Search Party: What to Know About SEO for Promo Businesses
Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is nothing new. It’s a strategy businesses have actively employed for years to rank their web pages higher than their competitors in order to generate new leads and sales opportunities. These days, it’s a necessary component to any digital framework, promotional companies included. So, whether you’re ready to graduate to more advanced SEO initiatives or you’re in the camp of people that thought SEO just meant “Salami Egg and Onion” sandwich, there’s no better time to get the ball rolling. To learn about SEO for promo businesses, we spoke to Phil Frost, founder and chief operating officer for Main Street ROI; Amanda Watlington, founder of Searching for Profit; and William O’Shea, senior e-commerce manager for ePromos Promotional Products, St. Cloud, Minn.
What is SEO?
Before you start realigning your entire web strategy, it’s important to know exactly what SEO is and how it relates to other online marketing terms. Frost provided a breakdown.
“SEO, or search engine organization, is the process of getting your website to rank organically in search engines like Google,” he said. “The key word here is ‘organically,’ which means your website ranks without paying for advertising. For every search, Google’s algorithm identifies the most relevant websites and then lists them in order of what Google believes is the most trustworthy sites.”
Like SEO, SEM is another three-letter word running the marketing world. But it’s completely different from SEO. “SEM, or search engine marketing, refers to paid search,” Frost explained. “For example, if you wanted your website to be listed in one of the top four ad spots on the first page of Google, then you would need to use the Google Ads network and run an SEM campaign.”
And finally, there’s Social Media Marketing, or SMM, which refers to the engagement and audience development on your company’s social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc.
Together, these three terms work together to define your business’ web presence.
How can SEO improve your business?
Now that you’re familiarized with the digital marketing basics, you might be unsure about whether or not SEO for promo is really that important. Frost had some insight.
“The beauty of SEO is that you’re able to get your business in front of your prospective customers when they are searching for exactly what you offer,” he said. “Think of it like the yellow pages. The only reason someone flips through the yellow pages is to make a purchase or hire a company. The same is true when people search in Google for things like ‘custom promotional mugs’ or ‘wholesale custom apparel’—they are looking to buy!”
O’Shea, our distributor respondent, told us that his promotional distributor websites ePromos.com and Motivators.com have been focusing on SEO since the mid-2000s, and for them, there have been proven results.
“Both websites began to follow SEO best practices, and saw a steady rise in users in the organic channel,” he said. “SEO was a large part of our growth. Even if [distributors] are not competing in the biggest product categories, having basic SEO can always be helpful. Smaller distributors will want their customers to be able to easily find them—ranking first for their brand name is the least they should be doing.”
What are the first steps to building a successful SEO strategy?
A quick search of “SEO strategy” on Google generates 148 million results. There’s a lot of information about SEO best practices, so it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Frost had some initial tips to help steer your business in the right direction. First, you want to conduct an SEO audit.
In this audit, your company will review your website structure to make sure your website contains all the necessary pages to rank in Google. You should also review the page titles, descriptions, headers and body copy of your pages to ensure it is optimized for search engines.
From there, you want to analyze any potential technical SEO issues, like canonicalization, duplicate content, structured data and an XML sitemap. Then, fix any broken links and slow site speed, and ensure your website employs a mobile-friendly design. Finally, do a backlink profile and competitor link analysis, which will help you identify other challenges and might inspire some new opportunities for your SEO strategy.
If that all sounds complicated or above your level of technical expertise, that’s OK. You can always work with an SEO consultant or, if you’re a larger operation, consider hiring a dedicated SEO specialist or web developer. (More on that in a minute.) There are costs involved, sure, but with how critical good SEO has become for doing business, it’s worth it. And if you’re not ready to make a major investment, there are still some small things you can do.
“Editing your existing page titles, descriptions, headers and body copy is a great way to get a quick win with SEO,” said Frost. “The reason these page elements are so important is because Google reads this information to determine if your page is relevant to what the prospective customer is searching. If Google thinks your page is relevant, then you are in the running to be listed on the first page.”
You might be asking yourself if it would be more advantageous to start fresh and completely overhaul your business website. However, a website demolition is usually unnecessary.
“If you already have a website, then there are edits you can make to your existing website to improve your SEO,” said Frost. “In most cases, a complete redesign is not necessary. However, there are some DIY website platforms that prevent you from making important edits from an SEO perspective. In those cases, I typically recommend migrating the website to WordPress.”
After those first steps, O’Shea suggested distributors set up Google My Business (GMG) profiles. “This helps with reassuring potential customers that a distributor is a legitimate business,” he said. “You have a larger presence on Google and can incorporate features such as reviews.”
Should you hire in-house SEO experts?
When your company is creating its SEO foundation, you might decide you need more hands on deck. But, it can be difficult to decipher whether you’re better off hiring someone in-house versus an outside consultant. There are pros and cons to both options, but our respondents had some suggestions.
“An in-house team is able to execute nimbly, but outside expertise is often helpful in guiding teams and problem-solving,” said Watlington. “In-house teams sometimes get lost in the day-to-day and don’t look at the big picture, so this is where a consultant, who knows both the business and SEO, can bring value.”
Frost suggested that distributors learn the SEO basics themselves, but when they decide to ramp up their strategies, it might be time to lean on some outside help.
“[Gaining some basic SEO knowledge in-house] will allow you and your team to make an informed decision about hiring in-house or outsourcing to an agency,” he said. “I’m biased, but the benefits of an agency are that you get a broader range of expertise versus hiring one SEO expert in-house. One person likely does not have all the experience you’ll need.”
O’Shea agreed that consultants can be beneficial, with one caveat.
“It’s pretty easy to make technical SEO mistakes,” he said. “There are plenty of SEO 101 articles out there to help provide a knowledge base. If going the consultant route, it’s important to research and interview multiple options. As in any field, there are some disreputable options out there.”
What about social media?
While you might think that SEO and social media are two different entities, one can inform the other. Frost explained why businesses should put their social media efforts at the forefront.
“Social media can be a great way to gain more exposure for the content on your website,” he advised. “More exposure can lead to other websites talking about your content, and those websites may even link to your content.
“Google monitors when other websites mention and link to your business site,” he continued. “Think of it like a popularity contest. The more websites that talk about your website and link to your website, the better. Those are signals that you have a popular, authoritative website that deserves to be ranked higher in the search results.”
How can you track your SEO efforts?
Like O’Shea mentioned, his promotional business saw a difference in his sales numbers once they implemented SEO best practices. However, there are other ways to track whether or not your SEO strategy is working. Frost had some tips there.
“First, install and set up Google Analytics on your website,” he said. “It’s completely free and fairly easy to set up properly. Then, set up Search Console and link it to your Google Analytics account. This will allow you to see key metrics like SEO traffic, conversions, rankings, click-through rate in Google and your top SEO landing pages. If you want to track keyword rankings over time, the tool I recommend is RankRanger, which requires a monthly subscription.”
Good SEO requires continued education and attention. It’s not just set and forget. In that respect, it’s like any other aspect of running a business. And, as we’ve seen from ePromos and Motivators and countless other promo companies, it pays to keep on top of it.
“Never stop learning,” said O’Shea. “Something that works today in SEO may not work in two years. If you become complacent and don’t keep up with best practices, your traffic can slowly dwindle away (or worst case scenario, you’re hit with a penalty and no longer show in organic results).”