A few days ago I wrote what I thought was a tame, informational post. The post centered on SEO Best Practices for Restaurants & Eateries, which has been a topic heavily on my mind thanks to some new businesses opening up in Troy, NY with less-than-stellar Web presences. The post covered common areas where restaurant Web sites fail and some tips on what users are really interested in when they land on your site. We saw a good discussion break out here on Outspoken Media and on some other sites that were kind enough to pick it up. It was all very nice and lovely.
Then the conversation took a nose dive.
In the comments of one site we were lambasted (or…I guess I was lambasted) for our use of the phrase “SEO” in the post title. The argument was that if we really cared about business owners, we would have used a different term since “regular people” don’t use words like “SEO”. Okay, I thought. That’s valid. I can take that.
Only the issues didn’t stop there.
- We also received harsh criticism from a restaurant employee who let it be known that people who are actually working in a restaurant are too busy to worry about search engine optimization.
- We heard that SEO exists only to ensure its own existence.
- That SEO people need to get off their elitist pedestals.
- That you don’t have to be a magician to find a business without a Web site.
- That I’ve lost my mind offering these recommendations and that I should stick to using Twitter to talk about Twitter and leave the food establishments alone.
- That, once again, the post was just about my ginormous ego.
More and more it felt like these commenters weren’t just unaware about the place of SEO in business, they were actually angry with SEO and the thought that it mattered to real people.
Watching the conversation in the comments fall deeper and deeper into the gutter, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. I know how to explain the importance of SEO to people who aren’t exposed to it. To people who simply don’t have the information to know why it’s so vital.
But how do you defend SEO to people who hate you and what you do? How do you prove SEO matters to people who want to scream that it doesn’t?
I’m curious to hear your responses. For me, I thought maybe I’d break down some of their issues. Maybe we can change the conversation that way?
“Real business owners don’t have time for SEO…they’re too busy running a business!”
If you’re not investing in SEO, you’re not running your business. You’re wasting it. Small business owners have always been notoriously busy. But somehow they found time to be listed in the Yellow Pages, to sponsor little league teams, to create flyers to promote upcoming events. They found time because they had to in order to market themselves. Without these promotions, they were invisible to their community. SEO allows SMBs to be visible to a larger community and social media allows them to do it faster.
Creating a well-structured Web site, claiming your Google Place/Yelp/FourSquare listing, and using social media to hit the virtual streets have been vital in promoting a small business. To not have a Google Place Page in 2011 is like not appearing in the Yellow Pages 15 years ago. Studies show that 76 percent of consumers use search engines to find local content, 56 percent of social networkers look for social company pages, and those numbers are on the rise. If you’re not there, you’re not in the game. We can’t eat at restaurants we don’t know about, magician or not.
“SEO is just people spamming Google”
With all the bad press SEO gets regularly, I understand why you may be holding onto this, but it’s not true. Best practice search engine optimization is not about tricks or manipulating users or engines. It’s simply about creating usable Web sites that real people can and will want to interact with. Regardless of how good the food is, small business owners still need a Web site to market it. SEO’ing that sites means making sure the site is set up correctly, that people understand where you’re located, that there’s content describing your services, and that people are able to complete the goal they had when they landed on your site. SEO isn’t black magic; it’s more and more marketing and usability. It’s what allows users to find what they’re looking for in a crowded sea of mostly junk. Do you want to be found by your audience or do you want to leave it to chance that they walk by your storefront?
“SEO ruined the Web”
No, it hasn’t. See above. It’s the shallow content and funny cat videos that have ruined the Web. SEO is what’s helping to restore order and to make sure your SMB is found alongside big brands. SEO is visibility in a crowded market.
“SEO means fixing an HTML meta tag and making people pay for it”
Yes, and being a doctor means handing someone a lollipop and smacking them on the butt on the way out the door. ARE YOU FOR REAL?
“I’ve seen SEO’d sites…they all look like dirty spam!”
Hey, if as a normal user you’ve landed on a site and been hit over the head with their SEO attempt – you probably were looking at someone who spammed their way in. Because a properly SEO’d site is like a piece of content that’s been properly edited – you’re not going to notice it. Nothing will stand out or look out of place. It will all simply flow and make sense that everything is appearing the way that it should be. When you notice SEO start to notice SEO is when there are too many variations of that keyword in the body content, when that headline looks like it was twisted and pulled to fit, or when you’re being pushed through a site instead of being allowed to walk through it. And if that’s the case, yes, that’s not SEO. That’s spam. And there is a difference.
“SEO doesn’t matter…”
SEO only doesn’t matter if driving customers to your business does not matter. If you don’t want to be found, if you don’t want to learn more about your customer’s needs, if you don’t want to cater to anyone other than the people who live on your street, if you don’t care if people know about your business. If you do and if you want that wider audience, then you need to invest in SEO and market your business. Otherwise, what are you doing?
For me, it’s frustrating to see people ignore their businesses by refusing to market it. It’s like blogging without understanding promotion. If you care about something, then, I think, you do everything you can in your power to make it successful. And in this digital age, that includes SEO. It’s also difficult to listen to people cut down what you do, simply because they think it’s something different than what it truly is (aka spam).
But that’s me. How do you defend SEO to people who think it’s unimportant and self-serving? I’d love to hear it.