Old SEO is Dying

Species become extinct because they lack the ability to adapt to their environmental changes. Same thing happens with service businesses. And if there’s one thing that’s changed for service businesses over the past 20 years as a result of the rise of the Worldwide Web, it’s how service marketing is done.

A quick recap: First there were online directories. They worked much the same was as the Yellow Pages – lists of companies by category. The companies with foresight scrambled to get a website up before their competitors. Then search engines came along and began compiling web pages based on content, and businesses scurried around adding reams of content that no human being would ever see just to fool the search engines. Then incoming links became a factor and everyone ran off building links wherever they could, again, not because it was of benefit to their prospective customers, not even to drive traffic, but again to fool search engines.

This process of fooling search engines is called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). But the makers of the search engines aren’t stupid. They read the SEO articles and go to the conferences to find out how people are gaming their system. They are constantly upgrading their products to provide the best possible results. Google began penalizing marketers for link and content spam causing many to have to backpedal and clean up their act. Incoming links now means relevant, high quality, links. Because of this changes alone, many sites have dropped off Google altogether and had to go out and remove all those links or disavow them.

What if you could have had a crystal ball to tell you about all these changes before they happened? How would you be faring today against your competition? Well, actually we all had a crystal ball and many of us ignored it. It was Google itself. They provided guidelines and warned of upcoming changes. The crystal ball is still on. Let’s look at what it’s showing us.

New SEO is Rising

Search engines survive because of one thing – people use them when they need to find something. If they want to get more and more people to use their product, search engine makers need to provide the best possible results. If people are not finding quality content they won’t come back. So all search engine algorithm upgrades are designed to do one thing: provide higher quality results. The more relevant your website is to the search terms being used, the better you will fare over time.

And guess what. Who are the search engines going to trust to tell them which websites enrich their lives and which waste their time or money or both? Yup. Your customers! Once again, just like in the worlds of marketing and selling, it’s not what you say on your website that matters, it’s what your customer say on social sites that matters! There’s your crystal ball message.

Who to Optimize For?

Whereas in the past SEO for service companies was about optimizing for search engines, today it’s about optimizing for consumers. Why? Because masses of keyword-laden content and random incoming links will do nothing for you now.

Here’s what Google and other search engines are looking at today:

  1. Quality traffic to your website
    If your website is of value to its users more people will be spending more time on your site, and search engines can measure that.
  2. Relevant incoming links
    If your website is legitimate then other sites which also rank highly for the keywords being used will be linking to your website. Random incoming links of low quality will do nothing for you and may cause you to receive penalties.
  3. Social interaction
    The more people that are sharing your content, linking to your site, and talking about your company, the more search engines are going to love you too.
  4. Positive online reviews
    Especially for service companies, online reviews are an important consideration for search engines. Again they want their users to get the best possible results from their search so they are going to lift up the best companies and penalize the bad ones.

What do all those factors have in common? They are about how the rest of the world perceives your website and your company. So who should you be optimizing for? People, not search engines.

What To Optimize?

Old SEO meant packing your website full of keywords and going out and building a boat load of incoming links. That strategy has breathed its last breath. You still need to optimize your website, but in a totally different way. And today there are some other SEO targets that you will need to consider, outside your website.

Here’s a basic list of today’s SEO tasks for service companies:

  1. Your website
    Forget packing your website with content designed to attract search engines. Start working on content designed to attract consumers. Work on making your website someplace people actually want to hang out. Provide valuable information and even entertainment.
  2. Incoming Links
    There’s no longer any need to go out and keep piling on more and more links just to beef up your SEO. In fact with the most recent changes it can hurt your SEO badly. Just make sure you are listed in all relevant directories, and if you are a local business try to get incoming links from your local media websites. But the most valuable incoming links you can have today come from social sites – people sharing your content.
  3. Social site profiles
    Here we’re talking about Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Yahoo!, etc. (Click here for a comprehensive list of social sites.)  Make sure you have a page on all of them! And optimize it in the same way you would your website. Make sure you have the right keywords but don’t go overboard. Make sure you have incoming links. Add photos and videos. Add special offers. Make sure your contact information and address match the info on your website.
  4. Review site profiles
    Here we’re talking about directories like YellowPage.com and review sites like Yelp and Urban Spoon. (Click here for a comprehensive list of review sites.)  Again, same as above. Make sure you have a page on all of them and that it’s optimized in the same was as your social profiles –  links, photos, videos, etc. Using contact info that matches your website is also important to search engines. And always be working to get new, fresh reviews.
  5. Social and review site UGC
    UGC is “user-generated content.” The Holy Grail of service marketing today is to get your happy customers to create content in the form of ratings and reviews, testimonials, recommendations, etc. If you want to keep up with the pack leaders you need to make post-sale engagement a high priority and start asking all your happy customers for online reviews, testimonials, and recommendations.
  6. Video and photo sites
    Video and photo sites like YouTube and Flickr are a great place build up UGC and engage with your customers. Testimonial videos especially make great video content. But your content doesn’t have to be about your company it can be educational, entertaining, newsworthy, etc. Photos of smiling folks at work, happy customers with your service team, charitable activities, etc. make great photo site content. And don’t forget when you post photos and videos share them on your other social sites. Tie it all together!