Hearing the small business’ story and their struggles with sales and conversions made me wrestle with the notion that I’d turn down a paying gig and instead steer someone in a different direction. And I’ll admit, it wasn’t a very competitive fight; paying and working to get search rankings may not always have the best return, especially for a startup.

Maybe You're Not Ready for SEO

There are so many things that need to be established with your company’s sales, marketing and structure before you can begin to see a return on organic search. Here are a few things that you should consider before spending the money on SEO services:

Did you cover the basics?

If you’re, for instance, selling a new product and want to get it into your online store – great! But have you sold the product anywhere else? Have you promoted yourself and your cool new flip-flop-Ugg boot combo outside of the internet in places like local retail stores, fashion websites, social media, and sales sites like Amazon and Ebay? By beginning to build a brand and customer base the old-fashioned way, you can begin to naturally drive traffic to your site. If nobody has ever heard of the brand name “Fluggs,” then nobody will be searching for them for SEO to do you any good.

If your business is in a field where there is already a high demand, then SEO can perform more quickly, but you still need to make sure to have your business set up and ready for the influx of new potential customers. Having your business plan, sales pitch, goals and brand ready to go is important. Speaking of…

What’s your brand and message?

When we start putting effort into bring new visitors to our website, have we taken the time to consider what they’ll actually see and do once they get there? Have you covered the basics by creating a logo, a brand, a story and more for your company? If you offer service, new customers are going to want to see your story and experience, so you’ll have to build up some experience via traditional sales and marketing, and then use that experience to promote your story and work on your brand. If you drive a potential new client to your website, make sure you’re ready to earn their trust, answer their questions, and convert the lead.

Does your website work?

It’s tempting to think that you’ll make changes to your website once you can track visitors and their behavior on your site, and there’s definitely a lot of value to conversion optimization and behavior analysis. But, before you drive people to your site, make sure that everything is in place as much as possible. Make sure the website works, make sure your message is clear, and make sure that the website puts your company, products and services in a good light. You can update your site later, but in the meantime, you risk losing valuable new customers because your website looks like it was built and optimized for AOL’s web browser (did you know that it still exists?).

If you have a limited budget, perhaps there are better ways to initially drive traffic than SEO optimization.

I strongly encourage anyone building a website to build it with the long-term usability and function in mind. A site that’s optimized for SEO from the get-go is going to perform much better over time than one that isn’t and has to adapt and be updated frequently. That being said, once you have your website, paying for search optimization is great, but you need the site to perform immediately; there might be better ways to direct traffic in the early stages of your website’s life. Running an advertising campaign online through Google, Bing or even social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn might have a better initial return. If you’re a local-focused company, running ads in local magazines, attending business groups, and printing and distributing marketing materials will bring more attention initially than slowly growing your organic web traffic.

The most important thing to keep in mind, and something that quite a number of people forget in this age of the internet, is that old-fashioned, face-to-face marketing is still the absolute best way to sell yourself. While my job makes me sit in front of a computer screen a majority of the time, I see the most success in growing my business in going out and shaking a potential new client’s hand. Building a trust and a brand as the person behind the screen, not just what’s on the screen, has a great deal of long-term value. Once you get that working well, you’ll have the money and brand-equity built up to see much better success overall. Google favors brands, so make sure yours is established first, and you’ll see better long-term results in search and more success when you do begin your SEO campaigns.

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