What’s the best way to get your business to the top of the Google search results?

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Last week I sat with an IFA who was considering joining Sense. Our discussions were drawing to a close, the waitress busied herself clearing the numerous empty coffee cups and my thoughts turned to how I’d pass the time on the car park, otherwise known as the M1, as I battled my way home.

Before we departed, the adviser mentioned his next meeting was with an SEO consultant, with the aim of appearing more prominently in the Google search results.

My first thought? I hope you’ve got deep pockets!

Once I pushed thoughts of previous SEO mistakes I’ve made, and the money spent, to the back of my mind, it sparked an interesting conversation as we talked about the relative merits of SEO and PPC and led me to ask the following question:

Which is better for sending visitors to an adviser’s website?

Before we start though, please bear with me as you read this blog. It’s longer than I usually write, but hopefully all the more valuable for it. Of course, if you would like to pick up this offline and chat further, feel free to get in touch at phillip.bray@sense-network.co.uk or by giving me a call on 07785 284429, I’d be happy to help.

Definition time: PPC, SEO, Adwords

If there’s one profession which rivals our own for the use of jargon and abbreviations it’s the world of online marketing, so, for the benefit of the uninitiated let’s start with a few definitions.

Pay Per Click (PPC) An advert, which in the case of Google, currently means four displaying above the natural search results and three at the foot of each page. The advertiser is not charged for the advert being displayed, only if it is clicked, hence the name; pay per click

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) This is the process of increasing the number of visitors to your website by appearing as high as possible in the natural search results of a particular search engine

A quick word about Google

You might ask why I’m focusing so heavily on Google, the answer is simple, they currently account for 87% of all searches done in the UK. All other searches engines, Yahoo, Bing, Ask Jeeves (remember them?) are frankly a side show to the main event.

However, it’s always worth checking the exact percentage of your website traffic driven by each search engine. Simply log into your Google Analytics account and take a look.

If you’ve not signed up to Analytics already, it’s so easy to do, free and offers you huge amounts of valuable information about your website. Add it to the top of your to do list now!

Back to the original question, which is better, SEO or PPC?

To answer, we need to consider the objective. In this case the adviser wanted to target people searching for “financial adviser Milton Keynes”, “financial advice Milton Keynes”, “pension advice Milton Keynes”, you get the idea.

This in itself raises a topic vital to both SEO and PPC; keyword research.

Keyword research

Both PPC and SEO campaigns should start with the identification of the keywords or phrases you want to be found for.

Effective keyword research should produce a list of words and phrases which are searched by your target clients in sufficient numbers, or carry enough value if they convert, to make the effort of targeting them worthwhile.

It’s all about getting the right people to your site; after all, in the case of PPC, you are paying for each click; you need to minimise the number of clicks, and therefore wasted budget, from people not within your target audience. It’s all about quality not quantity.

Effective keyword research is vital, irrespective of whether you are using PPC or SEO, but it’s too important a subject to deal with here. I’ll write something separate over the coming weeks, however, it is the first thing you need to do and vital to the success of any search based, online, campaign.

Talking of successful campaigns

We also need to define what success looks like.

In this case, it’s pretty simple; for SEO it’s the first page of the Google search results, the higher the better; when did you last visit page two or three?

For PPC, it’s a placement in one of the top four advertising positions; the rate at which adverts get clicked drops dramatically the lower your advert is positioned.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of SEO and PPC, in the context of this particular adviser’s requirements, which remember, was to increase the number of people finding his website who lived locally to his business.

SEO

For

  • The results of an effective SEO campaign can be long lasting, especially if there are relatively modest levels of competition. Of course, this assumes you are not adversely affected by a future change to Google’s algorithm
  • If you already have the necessary skills, or are prepared to learn them, SEO can be a cheaper option than PPC. However, as soon as you need to outsource the task, costs will rise significantly
  • There are of course some basic ‘SEO fundamentals’ which everyone can do, for example making sure page titles and descriptions have been completed and relevant keywords are regularly (but correctly) used
  • There is some evidence which shows visitors to your site who have found it through natural search are more likely to trust your business and services

Against

  • Once you have completed the ‘fundamentals’, SEO can become extremely expensive, especially if outsourced to a third party; with, of course, no guarantee of success
  • The competition for certain, more popular key words, can be intense. In fact, competing with larger budgets, can make it feel like a David against Goliath struggle. Run a search on your keywords, who dominates the natural search results? If it’s large organisations, with big budgets, the chances of you displacing them are reduced. However, many search results, for phrases such as “Financial advice (place name)” etc are populated by old news articles, these should be easier to displace, turning this negative into a positive
  • Building the necessary authority and relevance to move up the page rankings can be a slow process. The Google algorithm changes regularly, which can turn your SEO efforts into an online game of snakes and ladders; just with more of the former than the latter

PPC

For

  • As the name suggests, you only pay when someone clicks your advert, not for simply appearing in the search results. Of course, getting someone to click your advert accomplishes only half the job, they then need to take the call to action and get in touch. But, and this is where PPC differs to outsourced SEO, you aren’t paying standing fees, in the hope of generating more visitors, once the campaign is set up, you only pay for the visitors you receive
  • Done well, PPC can be more targeted than SEO, this is especially true of platforms such as Facebook
  • It is undeniable that a PPC campaign can produce results far more quickly than SEO. In theory, your campaign could be up and running today (alright, tomorrow, you need to do the necessary keyword research)
  • PPC can work for even the smallest budget, which can be controlled, and even turned off if necessary, to cap spending. Of course, your budget, and indeed the popularity of the keywords you are targeting, will dictate the volume of clicks you receive and naturally influence the number of enquiries
  • You have control over your campaign. This allows you to test different combinations of images, text and landing pages (the page the visitor is taken to when they click your advert) to find the most effective combination
  • PPC can actually help your SEO efforts. Over time the data from your PPC campaigns will show which keywords or phrases have the highest search and conversion levels, you can then use this data when deciding which to target through any SEO efforts

Against

  • At a relatively basic level, it isn’t too taxing to set up a PPC campaign. Although it takes time to learn how to build and refine campaigns and mistakes can mean you burn through your budget quickly. When I first started I made many errors, some very financially painful. But, over time, you will learn what works and equally as importantly, what doesn’t
  • If you don’t have time to learn you could outsource the setting up of your campaigns. Better yet, pay someone to teach you the basics and then refine your skills from there. Remember though, if you choose to outsource, that you know financial services better than any PPC techie; working with them will produce better results than completely delegating the task
  • Poor keyword research will lead to you paying for clicks which will never convert, as the ‘clicker’ is not in your target audience. This will of course use up budget more quickly, whilst pushing up the cost of each enquiry
  • The same is true of a poorly designed landing page, which will result in lower conversion rates and a higher cost per enquiry

So what’s the answer?

As much as I’d like to give a firm, black or white, answer, it’s just not possible, so much depends on what you want to achieve, as well as your starting point.

However, if like the adviser I was chatting to, you want to appear more prominently in the search results for phrases including a geographical location, my preference would be to use Google Adwords and Facebook Ads campaign for short and medium term ‘wins’, whilst employing basic SEO techniques and fundamentals for the longer term.

Having said that, the majority of my budget would be committed to PPC.

Would I spend anything on SEO?

That probably depends on my ‘starting position’. If my website appears on page two of the Google search results I might be tempted to invest some budget in trying to move onto page one. Conversely, if my starting point is, for example, page 10, I am very unlikely to commit any budget to SEO as the length of time and cash it will take to move up 90 or so places makes this option highly unattractive.

Finally, unless your resources are large and there are sufficient numbers of people searching for the keywords you are targeting, don’t expect either SEO or PPC to send huge volumes of traffic to your website and the phone to be ringing off the hook with new enquiries; it won’t happen.

But, done well, it will produce a steady stream of high quality, and relatively low cost, enquiries, which, is all most advisers are looking for.

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