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September 14, 2015

Don’t Gamble on SEO

One of the biggest decisions a small business owner can make is selecting the right service provider for search engine optimization (SEO). Search engine optimization, in my opinion is the No. 1 way to ensure your business is “found” on the Web. Furthermore, not having a good SEO can damage your brand and reduce your business

I am a small business owner and not an SEO provider but, rather, a consumer of SEO services. As any small business owner I routinely struggle with how to make sure our company stands out from the competition and is found by our customers on a limited budget. My company (Fairview Lending) focuses on a very unique financial product (private real estate lending/hard money lending) which makes the task all the more challenging.

We constantly struggle with how we differentiate ourselves from our competitors and attract the right leads. In our industry, there are many bigger players with much more money and time to spend on ensuring they are found on various search engines, meaning they rank higher. Managing this task is one of the biggest struggles both I and many small business owners face.

Through our quest to optimize our SEO I’ve enlisted all sorts of professionals from large national shops, to regional players, to one-man bands and, throughout this process, I’ve made a number of discoveries. There is the old saying that you learn best lessons in life after getting kicked where the sun don’t shine (figuratively that is!) a couple times. These lessons force you to quickly adapt your strategy and improve. For example, with a number of our SEO providers, we’ve wasted a ton of money on wild goose chases that ultimately did nothing other than suck our marketing budget dry.

As a result of these lessons, I wanted to share some quick tips to help other business owners select the appropriate partner to ensure not only that their company is found, but that the appropriate people find them and ultimately become clients.

Before jumping right in, the first step is: do not hire anyone until you do a self-evaluation. The quickest way to lose money and become frustrated is to not know your objective. Remember you are the expert in your particular business. No consultant or other professional can answer the questions below.

  1. What is your core competency? What differentiates you from your competition? Why would someone buy from you or utilize your service over anyone else?
  2. Who is your target market? (Be specific, not every person over age 35 that drives a car, which is way too broad)
  3. What clients actually produce revenue for you? What does the ideal client look like? (look at some past successes and see who these clients were and how they got to you)
  4. What is your goal, is it a conversion? What does conversion mean for you? A call for more info, a purchase, fill out a preliminary application, etc…
  5. Who are your top five competitors and how do they compare to your business?

The questions above are going to be critical to define your strategy. For example, after going through a number of SEO folks I found that many were increasing our traffic, but were not actually leading to closed transactions. In essence, we were targeting the wrong clientele. Having a million people call me did not necessarily increase my bottom line. For example, in my business, being a niche lender (hard money lender) I don’t want to target anyone looking for a private loan; I want to target someone looking for a specific type of commercial loan in a certain market that meets our criteria. This is very difficult to pin down and will take a number of iterations to narrow down but is critical to be successful in any SEO campaign.

After answering the questions above, you need to make sure you have your baseline (analytics, webmaster tools, etc..) to not only see how you are doing, but also provide a metric to ensure you are meeting your objectives when you do hire the pro.

Now you are ready to start looking to select a pro. There are thousands of so-called experts, how do you find the right one? Hiring a SEO expert is a high-risk proposition and shouldn’t be taken lightly. You need to make sure the professional can help you achieve the goals outlined above.

Like purchasing any other service, the No. 1 way is to find a provider through a referral from another small business owner that has used their services. Below are five tips to help you find the right fit:

  1. Make sure you share with them your objectives and “buy in” to your goals, just increasing your traffic will not help your success.
  2. Get proposals in writing and ask them: how they will achieve your objectives? You want specifics not just “increase visitors for your target market” You want to know how.
  3. Look at their portfolio. Are you impressed with what they have done for other companies?
  4. Make sure you can work with this provider. Since you are the expert in your business the provider will need lots of feedback/input from you and you will be spending quite a bit of time with the provider. If there are personality issues, this will be a miserable experience
  5. Don’t buy into the hype: SEO is a slow process that takes time, sure there are some quick wins, but the vast majority will be accomplished over an extended period of time (i.e. black hat techniques don’t work and will ultimately do more harm than good.)

After selecting the appropriate provider, make sure you are evaluating your provider and their progress by metrics (conversions that you defined above) to increase your bottom line. SEO is not a something that is done once and forgotten about. To achieve your results, it will take continual iterations and “feeding.”

Finding the right SEO expert is a difficult process that should not be taken lightly. By doing a self-evaluation, identifying the right expert, and tracking their progress you will drastically increase your odds of success. Just remember, the right expert can substantially boost your business while the wrong one can cost you not only thousands of dollars in lost business but your reputation.


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Glen Weinberg is a partner and the chief operating officer of Fairview Commercial Lending, a privately-funded hard money lender/ private lender. He is recognized throughout the industry as a leader in hard money/non-traditional real estate financing on both residential and commercial transactions in Georgia, Colorado, Florida, and Illinois.

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