by John Eberhard
A Bill of Goods
Basically you can probably tell that I think that the “inbound marketing” advocates are selling the public a bill of goods when they say that inbound marketing is all you have to do and that outbound marketing is dead. I have observed that some don’t even understand that different types of businesses have different needs and have to be marketed differently.
But I think the bill of goods goes deeper than that. If you’ve followed my articles you probably have guessed I’m not a total fan of Google.
Years ago before Google came on the scene, a web site’s ranking for a given keyword was determined by various factors, including how many times the keyword appeared on that page. When Google arrived their system was based on the idea that your web site’s ranking for a given keyword would be based mostly on how many links there were to your web site coming from other sites. This revolutionized the search industry and today most other search engines incorporate this idea into their algorithms.
For years Google has been advising web site owners to put up great content on their sites, i.e. information and articles that the public will find helpful and informative. Their major premise is that if you put up great content on a web site, that other people will then link to that site from other sites.
Since Google came up with this system that puts a lot of weight on the number of links that are coming to your site from other sites, web site owners and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants have found various ways to boost the number of links to their sites or their clients’ sites. This has then improved the search engine rankings of those sites.
Google hates this. They do not want SEO consultants to be able to build up links to web sites. They lament that this will not show a “natural linking pattern.” They have reiterated over and over that all you should do is create great content on your site and people will link to it in a natural way.
And, most importantly, every major Google algorithm change in the last several years has been an attempt to stop SEO consultants from doing link building and penalize every type of link building. They have even tried to promote the idea that doing various types of link building is “unethical” or wrong in some way. I have even heard one SEO consultant say that it is too dangerous to do link building any more. I don’t agree with that but it is an illustration of how Google has tried to stop people from doing link building.
One well known SEO consultant has even posed the question recently “Does search engine optimization still work?”
So let’s go back to this major premise of Google’s. They say that you should just put up great content and people will link to you.
Let’s take an example I mentioned earlier in this series of a dentist in a local town. Exactly what type of great content is he going to put up that people will link to like crazy? He can write articles about proper dental care, proper treatment for various conditions and so on. But unless he is some kind of regionally or nationally famous figure, who exactly is going to link to it? Are his patients going to link to him on their web sites? Probably not. Unless they’re really crazy about the care they got from him. He may not have any kind of interest in becoming a regional or national expert.
Now let’s look at this from the other side of the equation. What type of web site owners will actively link to content on other sites? Well if you’re a business that sells products or services and you have a web site, you are typically not going to link to other sites very much. You have worked hard to get web site visitors there and the last thing you want to do is send them away to some other site. You’re not in business to promote other people. Web sites used to typically have a “links” page that linked to various other web sites, sometimes businesses in the same industry, sometimes other web sites not even related. But that trend is on the way out and hardly anyone does that any more.
So who is going to link to other web site content a lot? Here are some examples:
- Blog writers. And by this I mean blog writers who write on a given topic all the time, but are more like journalists, in that they are not writing to promote their own products or services. These are guys who write about computers or health care or whatever, some topic that is common to all their blog posts.
- Actual journalism web sites. By this I mean web sites for actual newspapers or magazines, or sites that are devoted to news on a specific topic.
- Hub sites for a specific topic.
- Hobbyists who have sites about a given topic
So those sites listed above are going to link to other sites. But what percentage of the web is made up of sites like that? And how much are they going to be interested in a local business owner like our dentist?
So how does Google’s major premise work out for that dentist? The answer is, for organic search engine rankings, it doesn’t. He can put up great content all day and all night for years on end, and exactly nothing will happen. He will be lucky if he has a couple hundred links. And that will be several thousand shy of what he needs to rank well for any keyword, even local ones.
Yet Google does not want him to try to increase the number of links to his site, except by “writing great content.” That may work if you are a company or person who is already well known, like Coca-Cola or Apple, but for a small business, it just doesn’t work. Period.
Solutions for the New Year
The solution here is first of all to realize that Google is telling people to do things that are good for Google. It’s not necessarily good for you. And stop believing everything they say and treating them like gods. In fact I would go as far as to say that on the topic of achieving good rankings on search engines, that people should stop listening to Google altogether, because their advice is just bad and isn’t designed to help small businesses at all.
Second, work out what are the best inbound marketing actions that make sense for your type of business, and do them. But by no means should you limit your marketing actions to inbound. Consult a knowledgeable marketing consultant on which actions are best for you. Here are some ideas:
Inbound Marketing Ideas
- Do SEO (on-page optimization) to your site. This means to write meta titles and descriptions and a keyword block for each individual page.
- If your business sells a high ticket item (say over $500) then do pay per click advertising on Google AdWords.
- If yours is a local business servicing people only in one local market, put up a Google Places page if you haven’t already, and take actions to push it up towards the top. This includes getting positive online reviews, and creating listings on other business listing sites.
- Link building. I am still doing link building for some clients, and I still think it is a good idea. But you should definitely not depend on this as the only thing that is going to get you traffic.
Outbound Marketing Ideas
- Direct mail to targeted lists of your potential customers
- Limited display advertising in newspapers and magazines. I say limited because advertising definitely does not work like it used to. So you do it for increased awareness of your business, but be sure not to do it as your only promotional action.
- Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Put up accounts on these sites, work to get lots of friends, fans, followers and connections. Then put someone onto sending out communications to those people regularly.
- Get videos made and put them up on YouTube and also post them to your site.
- Online advertising on Yelp can be very effective for local businesses.
- Email marketing. Develop an in-house email list and send regular content to it such as newsletters. Buy or rent lists from outside sources but be cautious on the prices for these. Some providers are still charging a lot for sending to their lists and email doesn’t work nearly as well as it did 12-13 years ago.
Then, come up with a marketing plan that incorporates sensible inbound AND outbound marketing actions. Then track the success of all the actions you’re doing and adjust according to what is working best.
Good luck with your marketing efforts into 2014!