SEO is still the great equalizer for small to mid-market companies
I chalk up the success of 20 years in business to three things: grit, an extraordinary team, and SEO. On grit, read Angela Duckworth’s fabulous novel by the same name. I’ve written extensively on right-sizing teams and finding employees that will gel.
But it was only in reviewing our history for upcoming campaigns with our PR team that I realized how important search engine optimization (SEO) has been to the success of our agency. SEO has brought us a tremendous revenue stream, but it also has introduced us to amazing people.
SEO in the beginning
When I started the agency in 2001 many small companies didn’t even have a website. I built a super basic (and now embarrassing one) on Microsoft Frontpage. It was nothing more than an online brochure. The quality didn’t matter much because I was growing the agency through a robust referral network.
In 2004, my husband informed me he got his residency match at the University of Michigan and we were moving from my referral hub of Seattle to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I had only one lukewarm lead in Ann Arbor and was basically a single parent of a two-year-old. My husband worked crazy residency hours, so networking breakfasts and evening events were out of the question.
Luckily by 2004, website design was more robust and Google search became more popular. I had a hunch SEO could become our most prolific lead generator. So when my husband came home each night and studied his medical texts, I set out to learn everything about SEO.
Finding important connections thru search
SEO rankings first brought connections to Clarity Quest. When I moved from Seattle to Ann Arbor, I wanted to find a new designer located in Michigan. Luckily, Casey Fushour also knew a few things about SEO and ranked #1 for “freelance graphic designer Ann Arbor”.
A quick search and a coffee shop meeting later, Casey was designing logos and collateral. Thirteen years later, Casey is our Senior Creative Director and longest-tenured employee.
The second connection SEO brought me was an introduction to Linda Girard at Pure Visibility. Linda and a partner were leading an amazing SEO agency in Ann Arbor, and although we were competitors, they welcomed me with open arms and invited me to group work sessions (only in Ann Arbor!) I learned a tremendous amount from Linda about search, and what to do, and not to do when leading an agency.
Getting the first leads from SEO
In 2005, we started to get our first leads off Google search results. They were tech-savvy, Michigan companies—just the kind for which we were looking to onboard. One ended up keeping us afloat through the lean years in 2008-2009. Everyone still needed IT services during the recession.
We continued to update our website and add new content in the form of new services pages and blog posts. We became more educated on key phrase research and working search terms on our site. We looked for ways to get backlinks ethically with great content, applying for awards, and speaking to journalists.
Rapidly growing with page one results
When the U.S. came out of the recession in 2011, leads started to fly in. This has continued for the past 10 years. Our agency ranks on page one for dozens of terms related to SEO, SEM, messaging, marketing plans, etc.
It’s much harder to rank on page one now others have caught on, but our head start still positively affects our rankings. Each month, we get 25-35 health IT and biotech leads. SEO is the best sales development rep (SDR) I could wish for!
SEO equalizes the playing field
When I started the agency in 2001, the big advertising and consulting agencies had all the megaphones. It was really tough to find leads outside of referral networks. Search engines changed all that.
Suddenly, with some savvy and sweat, a little agency could get noticed and provide niche services to small and mid-market companies.
Not sure where to start with SEO? Learn from the best.