Back in ancient times, when the web was young, you really could spend £100 and find yourself right near the top of search engines.
Today you simply can’t. To get to the top of search engines you need the kind of buying power of the BBC, IBM, APPLE or other huge companies.
That doesn’t stop people trying to take your money with empty promises.
Customers ask me all the time about SEO. How do they get seen, get follows, get likes, get sales? This article won’t answer everything, but I hope to give a quick, honest overview of the reality – not the hype.
There are 2 types of SEO, organic and paid. Organic is simply ‘hang around long enough and you’ll get noticed’. Paid comes in many forms we’ll look at later.
Essentially, for the majority of small businesses, organic is the best way. It takes about 2 years to work your way up but you can get fairly high on search engines without paying anything.
To make organic search work, you should put all the right parts in place. Sensible headlines, and not too many of them; the right information on pages, ‘alt text’ on images. There are many fine guides on doing this and you could start here at MOZ.
Good SEO for an accountant
Title: Accounting for small businesses
This tells you what they do and their main customer. Try and stick with just one main headline (known as H1, basically the biggest font size). Use smaller headings elsewhere. This helps search engines understand your sites key points.
Text: We offer small businesses and start-ups in Devon low cost financial advice including how to reduce expenses, managing payroll, tax returns, submitting VAT and dealing with HMRC.
This reads well for humans. Too many people write ugly sentences to force ‘keywords’ in. You don’t need to anymore because search engines are smart enough to know what matters. This sentence gets all the important stuff out, but written for people first, not just SEO.
Poor SEO for an accountant
Title: We make money work for you
It may sound clever, but search engines won’t know what you do – accounting, banking, investments… Be plain and just say what you do, leave the fancy taglines for captions or sub-headings.
Text: Many people struggle to make ends meet, but we can help, by offering advice on making the most of your money and how to fulfil all your obligations with financial agencies.
No mention of what the company does, where or for whom. This isn’t describing a service, it’s just sales patter. Search engines will only have a vague idea of what’s actually on offer here and so won’t rank the site either in the right sector or very highly.
A very basic look there, but the main point is that good SEO is actually mostly common sense. Say the most important things first, be clear and be obvious. What would YOU type into Google if you wanted to find a business like yours? Make sure that phrase is on your site somewhere, nicely, for people to read too. Otherwise – it does help to have changing content. A post once a month on your blog is good. But posting all over Facebook, Instagram, your blog and a dozen other places is mostly wasted energy. Where once you might have stood out on the lonely internet, now everyone and their hamster has a website – you’re just throwing more litter on an already overloaded pile.
There are a million ways to try and pay your way to the top. Adwords allow you to buy key phrases such as ‘Devon accountants’. Facebook can boost your posts for £x. You can pay people to promote you on social networks, improve SEO on site, add Google analytics and spend hours analysing how people use your website. You can add landing pages, A/B testing and all manner of crap.
They all have the same problem. The internet is essentially full-up. There are simply too many sites, too many competitors, for anyone to get seen without spending HUGE sums of cash.
A phrase like ‘Devon Accountant’ will cost you A LOT of money each time someone clicks on it. Phrases you can afford will be mostly useless: ‘Accountancy for small businesses in Devon’, or ‘Budget Devon Accountants’ – phrases that no-one is likely to use and so won’t help you at all.
The reason there are still 1,000 posts a day about how to ‘get seen’ online is because it’s an industry. A website is essential, but millions of hours analysing click-patterns, 10,000 pages telling you how to engage people on social media, obsessing over likes and shares – it’s just become a sad delusion and a waste of human life. Don’t be fooled.
Why Have A Website?
You may wonder what the point of having a site is, if you can’t get found. In reality for most small businesses a website is one of two things.
Your Dream Website
This is what all those obsessive SEO marketers want you to believe every site is. An ecommerce store, a big brand like Ford or Dell, a worldwide resource like Wikipedia or IMDB.
For big brands with bigger budgets, Paid SEO still works, because they can afford to pay £20 every time someone clicks ‘Work Laptop’ or similar. Others are ‘content engines’, like Wikipedia, where anyone can add to the site, so it constantly grows and draws in search engine bots all the time. IMDB review all the new movies, so mop up trendy searches for those movies.
These websites can ‘monetise’ – get paid by others to put up adverts, sell online etc. Then the income from the site justifies the cost.
Your actual website
Unless you’re getting 10,000 hits a day it’s likely your site is effectively a business card. You have to have one to be considered credible, but don’t imagine it’s going to bring 1,000 new leads the day after you launch it.
Proper tending of the site, good content, a bit of blogging and social posting if you have time, and you’ll probably get ranked eventually, but without huge spending, that’s it.
It’s frustrating and sad to see the ridiculous expectations that SEO marketers create; partly because customer end up getting ripped off, but also because customers accuse honest web developers of being crap because their site has made them a millionaire overnight.
What does it all mean?
Nothing terrible. It means you can relax, and accept that your website probably isn’t the key to doubling profits. It means you still need a good, pretty and easy to use website, but £500-£1000 will likely do it – spending £k’s is unlikely to be a good investment.
In a peculiar circle, now that the internet is over-crowded and everyone’s trying to out-scream each other – the best marketing has once again become word-of-mouth. Do a good job and your customer will recommend you. Go to some networking events, a show or wherever your customers are likely to gather and then meet people. I haven’t paid a penny for SEO in a decade, rarely ever use social media and work keeps coming anyway, so put your money and time into something more useful instead.
You can point people to your site to prove your genuine, or use it like a brochure, but your connection will come from the real world, not the digital one, which is actually quite nice.