Small business owners who are not veterinarians missed a firestorm in the online veterinary communities when Jed Schaible, DVM, published, “Why veterinarians shouldn’t be allowed to blog” in Veterinary Economics Magazine. While most readers here aren’t vets, Dr. Schaible brings up some big concerns all small business owners and marketers have:
- Is blogging’s return worth the time and effort expended?
- Aren’t small business owners already over-extended?
- Don’t the complexities of keyword research make effective blogging impossible for small business owners?
In the current environment of social media hype, I give Jed Schaible credit. Social media techniques became marketing crack-cocaine to our novelty-loving brains, but too many business owners have found they fall short of expectations. And this is coming from a search engine optimized content writer! I’d like to make the case for why all small business owners should use social media first by addressing Schiable’s excellent and honest points and then by explaining the unique opportunity even the smallest businesses have for leveraging inexpensive blogging and social media tools.
Schaible Anti-Blogging Point #1:
“Rank is tricky. If a veterinarian writes a post about overheating in dogs, that article should help them rank online for those search terms, right? Not so. There are so many pet-owner-targeted sites out there—eHow.com, VetLive.com, etc.—that no independent veterinary hospital will ever rank well enough to generate web traffic.”Wow. TRUE . . . to a point. Go to Google and type in “site:www.ehow.com” and you’ll get this page: The line right under the search box is grayed out, possibly to make it less noticeable. It tallies the number of pages eHow has, and even these mid-forty eyes aren’t so bad that they can’t read 3,980,000 pages. No local veterinary website can ever get nearly four million pages on the web. No way.
And Yet . . . Google Ranks Small Business in a More Sophisticated Way
It’s not as simple as website size, however. Based on location and the individual’s previous web surfing habits, Google may decide to send results that originate from sites the surfer has been to before or from the surfer’s geographic area (local search). If eHow is across the country and a surfer has never been there before, it’s possible eHow won’t even come up in the search results. Take that, EHow! Also, if the surfer types in his or her city or neighborhood, Google and the other search engines return “local” results and EHow doesn’t stand a chance. The best strategy for small business to make it to the first page of search results is to aim instead to take up as much search result “real estate” as possible on that first results page.
- Focus on local search (using neighborhoods and city names on your website, blog posts and directory listings).
- Optimize and build out Google Places, Yahoo Local, Bing Local and other directory entries
- Use longtail keywords the big guys ignore
So Schaible is right: no small business can compete with the huge publishing sites out there on specific search terms But the small business willing to stumble into the blogging and local directory arenas CAN outrank their own small business competitors who just aren’t ready to take these steps. Further, as explained below, blogging has just as much to do with client relationship management and word of mouth marketing as it does with getting to the first page of Google.
An Overview of the First Page of Search Results
The image below reveals results of a search for “Encinitas Veterinarian.” (Apologies for the tiny letters, but you can search “Encinitas Veterinarian” yourself to get the full view. At the top is the PPC or pay per click, paid ads. Next comes Dean Crowe, DVM, BUT it’s not actually his website, just his Yelp review page. He managed to get 19 Yelp reviews, most likely with a promotion like “give us a Yelp review and we’ll enter you into a drawing for a year’s supply of dog food!” Those are perfectly legitimate and even fun for clients! All small businesses should take advantage of Yelp’s huge size by getting their listing on there and building it out as much as possible. Here’s a great article to guide you: “Yelp Help: The Ultimate Guide to Optimizing YourBusiness Page.” And don’t forget the photos! Review Trackers found that those searching Yelp for local businesses spend 2.5 times more time on a Yelp listing that included photos than on a listing without photos. Don’t think our golden child, Dean Crowe, DVM, got all those reviews naturally. Do what you have to in order to stack up your own Yelp reviews. Find all the text you need in this Informed Web Content blog post: “Steal These 5 Requests for Yelp, Google Plus, CitySearch and More Reviews.” The next 9 entries are Google + Local (formerly Google Places) results. Google+ Local is a directory of local businesses that’s now linked to a business’ Google Plus page. Research has shown that most surfers click on one of the first 7 to 10 listings. Therefore, it’s important to build out a Google+ page that will win Google’s respect. To do that, check out this article: “The Essential Guide to Google+ Local Pages.” Two of the Google+ Local results are Banfield and VCA, the big chains that many consider impossible to compete with. When you’re talking local directory results, however, keep in mind that most of your competitors are small like you are. You can get ahead of them simply by adding a few photos and building out the “about” section with your product or service category and your neighborhoods. After all, the very fact that you’re reading this article puts you ahead of 80% of the small businesses out there. As on Yelp, after optimization, the big goal for Google+ Local is to get reviews. A smaller, stand-alone practice, The Drake Center for Veterinary Care, made it to the third spot with just a big FIVE Google reviews. Five is the magic number of reviews that begin to earn Google’s respect (and rankings). Any small business can pull that off! But more, a quick check reveals that while the Drake Center for Veterinary Care did manage to get those five, it ALSO optimized it’s Google+ page with descriptions and photos. Magic numbers: 10 photos and 5 videos. The Banfield or VCA franchise may not have enough of an “ownership” feel for the veterinarians and their staff to take this kind of initiative. If you don’t have a Google + Local listing and page yet, get on it. It doesn’t have to be perfect right off the bat. Just fill in as many fields as you can and upload some photos. Google runs the show and they’re giving lots of credence to their baby, Google Plus.
Directories Beyond Google Plus Small Businesses Need
67% of all web browsers start a search on Google, but Bing is gaining on them (15%) and Yahoo is holding steady (13%). Much smaller, more specific search engines make up the remaining 5%. Marketing experts are predicting a steady uptick in the percentage of Bing’s share. That means, in addition to a Google + listing and page, you need to put the same information into directories:
- Yahoo Local
- Bing Local
- Judy’s Book
Just write your business information once, save it to a file and paste it into each directory’s appropriate filed. Marshall your photos, get them in an easy to find place and upload them to each site. While you could depend on Yext or Universal Business Listing submitting to hundreds of online directories for you, we just don’t like the fact that if you stop paying either service, ALL entries disa-freaking-ppear. Many veterinarians and small business owners discovered too late that they never owned the website that was part of AT&T’s all-in-one internet marketing services, meaning that they would be on the hook for monthly fees to AT&T for life—a crock if you ask me. They didn’t OWN their internet assets. When you do the work yourself, that free listing stays up there forever.
If Google + or Yahoo Local listings and PPC show up at the Top, Should Small Business Even Worry about the Search Engine Optimization Benefits Blogging Brings?
Yes. Small business must focus on first page search engine results REAL ESTATE over RANKINGS. Let’s go back to our “Encinitas, Veterinarian” search. Coming in at #10, the first entry that gets on the first page of Google strictly because of competent local search engine optimization is Coastal Animal Hospital. But #10! Who cares about a #10 listing when browsers will have to scroll down to get there? In a strange turn of events, many web surfers have trained themselves to click only on the organic search options. They trust neither pay per click ads NOR Google Places listings which generally come above local search results. In fact, this habit of scanning beyond PPC and the local directory listings has won itself its very own term: “Ad Blindness” or “Listing Blindness.” So Coastal Animal Hospital HAS achieved something, after all. A quick phone call to their office confirmed our suspicions that, yes, they get a respectable number of phone calls from the internet. And why did it beat out its competition? It has:
- a total of 24 pages, better than a competitor’s 6 -10 that includes the standard: “about”, “services”, “contact.”; they can get even bigger with blogging. Each blog post is a new page!
- meta tags written with the location mentioned;
- lots of nice photos, some of which have alt tags containing Encinitas and veterinary or veterinarian;
- a decent site map and well organized navigation.
While that doesn’t seem like a lot, these elements beat its competitors for the search term “Encinitas veterinarian.” It’s like that old joke about two campers running from a Grizzly bear. Knowing that the bear can reach speeds of 30 – 40 mph, the one camper says to the other, “it’s useless for us to run!” The other camper says: “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you!” You don’t have more pages, videos, photos or backlinks than eHow, you just have to have more than your competitor. You have to update your website more often than your competitor, too, and the easiest way to frequently update your website is through blogging. I hope these two sentences help you to see that the playing field is more level than you expected! Business blogging does not help small business move higher in the local directories, but thanks to ad-blindness and listing-blindness it DOES help small business get to the top of the local search engine results, particularly if competitors don’t expand their websites on a regular basis with regular blog posts. Blogs can help a small business earn ideal, even if lower down, real estate on the first page of the search engine results.
Don’t Forget the Other Marketing Goals of Small Business Blogging
Keep in mind that Google rankings aren’t the only game in this Social Media Town. A clinic’s blog post title, “How to Prevent Our Dogs from Overheating during Impending Indianapolis Heat Waves,” not only is optimized for local search (with the inclusion of “Indianapolis”), the announcement that it’s up on the blog gets posted on Facebook and Google + (Google’s version of Facebook that’s connected directly to the directory listing) where it goes to followers feeds. Some clients read it and share it, sending it along to their friends who are also dog lovers. If it’s really hot outside, those dog lovers will want to feed their friendships with other dog lovers by sending this veterinarian’s helpful post along to them. With this blog post, the clinic has given clients an opportunity to build bonds with their friends. And Friends are Facebook’s primary reason for being. This post on Facebook and Google + also helps clients build their identities (to themselves and others) as serious dog advocates. The clinic usefulness in client friendship building/maintaining and identity creation earns it goodwill and gratitude. To me, this is the true value of social media: the genuine, useful building of bonds. Facebook and Google+ have become press release distribution sites. Your followers? Your free public relations team. The more you blog and your posts are forwarded to friends, the more your small business’ name comes to the forefront of people’s minds when they have an issue you can solve, and the more phone calls and walk ins you will get.
Schaible Recommends Small Business Owners Skip the Blog
To be helpful, Schaible exhorts: “Skip the blog and stick with news. Create a practice news center—it’s much easier to write and tends to have better keyword density. When you stay focused on practice news, you tend to write more about new products and services you offer.” I couldn’t disagree with this more. Particularly if you’re going for creating solid relationships with clients, reducing attrition rates–which in the veterinary industry can be as high as 20% per year—and spreading the word of your good work to friends of clients, you must deliver useful, helpful information about client issues and problems. Internet marketing research has proven conclusively that the small business focusing on its special offers, new staff and/or products fails to win as many clients or as much traffic as the business that supports its products and services with helpful tips. While I don’t want to frighten you, a saying in the marketing circles at this time is: “Every brand a publisher!”
It’s Not Too Late to Start Blogging and Using Social Media to Increase Revenue and Reach!
Folks, so many of your competitors are NOT blogging, NOT promoting helpful information through Facebook, Google + and other platforms, a glaring opportunity exists. Social media facilitates slow but steady conversions built from blog posts, Facebook customer service, resources recommended on Google Plus and more.
Jed Schaible Anti-Blogging Points 2 & 3 (They’re Kinda the Same)
2. “SEO takes practice. Veterinarians might not know how to create SEO-optimized posts with the correct keyword density, best practices for linking, and proper use of appropriate tags. An article could be well written, but without SEO-friendly optimization, the article is simply lost in space.”And 3. “Blog topics count. Rarely do veterinarians know how to do keyword research to determine what topics they should write about to increase visits to their practice. And without keyword research, article-ranking success is rare. More effort and more articles have to be produced to realize the same benefit as a targeted optimized campaign.”Here’s the solution: Write 500 words on a topic that means something to your clients. Make a list of the top questions they ask each week and write on that. Blogger Marcus Sheridan took his pool services business to the top of Google simply by answering the most common questions his clients asked. Keep in mind that he owned a pool service, he wasn’t a mathematician or an SEO wiz. This method’s success went to his head to the point that he now calls himself, THE SALES LION. Titles can even be: “What’s the best age to get my male puppy neutered?”, “How long before my pool starts forming algae?” or “Which Foods Are Most Filling?” depending on your industry. That’s right: make the question itself the blog post title. People are typing exact questions into the search engines! Chances are: if your clients are asking the questions you hear every day, hundreds of others have the same questions. It’s just how humanity works. This said, there are also paid tools that will bring up the questions most asked on any topic. WordTracker has this capability. If you’re working with an SEO firm, ask them to find the most popular questions for your industry. Google wants quality blog posts with meaningful, helpful information. It will respect you more if you’re lame at picking your keywords, but strive to genuinely connect and help clients. We also sense there could be a possibility that Google will move more toward an anti-keyword-optimized ethic in the future. Really want to do the keywords yourself? Okay: download my Business Blog Start Up Kit from the home page of Informed Web Content and read pages: 28-31 or thereabouts. You can also read these 2 blog posts: Where to Put Keywords in pages and Postsand Keyword Density and Placement in Pages and Posts, A September 2012 Update. SEOMoz Keyword Research for Beginnersguide is helpful as well.
Jed Schaible’s Last Objection to Small Business Blogging: Time Constraints
“And finally … your time is too precious. If you’re a good writer, you shouldn’t waste your time entertaining a small audience on your own website—you should be writing for external publishers. And by doing so, you’ll generate links to your website.” My first objection: a “small audience.” Hello. These are your clients, your revenue stream, your word-of-mouth sales team. Don’t denigrate them. You only want a nationwide audience if you’re determined to write a book or become a niche expert on something. Which leads me to . . . My first agreement: IF you are a good writer, sure, write for external publishers and don’t forget to demand a link back to your website when you do it! This practice raises your reputation and your website rankings. If reporters aren’t banging down your door and you’d like to be a resource for your area or specialty and/or get reputable backlinks, sign yourself up with HARO or Help a Reporter Out. Alongside its pitch for free publicity for small business owners, it advertises: “Reporters! Qualified Sources . . . On Demand.” A listing there is $19 per month and worth it. It’s free service is worthwhile as well, however. At no charge, HAROsends along daily emails that list reporters’ needs. In my HARO email today, three from the dozens of queries from reporters include:
- advice on pet healthy stocking stuffers;
- how safe are mobile banking apps, and
- opinion on whether Elmo is doomed.
If you do connect with a reporter on a mutually useful topic, the reporter’s publication will usually link back to your business. Backlinks from big reputable sources like newspapers and magazines are “backlinking gold.” The more and better backlinks you have, the more credibility Google gives you. In short, higher rankings!
But Again: Time Constraints
I get it. I own a small business myself. Every hour I spend writing blog posts and feeding them out through Facebook, Google + and Twitter is an hour I cannot charge a client. As small business owners are apt to say, “It’s great to own a small business! I get to choose whatever 100 hours a week I work!” All I can do is tell you what I do: I take one day every two weeks to write blog posts. I store them up and then schedule them to post throughout the two week period. The good thing is, once I get on a roll with blog posts, I generally find I have several things to say. While I may have one long post like this one, I break off other topics into smaller posts. I do the hard stuff—the writing and researching—and then have my assistants broadcast through Facebook and Google +. If I weren’t in the blogging and SEO copywriting business, I would probably pass some of the blogging duties to my assistants. I have been remiss in getting guest bloggers, but that’s in the works!
Still Curious About Effective Small Business Blogging and Social Media?
Learn by doing with our Social Media Springboard. Blogging is the heart and real meaning of social media. Informed Web Content can get you up and running with:
- Business Social Media Policy Set Up
- Editorial Calendar Set Up & Scheduling
- Content Idea Generator Set Up
- Keyword Research
(See how it’s done and you can take over!)
- First 5 Optimized Blog Posts
(See how it’s done and you can take over!)
- Promotion of Initial Blog Posts on
Facebook, G+ and Twitter (See how it’s done and you can take over!) Small business owner take it from here. Not only do they have optimized blog posts, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter updates, they’ve learned how to do it themselves! (But we’re here when you need us!) We also do search engine optimized sales copywriting, keyword optimized web content with keywords inserted into meta tags, page titles and more. If you’re not ready to take the plunge yet, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google +. Happy Blogging!