SEO on a budget: How a small manufacturer started a program from scratch
Think you don't have the resources for an effective SEO program? Think again! Columnist Dianna Huff shares a case study detailing how a small business was able to make big gains with a limited budget.
The small manufacturers who are thriving in the face of global competition and other challenges have spent the last five to seven years improving productivity and process efficiencies. This focus has often meant that marketing activity was next to nonexistent — with much new business coming from word-of-mouth.
Once a small manufacturer has their process down, however, they’re ready to begin a marketing program that includes SEO. The problem is, where to start? With so much information and so many moving parts, a small business owner can be easily overwhelmed. It’s much easier to simply focus on running the business.
Such was the case with one of our clients, a small manufacturing firm of about 30 people. The owner and his team had done a SWOT analysis and were ready to embark on a marketing program that included SEO.
The challenges, however, were pretty daunting: zero historical data, few backlinks, and building content and brand awareness on a limited budget.
Challenge #1: Zero historical data
When my company first began working with the small manufacturer in November 2015, we noted right away that the client’s website had a huge error with regard to the Google Analytics tracking code, which had been added to the website home page only. The low number of visitor sessions was a dead giveaway.
With our smaller clients, we see this type of UA code/analytics error on a regular basis, as well as others, such as the wrong UA code inserted into the HTML code or the client not having Admin access to Google Analytics. And then we learn that the person who did have access has fallen off the planet. When this happens, we often have to start fresh with a new Google Analytics account.
The first step in creating the client’s SEO program, therefore, was to ensure Google Analytics was properly tracking all web pages. An easy fix, but one that left us with zero data on which to base recommendations for moving forward.
Months of keyword guessing
Not having any Analytics or Search Console data meant we didn’t know the types of search queries people were using. And since the company hadn’t done much marketing in the past and had relatively low traffic volume, it would take months before we had any data that could tell us anything.
The client wanted to appear in Google for a few specific keywords pertaining to the services his company provided. However, the Keyword Planner showed few searchers were using these keywords in their searches.
Because we’ve worked with many small manufacturers and their esoteric products and services, we’ve learned the Keyword Planner isn’t always accurate, so we went ahead and optimized the website around iterations of these keywords plus others.
After a couple of months, it became apparent that those weren’t the right keywords based on traffic and other data.
We ended up making a new list and then carefully analyzing the SERPs for each keyword. We wanted to see how Google viewed the intent of each query and then choose the more transactional keywords — i.e., the keywords people would use when looking for the particular products and services the client provided.
In addition, we employed standard SEO tactics: ensuring images had descriptive alt tags using keywords whenever possible, creating internal links to key pages and writing descriptive title/meta description tags for all pages of the website.
Challenge #2: Few backlinks
For smaller manufacturers, the backlink profile is often limited, and budget and personnel constraints mean the company simply can’t take advantage of a full-fledged content and social media marketing program.
However, even on a budget, some things can be done which are easy and cost-effective: One of our first steps was to create a Google My Business page, get the company listed in the YP.com directory and create a LinkedIn corporate profile page.
To begin creating a few high-quality links that would also start building awareness (Challenge #3), the marketing plan for the year included sending out two press releases, as well as pitching three article ideas to trade publications (and writing the articles should the pitch be accepted).
The first press release and pitch resulted in two publications running a case study and an application note respectively. The case study appeared online; the application note appeared in the publication’s print version and online as well — a huge win for any company, but especially nice for a smaller firm.
In addition, we continued to add content to the Resources section of the website. For small companies on a tight budget, creating a Resources section is a cost-effective way to create content. This content can then be posted on the corporate or personal LinkedIn profile, added to e-newsletters and most important, optimized to attract search traffic and links.
For our client, we created application notes, FAQs and other types of information of interest to the target audience. As a side note, one of the application notes was repurposed for the industry print publication article — a good example of how small companies can get maximum bang for the marketing buck.
Challenge #3: Creating content and building awareness
One of the tactics the client had wanted to implement from the beginning was a monthly e-newsletter. The client already had an internal list, so we created a new account in MailChimp, imported the list and developed a template.
We created a new topic for each month, but midway through the campaign, the client suggested a topic we could break down into multiple articles — and which would be of high interest to the target audience. That’s when we hit paydirt.
Although e-newsletters generally don’t fall under the purview of SEO, they do play a role in that they assist in conversions and inquiries over time.
According to Gardner Business Media’s 2015 Media Usage in Manufacturing Report, 68 percent of survey respondents view e-newsletters as an effective method for finding solutions-based info, application stories and information on new products and processes.
And 93 percent of respondents indicated they click on companies whose name they recognize in the search results — making e-newsletters an effective way to reinforce brand awareness over time (even if subscribers delete the email after quickly skimming it or don’t read it at all some months).
Based on Analytics data we’ve seen with other small manufacturing clients, e-newsletters often play a role in assisting conversions over time and are one of several channels searchers use in their path to conversion.
This is why we like to focus on new and returning visitors to the website, conversions and conversion paths rather than open rates.
One trick we used, which helped indirectly with SEO, was to repurpose each newsletter article for the website. Then, in each newsletter we added links to this material — which drove people back to the website and gave us more content we could optimize.
Results: Slow but steady traffic growth and conversions
The chart below shows the All Channels traffic data (adjusted for referral spam) for January through September. Of this, organic accounts for 69 percent, direct 22 percent and referral three percent.
More importantly, however, the work we’ve been doing is resulting in conversions. The chart below shows the goal completions for new and returning users for the Q3 period for the website form only; the client has also been getting email and phone inquiries, which his team tracks in-house.
What I find exciting is that while the website content we’ve been creating is being found by searchers, the e-newsletter also is driving new and return users to the website — and recently, a few conversions as well.
Although the numbers are small, we now have data we can use to create a more finely tuned marketing and measurement plan for year two — a plan which can now include SEO KPIs and targets. The data also gives us a baseline for a discussion on whether to budget for an AdWords campaign in order to determine which keywords drive clicks and inquiries and increase traffic.
Starting an SEO program from scratch for a smaller company on a budget can be a little daunting, as the expectation for fast results lurks in the background (especially given all the hype and misinformation regarding SEO).
The key to success is to set realistic expectations and have patience: for smaller companies on a tight budget and/or limited resources, it can take up to a year to see results from SEO and content marketing.
I would also add two other success tips. The first tip is to be consistent. Regularly create pieces of content for the website and optimize it, publish the e-newsletter each month, post to social platforms even if only one platform is being used and so on. Over time, these efforts create momentum which begins to snowball.
The second tip is to employ a little ingenuity; make things do double and triple duty so that you can leverage multiple channels without a whole lot of additional effort.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.