My friend Carolyn, a life and business coach in DC, wrote to me after our last newsletter and said, “The acronym SEO – it always gets me. What is it? Why do I need it?” I realized there were probably a lot of other people asking these same questions. So here are my answers, directed to Carolyn, but applicable to any company.

First, a quick definition. SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” which is the process of ensuring that your website can be found by people looking for your type of product or service on search engines.

And now for my top 5 reasons you need it:

1. Search is where your customers are.

In a world where the word “Google” has become synonymous with “to look up,” this one may seem too obvious to warrant mentioning. Yet a lot of small business owners, especially those in niche professional services, don’t appreciate how much Googling is done around their industry.

According to Google’s free keyword research tool, each month about 170 people search for “executive coaching washington dc,” 590 search for “life coach dc,” and 210 search for “career counseling washington dc.” That’s a lot! If you’re not showing up on these searches, you’re missing out on potential customers.

2. SEO brings you super-targeted traffic.

Those search phrases I listed above are the common ones, but there are also a lot of people doing much more narrow searches, some of which are a perfect fit for your business. I’m sure once in a while someone does a search like “leadership coach + yoga instructor in dc.” That person is, in effect, putting up her hand and saying “I want exactly what you sell … and I want it now or soon.”

What other type of marketing delivers such a targeted prospect? Direct mail? A newspaper or radio ad? No chance. Most types of marketing try to interrupt people who are trained to ignore you. Search is the inverse. It delivers people who want to find and learn about you. The only thing more targeted is when someone asks a friend, rather than Google, for recommendations and gets referred to you.

3. SEO makes your website better … for people.

A lot of people rip SEO because they think it makes their site more Google-friendly at the expense of real people. And yes, bad SEO often does this — by randomly stuffing keywords in your content and ruining it’s readability.

But done right, SEO actually makes your site much better for both search engines and humans. That’s because it encourages you to …

  • Understand the language your prospects use when looking for you
  • Integrate those keywords in your site’s content in a way that makes it better resonate with visitors
  • Write new content that’s truly useful for your readers
  • Incorporate usability and readability best practices such as clear navigation, inner-site linking, and scan-able content.

All of these are things you should do to your site regardless of SEO. But it takes the promise of SEO’s benefits to motivate many businesses to do them.

And it’s not just your site that benefits from SEO; so too do your other marketing efforts, your in-person sales pitch, and anything else you do that relies on positioning and messaging.

4. SEO helps you compete with big budget competitors.

Since you just launched your business a year ago, most of your competitors have bigger marketing budgets than you. Even as your business grows, you’ll always have bigger competitors that can afford to advertise regularly in places like trade magazines and conferences. If you try to compete with them in that space, you’ll lose. Google is a much more promising playing field for underdogs and upstarts, who have more time, creativity, and persistence than money.

5. SEO leads to more traffic from non-search websites.

A key part of SEO is getting authoritative sites to link to you (and increasingly, people to “like” you). The more quality sources that point to you, the more Google realizes you are relevant, the higher you rank on key searches. The best way to get links is the indirect way: forget about SEO and just create useful content. In your case, this could include thorough responses to frequent questions about your services, blog posts with leadership tips, or career assessment tools. Over time, others will naturally point to this content.

You can supplement these natural links with links that you simply ask for directly from sites that already point to businesses like yours (e.g. sites that list career resources in DC). As Google sees them, both types of links will boost your search presence. But even if Google never sees them, real people on these sites see them. And many will click on them, leading to much higher non-search (aka “referrer”) traffic.

Bottom Line

Just about every business can benefit from SEO. The most well-known benefit — more business from Google through better rankings — is reason enough to do it. But hopefully this article has shown you that there are some critical indirect benefits as well.

Done well, SEO is much broader than most people think, both in the techniques it uses and the benefits from them. And like a good coach, SEO helps you do things you should have already been doing.

Learn More

Already using SEO and want to know if it’s truly helping your business? Watch our 12-minute video on how to measure SEO effectiveness using Google Analytics.

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