Not long ago I was discussing the merits of PR compared with search engine optimisation (SEO). The reason for this is that the person I was speaking to told me that their company had spent a good chunk of their marketing budget over the previous 12 months purely on SEO.
When they reviewed its effectiveness over the period, they discovered that 80% of the people who ‘found’ their website were actually looking for it by name (they either typed the name of the company or the website address in to Google).
And of the 20% who typed in some other search term, not all visitors seemed to be thrilled at what they found when they landed on the site (see bounce rate*).
The biggest issue facing SEO is that Google is continually revising how it ranks websites in terms of search terms. This means that SEO constantly has to change to reflect what Google is looking for. Which is?
Which is to find the type of information that the person searching is looking for. Makes sense.
So what is SEO trying to do, get people to visit your site because that’s what they’re looking for or get them to visit your site by some means of subterfuge? If it’s the latter, what’s the point? Just a long shot that once they’re there, they’ll think “wow!” and be so overcome that they make an impulse purchase of whatever it is you’re selling?
If it’s the former, isn’t there a more obvious way of getting them there? Specifically, making the information on your site just what they’re looking for. An almost ‘build it and they will come’ situation.
Information about your products, why they are good, where they are used, as well as providing free tips and advice that may be useful for the type of customers or clients you are trying to attract. Information about your company and why you’re better to deal with than anybody else.
Overall they need to have a good enough experience of being on the site that they start to have trust in your company and start to value the products/services you provide (I can’t over emphasise how important it is that the products and services you offer are clearly explained so that nobody has any doubt what they’re going to get for their money).
So is having a great website (and making sure it’s constantly updated and added to with news, case studies, more advice and other things that will be valued by your customers) enough to attract new customers?
No, it’s just one part of your marketing activity. To drive people to your website, you’ll need to utilise some mix of adverting, PR, social media, word of mouth, direct mail/email, SEO, exhibiting, networking and telesales.
Not all of these will be suitable for the business that you’re in, but all of them, apart from SEO, have the ability to ‘sell’ and enhance the appeal of your products/services as well as encourage people to visit your site. In fact, some of them can even lead to a sale without people visiting your site at all.
In reality, many companies (especially in B2B) don’t tend to operate by driving people to their website where the sale takes place. They tend to want to get people interested in what they have to offer (through advertising, PR etc) and use the website to underpin their credentials when people visit it to check them out (that is what many people use company websites for – as a credentials checker, which is why it needs to reflect your brand in a good way) or to find out a bit more what your products can do.
For that reason, SEO is even less of an attractive proposition for these companies, because it’s not how people search for their products and services.
Certainly they might Google a generic product or service to see what comes up. But wouldn’t it be even more impressive for you if, when they did that, your products appeared on news sites, in blogs and on social media, as well as on your own website? Being talked about, being showcased, being visible.
That’s part of what PR will do, as well as putting your company in front of people who are most likely looking for what you have to sell, and who are in a position to make a purchase.
Very focused, minimal wastage, positive profile.
There’s another downside with SEO. Not every company can be at the top of the search or even on the first page.
So when companies claim to be leading exponents of SEO, all you need to do is type SEO into Google and see if they show up at the top of the listings.
I’ll bet you only one of them will be first. So SEO’s maybe not quite working for all of them.
* bounce rate is the percentage of people who land on a page of a website and leave again without viewing other pages, indicating that they’re not interested in the site