Professional service firms still don’t rely heavily on their websites for new business – though the trend is in that direction and some do better than others.  However, even today an investment in a professional looking and well ranked website should provide ROI for a firm for three reasons.  First, nearly every prospect will go to a firm’s website as part of their due diligence process when making a decision on what firm to hire so you want to make a good impression.  Also, many buyers (particularly Gen X and Millennial) will self-educate on a topic before talking with professional service providers because they want to be savvy and not swayed during the sales process.  This research starts with an online search, so if you have educational information available on your site to showcase your expertise, you could set your firm apart from the competition.  Lastly, geography is playing less of a role in the decision process while specialization, expertise, and profit-focused consulting are playing a larger role.  Many business owners would rather have the “best” provider over the “local” provider.

So, having a modern website is important, but as with so many things, looks are only “skin deep” and it’s what’s on the inside that counts.  Enter SEO!

SEO is for organic search – think of Google rankings. 

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.   SEO is the process of continually improving your website to boost your “organic search” – the free results that the search engines (e.g. – Google) provides.   SEO is the long game as it takes time to see results because you have less control over what search engines show in organic listings.

You’ll need a team of people including a content writer (you can help!), a programmer, and an SEO specialist to help with SEO.  For smaller professional services firms these are limited roles – only a few hours per month – so it’s best to outsource.   That said, never trust an agency that guarantees anything in SEO.   There are some ways to “beat the system” in the short term, but you’ll never win the SEO long game that way, and you may do you firm more harm than good.  So, what will your SEO team be focused on?

The three C’s of SEO – content, crawlability, and credibility. 

  • Content – What is the information you’re presenting? How often are you posting high quality content?   Are you writing content that people are searching for?  Are there a lot of websites providing content on that same topic?
  • Crawlability – How easily can the search engines find the content on your site? (This is the technical, behind the scenes stuff that your SEO team will figure out for you.)
  • Credibility – Can the search engine trust the content on your site? Do other sites link to and endorse your content for free? Has your site been around for a long time?

What your firm should do to win the SEO long game.

SEO takes commitment!  Maybe that’s the fourth “C”!   To win the SEO long game, your firm will need to commit on continually creating and posting educational information on your site in the form of articles in your blog, ebooks and other downloadable content, videos, webinars, case studies, and other information that people would want to review.  You should then share this on your social media platforms.  This will broaden the audience for your content, which people will recognize as high quality and then share on their social accounts and websites as well providing even more inbound links for the Credibility “C”.

You can’t win at SEO for every topic.  It will be best to get started with just one and then add on slowly from there.  Choose one area of expertise (a niche industry perhaps) to focus on and ask your SEO specialist to do some “keyword research” that can be the basis of a content calendar.  Your content writers will then know what to write or create over time.  The SEO specialist can also tell the programmer what keywords to include on each page of your website on the back-end to improve your site’s overall Crawlability.

A final note on SEO.

One great thing is that SEO is very measurable.  However, it can be frustrating to base the success of your SEO efforts off of a single Google search from your work computer.  The truth is that this is just not an accurate reflection of your success in this area.  Each person who does a Google search is provided results based on their search history, geography, whether you’re logged into Google (Gmail) and other mysterious factors in the Google search algorithm.  That said, your SEO specialist can help you to get an accurate reflection of your progress over time using free tools called Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools.  To start collecting this data, you’ll first have to set this up on your site, which your programmer can do for you.

Can you do SEO on your own?  Sure.  You can post articles and focus on a single topic and your site’s rankings will improve.  But with a small investment in a part-time team, you’ll get far more benefit.      As I said in the beginning of this article, your website is an increasingly important part of your firm’s marketing.  A well designed website with quality SEO efforts should bring your measurable ROI.

SEO has a sister named SEM.  Next month we’ll talk about Search Engine Marketing – paid online advertising.

Many thanks to SEO guru Danielle Sohn for her help with writing this article.

 

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Alison has more than ten years of professional services marketing and business development experience. She is a Double Eagle, holding both a BS in Management with concentrations in Marketing & Information Systems, and an MBA from Boston College. Alison is a member of the 2009 Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class of honorees. Visit Alison on Google+.