As an Internet marketing and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) consultant, I often get requests like this: “I need to be number one on Google, and I don’t have a lot of money to spend. How cheaply can you do it, and how long will it take?”
Sadly, the answer to this type of request is usually, “You can’t be number one on Google.”
If you think about it, you will understand why. Imagine for a moment that, as an SEO expert, I have a magic wand that I can wave to instantly move your website to the top of the search results for any search terms you choose. As soon as I do that, one of your competitors will pay their SEO consultant to wave a magic wand, and move their website to first place, ahead of yours. Then another competitor will pay another consultant, and then another, and another.
Soon there are thousands of SEO consultants waving magic wands. But since there is only one first place, and only ten listings on the first page of search results, it’s clear that most of the competitors will not be on the first page.
Furthermore, Google, Yahoo and Bing (the big three search engine companies in North America) don’t really like SEO consultants doing things to affect search engine positioning, so they regularly “break the magic wands” by changing their algorithms.
The Internet once held the promise of leveling the playing field, so very small companies could compete with very big companies. But as the Internet has grown, it’s become more competitive. It’s now difficult and expensive to get good visibility in search engines.
Of course, the competition varies depending on your business. If you are a taxidermist and you want to promote your services to people in San Diego, California, it won’t be too hard to achieve good results because there are a relatively small number of local competitors. But if you are a mortgage company and you want to reach customers throughout the United States, it will be very hard and very expensive to achieve top placement in the major search engines.
Also, results take longer to achieve than in the past. The major search engine companies intentionally delay changes in search engine positioning in order to thwart SEO practitioners (this is just one way in which Google “break the magic wands”). So instead of 4-6 weeks, expect to wait 3-4 months for significant results.
What You Can Do
So how can you use the Internet to promote your business?
FIRST: understand that Internet marketing is no longer a quick and inexpensive way to bring traffic to your website, but it is actually more important than ever. In a recent study, almost 80% of respondents stated that the Internet is now their primary source of information when choosing products and services. In other words, having an effective web presence is now the single best way to reach your potential customers.
So you need to plan and budget for ongoing Internet marketing, just as in the past you may have paid for regular newspaper ads, radio spots, or direct mail. Consider shifting some of your ad spending from traditional media to the Internet, or possibly even increasing your overall marketing budget in order to take advantage of Internet opportunities. Most companies don’t yet have a good Internet marketing strategy, so there is an opportunity for you to get ahead of your competitors by establishing a strong web presence now.
NEXT: recognize that Internet marketing is more than just search engine optimization. Depending on your needs and your type of business, you may need to consider SEO, link building campaigns, Pay-Per-Click advertising, banner ads and sponsorships, affiliate programs, e-mail list promotions, blogging, article syndication, Internet community pages, or other techniques. Unless you plan on becoming an expert in Internet marketing, you should find a full-service consultant who can explain the options and help you to choose the most effective programs for your business and budget.
FINALLY: be suspicious of anyone who promises extraordinary results. There are still a few SEO tricks that can deliver fast results, but the search engine companies actually monitor for sites using these tricks. In most cases they will quickly lower your position in the search ranks, and in some cases even remove your site from the search results entirely. As the old maxim says, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.