I was speaking with a small business owner yesterday who told me that improving his search engine optimization was not important because he bought Google Adwords (when he could afford them -- not presently, btw). I agreed with him that Google Adwords were an efficient new advertising market and I encourage small business owners to experiment with them as we are. Unfortunately, I have a few issues with small businesses over-relying on Google Adwords:
  • They are expensive and getting more expensive as that market gets more "efficient."
  • They are an on-going cost.
  • Managing your keyword buying strategy can be up to a full-time job.
  • According to this fascinating research , having a top position on an Adword is equivalent to having an 9th or 10th place on the organic search terms and that the top organic position pulls in 250% more traffic than the top paid position.

If yours is like most small businesses and startups, you are in a relatively narrow niche. In that case, I would strongly encourage you to pursue an organic keyword optimization strategy -- doing it well can produce many new, qualified prospects already shopping in your niche. Here are the steps you should be thinking about:
  • Start tracking the keywords you think you want to start optimizing around. Ask yourself, what is the one phrase that someone might search on that nails our "value proposition" or the problem we uniquely solve.
  • Start tracking your company's ranking (which page -- front?) on Google, MSN, and Yahoo. Google has a little over 50% of the search market, so it is still worth watching the other two engines.
  • Start tracking the traffic these keywords are sending to your site and how that changes over time.
  • Ensure your keywords are reflected in your sites' meta data. (use this tool if not sure)
  • Use the keywords in important places on your site (i.e. page titles, bolded words on pages)
  • Use the keywords in the titles of your blog articles.
  • Create a special web landing page for people coming from Google who searched on your keyword that speaks to exactly what that visitor wants, rather than give the visitor your generic message -- this will dramatically increase the likelihood of "conversion."
If you get on (even) the bottom of the first page of Google for a good keyword phrase, it is like having free Google Adwords 24x7x365 -- worth it's weight in gold in driving qualified prospects into your small business funnel.  The increase in traffic you get as you move up the rankings on the search engines can be dramatic.

I will give you an example of how this works for the SmallBusiness 2.0 blog with the search term "business 2.0." Today this blog is at position #12 when someone types in "business 2.0" into Google, meaning we are the second organic result on the second page of Google. The 12th position this week ended up attracting 58 people to this blog. Four weeks ago, we were position number 15 and attracted 17 people to this blog through that term. Eight weeks ago, we were position number 18 and attracted 7 people to this blog through that term.  As you can see, moving up from position 18 to position 12 meant an 800% increase in the amount of traffic (suspects) that entered our funnel.  We will end up taking some of the measures described above to try to push ourselves onto the first page of Google and we suspect that there will be even more non-linear increases in traffic associated with the move to the first page.

-- Brian Halligan

Originally published Dec 6, 2006 11:54:00 AM, updated October 20 2016


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