Historically, different online marketing channels have been siloed to different departments or agencies. In 2010 it made a lot of sense to have a search engine optimization department responsible for building links and optimizing your on-page SEO. However, 2016 is a much different time. The merger of content and virtually every online marketing channel means smart industrial marketers need to rethink how they approach SEO and online marketing on the whole. Just as website RFPs have become a thing of the past, so have one-and-done SEO campaigns.

As someone with a background in SEO, I view SEO as one piece of the larger marketing pie. 90% of the time I’d recommend a long-term partnership that can grow with your online lead generation strategy. But if you’re set on hiring an agency to perform an SEO campaign for your site, let me describe the only situation where I’d recommend one-off SEO services…

You’re a nationally recognized brand that has already built 10s of 1000s of backlinks to your site

Backlinks are the cornerstone of SEO. Links from authoritative domains tell Google your site (and by extension your company) is an authority in your respective field. Backlinks work in tandem with your keyword research, setting limits for what keywords you can and cannot pursue. Want to rank for “car loans” in Google? You’d better have a backlink profile of 1000+ authoritative domains linking to your site, because the competition on that results page does have that kind of authority.

Not sure if your site has an appropriate amount of backlinks to compete in your niche? Download the Majestic plugin and use it on your site to check the number of referring domains linking to your site. Now check 5 of your main competitors domains. If the number of referring domains is significantly higher on your competitors’ sites, chances are they’re dominating Google for competitive terms, and you’ll need to rethink your SEO strategy.

However, if you have more referring domains than most of your competitors, technical SEO changes could have a significant impact. If you aren’t observing best SEO practices, chances are some small tweaks to your site structure, title tags, H1s, site speed, etc. could make a big difference in your rankings. You might have dead links on your site that can be redirected for huge gains in link authority. Or you might have indexation issues that can be fixed with a few tweaks to the back end. In these cases, you’ll find one-off SEO can have a huge impact.

Here’s the problem: Most of the time you aren’t dealing with an authoritative site.

If you’re in the industrial niche, you’re not exactly posting the sexiest content on the web. Unless you’re a huge player with national (or international) recognition, links from other sites are hard to come by in this industry. On average, our clients’ backlink profiles have closer to 100 or fewer referring domains when we first start working together. They’re usually relatively smaller companies that compete with the big boys in their industry.

Here’s the other problem: You’re not just competing with your direct competitors. You’re competing with every Tom, Dick and Harry that wants to write about [insert your keyword here]. Google has an index of over 30 trillion web pages, so you need to take into account every website that writes about your product or service.

Let’s say you’re a HVAC service company. How many web pages do you think exist with the “HVAC” in the title? If you guessed 375,000, you’re right!

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Here’s the point: Everyone is competing for organic search real estate, inadvertently or purposefully. One-off SEO services aren’t going to have a big impact unless you’re a big fish. And even if you are a big fish, you’re in a huge pond of 30 trillion fish (and rising).

One last point: If you don’t have conversion paths in place to convert traffic into leads, you’re not going to benefit from ANY increase in traffic. Instead of hoping one-off SEO will act as some kind of magic bullet that ranks your website, you should look into how SEO can function as part of a holistic inbound marketing strategy.

Why a holistic, long-term online marketing strategy is better for 90% of industrial companies

Long term vs. Short term SEO

If you’re starting to feel like one-off SEO isn’t quite right, one alternative is a long-term partnership with an online marketing agency.

You probably have a lot of questions about what kind of agency to hire. Should you hire a PPC agency? SEO? Content marketing? Social media? Inbound? Are any of these services right for your company?

But before you start vetting agencies, ask yourself this question:

 What do you want your digital marketing efforts to accomplish?

This will make your hiring decision much clearer. Bottom-line: You want an agency that can deliver results that help your business. This usually means a mix of the methods mentioned above. Digital marketing, and by extension SEO, isn’t an “a la carte” service—it’s a holistic approach that needs to integrate with your business.

If your SEO, PPC or content marketing efforts are driving 100% more visitors to your site, but you’re not converting any of those new visitors into leads, there’s really no benefit to that traffic. For example, we used Facebook’s “ad network” to grow our traffic by 25% in 1 month! But when looking at the engagement metrics for those visitors, visitors were bouncing before even visiting another page. Turns out those “ad network” ads were low quality banner ads you see on the bottom of Candy Crush. Point being, an agency needs to promise more than just traffic—they need to promise real leads that can be tied to direct ROI. 

If you’re going to hire an agency for the long haul, your contract should explicitly state long-term goals that can be achieved over the course of the agreement. The great thing about digital marketing is that the goals you create are based on tangible results that can be evaluated on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. For example, increase traffic by 50% year over year and drive up the number of consultation form submissions to the website by 75% year over year.

There’s a huge amount of accountability in digital marketing, and your agency can make adjustments to their strategy over the course of the contract to improve results. If the results aren’t satisfactory by the end of the contract, there’s no obligation to continue. If the results are excellent, that might be cause to renew and “put a little more gas on the fire.”

If you approach SEO or any online marketing activity as a magic bullet, you’ll likely be disappointed with the results. If, however, you treat your online marketing as an evolving process that can continually increase awareness, drive leads and fill up your sales pipeline with qualified leads, a long-term commitment is the only viable option.

For more information on marketing in the industrial sector, check out the Gorilla 76 industrial marketing blog.

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