Organic search traffic is the lifeblood of inbound marketing and a #1 keyword ranking is the holy grail. Think about it: a buyer enters a keyword phrase into Google to research a business problem and potential solutions. If she finds you and your content is helpful, it could be the start of a beautiful relationship. A healthy flow of organic traffic to your website is the payoff for all of the hard work you've done with your inbound marketing. It's a fertile ground to cultivate leads and customers and you own it. You can't buy it, you have to earn it.
That's why so many SEO firms and marketing agencies promise "We will get you on the first page of Google!" Here's a screenshot for the Google search for the keyword phrase "we will get you on the first page of Google." I've just shown the first few results in the interest of space. My favorite is the video "How To Rank On The First Page of Google in 24 hrs." As a caution to those reading this, I will repeat something my father told me many times: if it's too good to be true, it probably isn't."
What the data says about ranking on Google's first page
The SEO firm Ahrefs recently published a fascinating study entitled, "How long does it take to rank in Google?" This definitive study answers the question based on real data and thorough research. I will give you a quick hint about the answer to the question they posed - it ain't 24 hours. I urge all of you to click through the link and read the study in detail, but here are some of the highlights of their findings:
- Ahrefs took 2 million random keywords and pulled data on the Top10 ranking pages for each of them.
- The average age of the top ranking result for these keywords was over 2 1/2 years (not 24 hours).
- Only 22% of the pages that ranked in the top ten were less than a year old.
- Only 5.7% of newly published pages will get to the top ten within one year.
The study is well-researched and very technical - again, I urge you all to click through and read the blog post. But the reality is that organic keyword search doesn't happen overnight. Even paid advertising for targeted keywords doesn't guarantee that you will end up on the first page of Google; it depends on the competition for the keyword and your Quality Score.
So should you conclude that it's time to start banging out phone calls and sending spammy emails? Absolutely not! Buyers are looking for inbound marketing content as they research purchase options and potential vendors. The answer is that you need to do inbound content marketing, but you need to have a realistic expectation of the competitive environment and structure your strategy accordingly.
Strategies to drive organic traffic and promote your content
We recommend that you have a dual-pronged SEO strategy: create content that will drive organic traffic as soon as possible as well as traffic that will create a consistent organic flow over the long-term. To illustrate what a small professional services business can expect from a consistent inbound marketing effort, here is a graph showing Rapidan Inbound's organic traffic flow over the five years we've been in business.
In January 2017, we had 3,470 organic site visits. But as you can see, it took us a while to get there. But we did have some successes along the way. Here are some of the strategies that a small professional services can use to build organic traffic and promote your content through other methods.
- Target long-tail keywords that appeal to your target market. Think about how you search Google nowadays. If you're like me, you're typing in long questions in an effort to get specific content that addresses your specific need. Because of that, Google estimates that 20-25% of the searches they see everyday have never been searched before! So rather than target short-tail keywords like "inbound marketing" or "management consulting", go for those keywords that reflect the kinds of questions that you're hearing from your prospects and customers. They have less competition and the intent behind them is more likely to reflect a potential buyer. Think of questions like: "What are the best inbound marketing strategies for professional services firms?" and "What do management consultants recommend to increase production in the oil exploration industry?" Content produced around topics like those may not produce a ton of traffic, but they will produce the right traffic. I'd rather have 10 site visits from qualified buyers than a 1,000 site visits from unqualified traffic.
- Create multiple pieces of content for your target markets. Don't create that one blog post for the oil exploration industry and wait for the visits, leads and customers to start rolling in. Create multiple pieces of content that reflect the different questions you hear and your unique perspective on the industry. By doing so, you're showing Google your domain expertise.
- Promote your content - heavily. Promote your content on the channels available to you.Social media likes and shares are a signal to Google that your content is good and will help your search engine rankings. And don't just do one social post and forget about. Social timelines fly by quickly and most of your audience won't see your posts the first time. We share new content once a week for five weeks on all of our social channels. We also go back and share old content that we think will be useful to our audience.
- Use your content in your prospecting efforts. We advocate an allbound marketing approach that combines elements of inbound and outbound marketing. But we recommend that you do your outbound marketing in the spirit of inbound marketing - be helpful and respectful. Don't buy email lists and shotgun thousands of spammy emails - you're probably violating the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and you're probably hurting your brand more than harming it. Create helpful, respectful emails that are unique to each recipient, reflecting their unique circumstances. It takes more work than spamming people, but it's far more effective.
- Consider paid promotion while you're building your organic audience. Paid promotion in areas like Google PPC and LinkedIn Sponsored Updates are a good way to get your content out there while you're building your audience. If you're doing it right, you can decrease your paid budget as you increase your organic audience. It's the difference between renting and owning an audience.
Don't fall for the marketing come-ons that promise to get you on the first page of Google. Data and empirical evidence show them to be false and most likely deceptive. Understand the competitive marketplace for search engine traffic in your industry and develop strategies to get you some quick wins while you build up your organic audience. And don't forget to promote your content through non-organic channels. If you'd like to discuss specific strategies for your business, please schedule a free consultation with us.