Each week I speak with potential SEO clients who ask me to “make their phone ring”. It is an honorable request, but I struggle with this because in many cases, SEO alone can’t solve their problems. SEO can help, but once the website visitor arrives to their website, they’ll run screaming for the hills.
I’m not a website snob and I value the small business owner and his desire to bring sales in through the internet. I think internet marketing is critical for many small businesses, because it is relatively cheap compared to other marketing tactics. The problem is most small businesses owners want you to market a website they designed themselves or one that has not been updated in five or more years. My professional opinion is although I’d love their SEO retainer, it would feel as though I was taking their money and providing nothing in return.
Organic SEO rocks. I believe in it and I’ve earned a living off of it for many years. But search engine optimization will only go so far. You have to have a decent website to present to visitors once they arrive.
To illustrate my point, I’m going to use Randy as an example. Randy called me on Monday and asked me to “make his phone ring”. His words. I told him I could, but we’d need to address his website and SEO together, as SEO alone will not work. Randy didn’t believe me at first, so we had a frank discussion about his website and what it presents to visitors.
If a small business owner even thinks about engaging in an SEO campaign, he needs to first look at his website and ask himself a few questions. I think fifteen questions can really help determine if an SEO campaign is needed or if he needs to start first with a website design project. Let’s step through my fifteen questions for website owners to see how Randy’s current website stacks up.
Fifteen Questions Every Small Business Owner Should Ask Themselves
1. What is the first impression your website gives to a visitor?
Stress. One word describes it for me. As soon as I arrive Randy’s website a video starts playing and replays everything I hit the home page. I don’t like background noise and the video literally stresses me out.
2. What is the first thing you notice?
Links and lots of links. Randy has done his own SEO and his home page has nineteen links within four paragraphs of text. It is overwhelming and worse yet, it is keyword stuffing. He has multiple links to the same page and simply uses different keywords for each link. Keyword stuffing = Google penalty. It is not helping him from a search standpoint and it does not help facilitate a positive visitor experience.
3. Does a thirty second review of the home page articulate what your company is all about?
Yes. I definitely know what he’s pitching.
4. Does the website speak to your target audience and/or visitor personas?
Not so much. His text is written for search engines and not the user. As the visitor I see red and lots of it. The text is red, the links are underlined red words, and I struggle to read the actual text. The home page is a flood of information and it does not distinguish one visitor from another.
5. Does the website visitor have a clear understanding of what he/she should do once landing on the home page?
As the visitor I’m told to “CALL NOW XXX-XXX-XXXX”. Unfortunately that is all I see. Randy has a lot of content and videos available, but I struggle deciphering where to go. I’m simply overwhelmed. I believe part of this is because all the lovely red text (yes even content) is centered. The yelling caps is also a problem, as it is an immediate turn off. I don’t like people yelling at me. Painful, simply painful.
6. Is navigation easy and clearly defined for the website visitor?
Yes. Once I get past all the red text and view the navigation bar, my options are clear.
7. Is it usable and bug free across all major browsers?
No. That would be a big fat no. It is “broken” in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. I didn’t check IE, because I’ve already validated three browsers, so a fourth is just salt in my wounds. Boxes hang over text, text hangs over text, and there is about eleven inches of a blank page at the bottom of each page. That is just the beginning, but my point is illustrated so I’ll stop.
8. Are the “call to actions” clearly defined and compelling?
I know I’m suppose to call and I know I should “submit a case”, unfortunately the submit function on the contact page is covered with text. The bigger issue is I have no compelling reason to call or give my email address.
9. How does your visitor engage with you?
As I’ve already stated, there are instructions to call. There is a contact box on the home page, but it just states “Submit Your Information” without explanation on why I should submit. It is more about me giving than the firm actually engaging with me.
10. Does the website properly project information about your current product and/or service offering?
I think the website does provide information on his service offering, although because of the large amount of coding issues, multiple parts of the service descriptions are difficult or impossible to read.
11. Does the website discuss your visitor’s pain points and your matching solution?
No, not really. The website talks about the services and the industry itself. It does not connect with the visitor on a personal level or try to relate to their problems or pain points.
12. Do you offer anything to visitors or do you just demand something from visitors?
There is a page of “Resource Links” but these are simply links to industry websites that are not written for the average website visitor. They provide little if any value. So the website itself does not provide or give anything to the visitor. It does demand that I call (in all upper case letters) or give my email address. Since it gives little and wants something as soon as I arrive, I’d be very hesitant to take action.
13. Is the website Web 2.0 friendly?
There are no references to social media, the blog link takes the website visitor to a completely new URL on Blogger. Instead of using the blog to bring people into the website, it takes them away. There is no RSS feed or sharing options. The videos are hosted on the domain and do not utilize YouTube. This website is barely making it with Web 1.0, let alone Web 2.0.
14. If you were the website visitor, would you pick up the phone and call?
Nope. The nature of Randy’s service offering requires the visitor to feel that Randy’s firm is an authority figure in his industry, that he and his colleagues are trustworthy, and that the firm is highly knowledgeable in their area of expertise. In my opinion his website does nothing to convey these characteristics. And, there are plenty of his competitors who do, so I suspect the visitors will simply move onto another service provider.
15. Does your website help or hinder you from obtaining your company goals?
My opinion is the website hinders Randy’s goals. I’ve talked to Randy and I liked Randy. His website does not make me feel the same way. It is dated, difficult to work with, and does not tell me what I need or want to know. That feeling transfers over to Randy and his firm and makes you feel the firm is old, hard to work with, and will not communicate with me as needed.
To SEO or Not to SEO
When I spoke with Randy, I told him I would not take him on as an SEO client. I said I would take him on as a web design client with SEO at the forefront our redesign goals.
Why would I turn business away? I only want a client to retain my SEO services, if I can help the client obtain their goals. Randy’s goal was to make his phone ring. Encouraging Randy to spend money on SEO consulting, while knowing full well his website is horrendous, it unethical. Or at least to me, it feels as though I’m stalking unprotected prey. He’d be wasting money, because any traffic I drove to his website would leave and not convert. Thus in the end, my SEO services would not reach his ultimate goal of new clients.
I have to provide Randy a proposal tomorrow for a website redesign. If Randy decides to decline a website redesign and goes with another SEO firm, I’m okay with that outcome. I may not like it, but I know I tried to level set his expectations and steer him in the right direction. The rest is up to Randy.