Avoid The Biggest Mistake Most Make
One of the biggest mistakes I see businesses making when they set up a new website or replace an existing one is not spending any time researching their online markets.
In recent weeks we've run a promotion targeting small and medium sized businesses, probably just like yours. The campaign has offered a number of low cost reviews and audits of web sites. It wasn't surprising to find that the businesses that have responded to our offer have concerns about their web sites, justifiably so in all cases.
That Mistake Again
Without exception all the businesses have never invested in any research or competition analysis. It's the number one reason their sites are not giving a satisfactory return on investment. In practice none of the businesses have set realistic tangible targets for what they expect their web sites to be doing for them. Some haven't set targets at all while others have set targets based on what they think demand is rather than what demand actually is.
Because none have done any research they have no idea how many potential visitors there are searching daily for the products and services they sell.
Because none have done any research their web site pages are not optimised.
Because none have done any research they have effectively thrown money away. This is the hardest truth every one of the businesses we have undertaken audits for have had to accept
Reluctant Acceptance That Money Has Been Wasted
The messages I have delivered have been hard for some to accept. In several instances the business owners have been unable to accept they have a great deal of work to do because as they have put it "we've been using an SEO agency". Unsurprisingly they had stopped using these agencies because they were not seeing the progress they expected. All the same they believed some progress must have been made, even if it was short of what they would have liked it to be.
The business owners had paid up their money and expected results. The problem is no targets were proposed or agreed. These projects were never going to be successful because the business owners and SEO agencies will have had different measures of success.
The Business Owner Perspective
As a business owner, just like me, you want to see a tangible increase in business selling opportunities and ultimately more business. If you have an eCommerce site you expect to see more completed sales. If you don't see more sales or leads you will conclude that your investments are not producing sufficient returns.
All the businesses we audited had reached a point where they were disillusioned and disappointed with the web.
The SEO Agency Perspective
Your SEO expert is going to be interested in rankings. A key measure of success for them is getting you on to page one of search results for as many keywords as they can. The problem with this is that without research that can be directly linked with what you want there's a very good chance your SEO expert is going to fall way short of your expectations.
This disconnect is partly the fault of the SEO expert and partly the fault of the business owner.
Understanding The Numbers Is Key
If you miss out research you can't set meaningful targets. If you don't know how to perform the research you still need to get it done. If it means paying someone to do it that's what you should do. The risk of not doing it is wasting money, which is what all the businesses we've recently audited have done.
Research gives you numbers, directly related to search terms your prospects are using everyday. The numbers include volumes and how competitive each search term is. The numbers can also reveal how many paid visitors you can buy.
Once you have the numbers you can begin to look at how many visitors you realistically get to your web site. To do this you need to do deeper competition analysis for a selection of search terms. At this stage you are likely to be interested in the search terms with the bigger volumes. These will inevitably be the most competitive so select other terms that have decent volumes and that also imply the searcher is close to making a decision to buy.
As a guide I tend to look at around 30 search terms.
Give Yourself A Fighting Chance
One aim of competition analysis is to identify what search terms you can rank well for. The other aim is to avoid trying to rank well for search terms that are too competitive. This is where you risk wasting money. These terms may become attainable at some point in the future but for now you need to focus on the search terms you can rank well for.
The number you want to know is the rank you believe you can achieve within a reasonably timeframe. For me this is 3-4 months, but for some terms it may even be 6. Identifying the rank enables you to put a figure on expected visitors to your site for a specific search term.
The Visitors Number
When you have this for all your target search terms you have a number that means something. You can now see how many visitors you can realistically expect your site to get, when your site pages achieve the rankings you believe they can achieve.
The Action Number
Gaining visitors is one part of the challenge you have to succeed at. No visitors means no chance of getting customers. When you have visitors the challenge is then turning them into customers or warm leads that your sales team or just you can turn into customers. The number you need to understand is how many visitors will take the action you want them to take. This number is determined by conversion rate.
Conversion rate is simply expressed as a percentage. As a guide a good conversion rate is 3-5%. For some business sectors it can be as high as 10%. I air on the conservative side and use 3% when a site specific conversion rate is not available.
The Light Bulb Moment
If you don't know your sites current conversion rate you should invest some time in calculating it. Don't forget to count telephone enquiries/orders that are directly prompted by site visits.
When you know what visitors you can realistically expect to attract you can use your current conversion rate to give you YOUR action number. If your conversion rate is lower than 3% substitute it with 3% because this is what you should be attaining.
Relevant Realistic Targets
At this point what you will have armed yourself with are relevant realistic targets. Now you are almost in a position to start formulating an action plan that will be focused on getting your site pages ranking where they can.
The one other number you need work out is value. If you attract the number of visitors your competition analysis shows you can and you convert those visitors at 3% or better what will this be worth? This value number is important. When you have it you can begin working out how you will achieve the rankings you can get to. The action plan you create will have a cost.
Return On Investment
The final number you should arm yourself with is the return you will get from the investment you make, the ROI. If this doesn't look big enough avoid making the mistake of cooking the books. In other words don't start changing the other numbers to get an ROI number that looks right. The forecast ROI number is what it is.
When I do research for client's I do sometimes present a forecast ROI that screams "think again"! This isn't failure. This is success because the research has avoided the client from wasting money. It may be the same for you.
The Reality Check
I started this article motivated by the consistent findings from the web site audits we've recently undertaken for a range of businesses. The absence of any meaningful research and targets has been telling, though not surprising.
Our audits have been reality checks for many businesses. They've seen their current expectations are unrealistic. This isn't the same as saying their web sites can't generate business. What they all need to do now is invest in doing the research that will directly inform the actions they need to take in order to generate the business they can get via their web site.