Over the years we have helped hundreds of local clients market their businesses, in Billings and the surrounding area. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is always at the top of everyone’s list and rightly so – it is a very powerful and cost effective tool for marketing your web site. We have seen that only a small number of business owners understand how to market a business, and what role SEO plays in a digital marketing plan.

SEO is often perceived as a one size fits all solution that can be used in lieu of a proper marketing plan, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Below we will address a few of the most important concepts to keep in mind when incorporating SEO into your marketing plan.

SEO is not a silver bullet

SEO is not necessarily better at reaching clients than other forms of advertising. It also does not replace traditional marketing methods (print, TV, radio, business cards, newsletters, signage, etc.) in all applications. As you are going through your day, take note of how often you see Internet-based companies like Amazon and eBay advertising their wares on TV and in your favorite magazines. This is no accident. SEO can’t replace all other marketing methods – rather, it’s best implemented as part of a cohesive online/offline marketing plan. Find the right mix of tools to reach your target audience.

SEO is a broad tool by default

Most businesses have a target market that is local or regional. They also have specific products or services which are their main focus. To market these products and services effectively, the company must identify what their primary service or product is, who wants to buy it, and where those people are. While this sounds straightforward, this focus is quite often is lost when planning an SEO strategy.

We like to use the comparison of the Internet to a phone book. The Internet is worldwide by default, which is like a phone book that is many, many feet thick. How useful is that really? Are you trying to sell to people in Honduras or Denmark? For most, probably not. You need to focus on getting your name in a local or regional “phone book” which is more tailored to your potential customer base. By keeping your target audience in mind, you can narrow the scope of your SEO strategy. However, traditional marketing still has more value for many local businesses, since it reaches a local audience more effectively.

Update: Since we originally published this article, a new sub-strategy of SEO has emerged due to changes in search engine location targeting. Local SEO techniques optimize your site for your geographical location, are less broad in scope, and are often a better fit for local businesses.

SEO is a commitment

SEO, like any other marketing medium, requires cost and time in order to be effective. Because the Internet is a living organism of sorts, your SEO strategy will need to continually evolve. Analyzing keywords, reviewing statistics, writing and revising content, etc. are all required to stay on top of the competition. Just remember, if you are doing well in the search engines – someone else will be studying your SEO methods.

SEO is generally impersonal

SEO as a marketing tool is generally a distant form of marketing. It can reach more people, but is almost always brief, truncated or generic in manner and seldom provides an opportunity for imagery and in-depth descriptions. Typically your information is displayed as a brief overview, small ad, or a mere link. If your products are more defined, this may be enough, but many businesses have complex offerings which require more time & space to explain.

In closing, don’t forget the value of the other marketing mediums and their individual benefits. To effectively brand and market your business you will need to utilize multiple channels in order to get your message out and reach the largest possible audience.