I recently had a conversation with a doctor about search engine optimization. He was excited to talk about the idea that he wanted his name, and to a slightly lesser extent the name of his practice, to pop up all over the front page of Google. He was disappointed when he googled himself, not to see his name popping up at the top. He wanted to know how much it would cost to get that kind of result. I told him it wouldn’t be expensive at all. He got excited.
I then told him that it would be money down the drain, with no real return on investment to speak of. He looked puzzled, so I went on to demonstrate my point by pulling up a keyword tool on my iphone, and showing him the volume of people searching for his name. Zilch. Or so few that the keyword tool wouldn’t embarrass him further by showing him just how few there really were, after you subtracted his own vanity searches. His doctor-ego had just taken a hit, so I decided I’d better channel his energy in a positive direction.
Next, I asked him if he had any idea how many people searched for the name of the primary disease with which his particular specialty dealt. We did the numbers (the name of the disease plus the name of the city in which he practiced), and he was astounded to see how many monthly searches there were. Then I asked him if he would like for his name to appear all over the front page of Google for THAT phrase. To his credit, the light bulb sparked to life without much delay. He asked me how much this strategy would cost, and I just smiled at him.
Rule # 1 of Search Optimization: There is a direct correlation between the number of searches a term gets, and the amount of money, effort, and time it will require to move the needle.
Rule # 2 of Search Optimization: There is a direct correlation between the number of searches a term gets and the potential returns to be had in going after the front page of the SERPs.
The work of SEO must always consider these rules when forming and deploying a meaningful strategy.
So what kinds of scenarios don’t make sense for a comprehensive SEO strategy? I asked our SEO team to answer that, and this was their list:
- The market-busting product. If it’s so new and revolutionary that no one in the market even knows that they need it yet, then SEO is not going to help at all. The real expense of marketing this kind of category-defiant product or service is in directly educating existing customers and potential customers about what your product is and does, and why it’s needed. If no one knows what term or phrase to enter into a search engine to find you, they won’t be searching that way for you yet. (One exception is the revolutionary product that fits well into an existing, clearly defined market need, such as a new vacuum cleaner technology, or an amazing new spatula.
- The invisible Brand Name. Branding is a necessary function of marketing, but not necessarily the first priority of SEO. It’s not the low-hanging fruit. Again, this comes back to knowing what keywords people use to find your product or service. Getting the sale is the first priority, and if your brand name alone does not yet have the cache to move the market, stick to optimizing the keywords that describe your product or service until your other concentrated branding efforts catch up.
- The tangential product, or Red-Headed Stepchild. Many companies have a core competency they are known for, but there’s still this great little product or service on the side that seems to get far less attention. SEO the heck out of it, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. If there is not a clear connection between the core offering and the sidebar deal, there may not be a smart way of leveraging the strength of the one to infuse the other with deserved attention. Remember, Google doesn’t care that your company is branching out. It only cares about returning relevant search results to its visitors (and arguably making Gazillions in the process). If your New Thing isn’t the same thing as your Tried and True Thing, the amount of effort necessary to get noticeable results begins to look a lot like an entirely separate SEO strategy, complete with its own budget and structure. Diluting the strength of your tested and profitable web pages with large doses of The New Thing is not going to help anyone get rich(er).
- The low-profit per sale deals. We’ve had to talk some clients out of SEO, simply because the price point (and more importantly, the profit margin) on their typical sales didn’t justify the expense. Quite simply, if the research shows that you can expect to pay the same price or more than you’ll net on a sale to acquire that sale through organic or paid search optimization activities, then either raise your prices, or find a different, more cost-effective method of marketing your goods or services. We love to see clients who fundamentally understand the expected net value over time of a new customer relationship, because these are the clients we can truly have rational discussions about ROI expectations. Don’t spend too much to acquire too little.