at the analytics.

And… 4-8 page visitors per day looks pretty dismal. Shouldn’t there be hundreds?

Now, technically, “kitchen cabinet installation” is a long-tail keyword. But, it is still too general, drawing too many results from the aforementioned DIY group as well as from the big-box stores like Home Depot and Lowers. (I could use “contractor” in this keyword group, but my client isn’t legally able to use that term. He is a carpenter and does not have a contractors’ license, nor does he operate as one.)

However, how do I evaluate this keyword at all? It’s likely the first one most people will key in looking to find someone to install their cabinets. It begs the question that I should want to compare my results for that keyword group to a known metric of the number of people in the area using those keywords.

So, I trotted over to Moz using the Keyword Planning Tool, and plopped in the keywords for the “US” region. The tool does not allow more specific targeting than that, but if I want to get a general idea of how many people are looking for “kitchen cabinet installation,” then that’s at least a start.

What did I find out?

As of this writing, the monthly volume of searches performed in the search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, was 11-50 nationwide. Longer-tail keywords using additional qualifiers were much less than that, in the 0-10 range or under the limit for volume-tracking.

Let’s think about that for a minute.

In the entire United States, there were maybe a maximum number of 50 searches for this overly general keyword. The one that my client wants to “rank” his website for. And less than that for others related to it.

This means that in Northern Colorado, a fraction of those people are looking for “kitchen cabinet installation.” (My client could care less about people in New York, or even Denver. He does business in Fort Collins and surrounding cities. But even in Denver, the number must be less than 50 searches per-month).

Remember my clients’ daily visitors of 4-8 per day? (This number excludes bots and the administrators too. I did think of that too…)

That’s not looking all that bad. And conversions? The client averages a couple of inquiries per month from the site. Again, considering the statistics above, that’s not really all that bad for a small business like his.

And, we are improving those numbers through fresh content. For other clients, engaging social media is another way to drive better-quality traffic. (But that’s for another blog post.)

The moral of this story

I wrote this little story because I got tired of listening to these SEO-geniuses talking about optimizing sites for thousands of site visitors, and charlatans promising “page-one” of the SERPs.

My clients are small businesspeople who work one-to-one with their customers. Their customers often become friends, just like my clients become my friends. And, I don’t want to see my friends fall into the SEO hype and spend a lot of money fishing in a very small pond.

Online marketing is a huge investment for any small-to-medium-sized business, and it needs to be done smartly. Yes, search engine optimization is vitally important to most businesses, but I fear a lot of people are getting snookered into spending a lot of money on SEO (a passive marketing endeavor at best), and ignoring active inbound-marketing tactics which have a much higher return on investment.

But, more on this in a future blog post!

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This post was written by jcwretlind

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