(Edited in Spring, 2019 for clarity, and to reflect our new Program for Muskoka Web Design. Originally authored March, 2017.)
Search Engine placement ranking is perhaps the most important factor for a successful online presence in today’s competitive world. Undoubtedly, medium or large-size organizations need to invest heavily in Digital Marketing if they want to improve their rankings. The realities of local small businesses in their quest for the top positions, however, are by nature vastly different.
Local Small Businesses: STOP competing for Google’s top Search Engine placement ranking!
Hint: Racing to the top Search Engine placement ranking may cost you more than the benefits!
First, evaluate if it’s worth it.
The other day I was chatting with “Bill”, a small business owner. Bill repairs boats on the French River, a small community in the beautiful Canadian North six hours from Toronto. Our discussion was related to our newly-launched Muskoka Web Design program.
Bill already knows about Search Engine Optimization – SEO. He understands the importance of high ranking in search engines, and he sounds willing to invest in professional SEO.
But he raises a concern:
“I understand that you can set up my page so that if someone types, say, french river boat repairs, or muskoka boat repairs, my name would come up at the top. But what if you have more than one client in this area doing boat repairs? Who’s name would be at the top?”
Bill is asking the “million-dollar” question. Or is it? Is the #1 Google spot – in his case – indeed worth a million dollars? Here is the REAL question:
How much money is top Search Engine placement ranking worth to your local small business? What actions do you need to take, if any, once you find out?
Race for the top Search Engine placement ranking position – but only if it’s worth it!
According to a 2013 study by Jessica Lee, the #1 position in Google gets 33% of the traffic. Of course, the nature of local SEO for Small Businesses is substantially different. There are much less local web pages competing for the same keywords. Still, we must agree that Search Engine placement ranking position #1 yields the most leads anyway.
However, it makes sense to “chase” that “lucrative” position only if the benefits outweigh the cost of getting there.
Let`s do the math.
Let’s say each lead is worth $300 to Bill. That would be his short-term potential revenue from each client. For simplicity I am not taking under consideration here the long-term revenue, residual value, etc. In Bill’s case this would be the average money he makes from a boat repair.
- Search Engine ranking position #1 for his keywords yields 50 clicks per month.
- Search Engine ranking position #2 for his keywords yields 30 clicks per month. (In a local small business visitors will naturally visit more than just the top position. There wouldn’t be many sites to chose from anyway.)
- Conversion ratio for Bill’s top-ranking page is 5%. This would mean that for every 100 people arriving on his web page, 5 decide to do business with him.
Dollar difference between ranking positions #1 and #2.
We now calculate the yield for Bill’s local small business page ranked #1 on Google for his keywords. 5% of 50 visitors X $300 revenue from each visitor = $750. Per month, that is.
In contrast, if his page is in position #2, his monthly return will be $450. (5% of 30 X $300 = $450.)
Position #1, then, would yield $300 more, compared to position #2.
“Enticing!”, Bill rushes to conclude. “I am losing $300 of leads every month, so it’s worth an investment to get to position #1”.
The point is, of course, how much investment could be justified going after ranking placement #1?
Note that achieving Search Engine ranking placement #1 does not guarantee that you will stay in that position for ever. Your competitor, who lost position #1 to you, may decide to fight back. Before you know it, you are in a race.
How to tell if racing for Search Engine Ranking position #1 is worth it.
The big question here is “is it worth it?” (Both to you and your competitor!)
Bill`s ranking placement at #2 is translated to opportunity loses of $300/mo, compared to position #1. Therefore, he can spend up to $300/month to “fight” for position #1 and that’s to break even. But a budget higher than $300 per month may be required to achieve and sustain that top ranking placement.
Under that scenario Bill would have to hire a professional SEO firm to do this work for him. It takes tons of billable, labor-intensive work from Professional Digital Marketing firms. Services vary between blogging, managing Social Network accounts, constantly studying the competition, etc. Such work is required if a web page is to reach ranking position #1, especially in a competitive environment.
Obviously, if position #1 gains are substantially higher than position #2 gains, then yes, it is worth it. Otherwise, STOP competing for Google’s absolute top Search ranking position! Instead, follow the tips further below on how to improve your online presence inexpensively.
When it makes sense to race for Search Engine Ranking placement position #1.
Let`s assume now that each of your leads is worth $100,000 to you, instead of $300 in Bill’s example case. Such a yield per lead is not uncommon for Law offices, architect offices, construction firms. In those business environments the stakes are much higher.
The picture is now vastly different. Just by changing the lead value, here’s how the calculations look like now:
Money value of position #1: 5% of 50 X $100K = $250K.
Money value of position #2: 5% of 30 X $100K = $150K.
A change from ranking position #2 to ranking position #1 would now increase sales by $100K/month. This is vastly different compared to Bill’s local small business case! The yield of position #1 is now substantially higher than an investment towards improving search engine results page (SERP) ranking.
A $5000 monthly investment would be only 5% of the potential increase in revenue. (5% of $100K=$5,000.) The investment would be justified in this case. $5,000 per month on the “fight” for Searching Engine rankings. Even if position #1 is not always achieved, a placement in the top-3 (aka: Three-Pack) can also yield lucrative results.
Imagine an architect or a high-end law office. Every lead they generate may yield 6 or 7-digit revenues for their business. That’s from a single lead. In a fiercely competitive market such as Toronto, firms have no choice but to invest in Digital Marketing. There are many competitors with deep pockets in these markets. Players’ online success is literally measured in terms of their web page’s Google placement.
For in-depth analysis see Aaron Wall`s excellent article on How Much Money is a Top Google Ranking Worth to Your Business?
How Google determines where to rank your website, anyway?
No one knows exactly how Google determines the order of local search ranking. Even if someone pays Google for placement (Google Ads), #1st placement ranking is still not guaranteed. Simply put, there are many competitors bidding for those same keywords.
However, we have a pretty good idea! Google determines placement ranking of local, competitive pages based on a number of factors. These include:
- Site content. Which site is doing a better job writing quality, relevant content, separate for each subject, on a separate web page?
- Technical proficiency of all web pages. No technical errors, proper use of header tags, plus a myriad of other technical details.
- Site structure. Are web pages positioned within a meaningful and hierarchical tree-structure?
- Their social networking exposure. Which site has a better-maintained Facebook page with more often updates, with the most “likes” and “shares”?
- Which site blogs higher-quality posts (articles related to their area of expertise) and how often?
- Mobile compatibility, aka “Responsive Web Development“. (Is your website mobile-friendly? Take this test & find out.)
- Which site has the most quality and relevant backlinks – links from quality 3rd party sites pointing to their site?
- Do they maintain a Twitter account and stay on top of it, posting frequent, relevant tweets? Which site does better?
- Do they sustain a high score in site-speed? (See Boost your SEO with better Site Speed.)
Welcome to Digital Marketing!
Working on these Search Engine ranking placement determining factors in a competitive market is the subject of Digital Marketing. A lot of time-consuming work is required behind the scenes. This work requires expertise and proficiency in multiple technical areas. As we have already seen, such a service must be justified by hefty returns to make it worthwhile. An investment around CDN$2500-$5000/mo with annual commitment is not unusual.
Professional Digital Marketing makes sense for a Law Office or construction firm in a large market such as Toronto. However, this is not a service I would recommend to Bill, for the following two reasons:
- his dollar value return wouldn’t justify his investment,
- Bill’s local website with its minimal online competition should already rank at the top placement positions with minimal SEO efforts.
Bill, with his small local business, naturally cannot invest in professional Digital Marketing.
In a placement ranking race for one, you should already be at the top!
Bill must justify the cost of a race for placement rankings on the basis of his leads’ dollar value. He also needs to examine how competitive his market is anyway. THIS alone may be the decisive factor of whether Bill needs to even consider a “race to the top”.
If Bill’s online competition is non-existent, he is better-off pulling back from the costly fight for the top ranking position. He should focus on a sensible, inexpensive, self-maintained SEO strategy instead.
When an analysis reveals that Bill’s business has no local competition for his keywords, a professional small business web design company should get him at position #1 with ease. All they need to do is follow some basic SEO guidelines. These include building a technically advanced and error-free mobile-friendly website and ensuring a top-notch website-speed performance.
When you are only competing with yourself, you win anyway!
If Bill finds himself in this situation, he should enjoy the benefits of placement ranking position #1 without further investment. At the same time he should be taking small steps to strengthen his website position in case a competitor shows-up. By the way, our own professional web design service here at COMMbits already includes a preliminary SEO service. Our excellent track record among local small business shows that this service alone may be adequate for Bill.
What happens when another online player shows-up.
One day, another local business owner, “Joe”, reaches out for similar web work and SEO with the same keywords. What we do for Bill we would also do for Joe. Now, it’s two of them. Who gets Search Engine placement ranking position #1?
As it turns out, both should be happy to “own” the top ranking positions. No one knows exactly how Google arranges the exact sequence. Their search engine placement may fluctuate over time; Bill is at position #1, then Joe gets that rank, Bill dropping to position #2, and vice-versa.
There is only a handful of Search Engine results in a local small business market. Therefore, it is natural for a potential client to check out both websites that show-up at the top ranking positions. As far as their respective Search Engine ranking placement is concerned, they both win.
Search ranking aside, the business that wins the lead is the one that talks to the client more effectively.
Bill may insist: “But I want ranking position #1 anyway!”
Tips for competing in a placement ranking race with other local small businesses. Inexpensively!
I understand that especially in a local small market, Search Engine placement ranking at position #1 comes with bragging rights. Bill and Joe could be “nowhere” in Search Engine results. Instead, we have seen that they are both already better-off with their rankings, irrespective of exact placement at the top. But what if one of them – or both – become obsessed with winning ranking position #1? How can they beat each other without burning their bank accounts?
As examined above, it makes no sense for Bill or Joe investing in professional SEO just to improve rank from #2 to #1. Instead, they can both try the following suggestions, on their own. Direct investment not required! All they need is their own time and business acumen. Hey! It`s not called “sweat-equity” for nothing:
- Ask other related businesses in their area for a reciprocal link in their respective websites. For example, Bill can ask for a link to his “boat repair” website from a boat rental business.
- Self-maintain their Facebook and Instagram accounts, with regular posts about their offering. (Case studies, new products, etc.)
- Start a Pinterest account and post related photos of their products.
- Keep asking their friends, happy clients and other related businesses to “like” and share their Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest posts.
- Start a blog on their own. They don’t have to “go crazy”! A quality, relevant post every couple of months could strengthen their case with Google.
Note: Our COMMbits Business Web Hosting programs cover all kinds of other important functions related to Search Engine placement ranking. These are outside the expertise of local, small business owners. They include security, site speed, a professional data center infrastructure, expert server setup and latest operating systems. We also include regular core updates and mitigation of online threats.
Beware of the gimmicks of mainstream web hosting for small business plans!
Help us build an ecosystem of local small businesses in your area.
The more businesses in Bill and Joe’s local market also ranking high on Search Engines the better. Each of those businesses would rank with their own keywords. Therefore, they are not competing with neither Bill nor Joe for ranking placement. Imagine we work individually with cottage rentals, landscapers, ATV rentals, etc. Imagine we bring everyone at the top Search Engine ranking placement positions for their respective keywords. Back-linking would be easier. Swiftly sharing common advise too. Economies of scale at its best! This also allows us to bring a quality web product to a local market at a much more affordable price.
Our work with Bill, Joe and everyone else in their area can help put their local market on the map. BIG time! Eventually the whole local market wins. Search Engine placement results of one business would help the others, both online (through back-linking) and off-line. If cottage rentals are successful, boat rentals would naturally get more customers as well. One business helps the other. A healthy ecosystem is born.
Last thoughts. YOU are on the driver`s seat!
In your small, local business geography, stop competing for Search Engine placement ranking position #1! The web can only give you leads. Unless you are selling something online (eg. you have an E-Commerce website) YOU are still doing the closing and managing your client, within your area of expertise.
Search Engine placement ranking position #1 or not, if you don’t take care of your prospects someone else will. “Close” your prospects quickly and efficiently, and service them with honesty. Or else they will go somewhere else, starting with who is ranked at position #2.
In a small market, a local business with a Search Engine placement ranking close to the top wins anyway!
Follow the link to learn more about our all-inclusive professional web design service. We also offer Search Engine Optimization and Digital Marketing services. Or send us a note with your questions and inquiry for a free quote.
I am interested to learn about the experiences, concerns and viewpoints of other professional web designers and SEO experts. Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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