What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 4
Oct 22 2008

And now for a long overdue post on search engine optimization.  The business reason for waiting this long was that I wanted a quarter to pass after I officially ended my search campaign (i.e., June 30, 2008) with the firm I had been using before analyzing the results.  The personal reason is that well, um, given my various activities, I didn’t have the time to do it until now. 

To get more background on my SEO experiences, check out my posts: What They Don’t Tell You About SEO Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3

Although I signed up for an annual contract, about 4 months in it became apparent to me that it wasn’t working for a variety of reasons.  I think it was obvious to them also because 6 ½ months into it, we were very far away from achieving their guaranteed results of making more than we spent monthly on search services by the end of the contract.  Something miraculous would have to occur.  Was it anyone’s fault?  Yes and no.  

There were things I should have researched and understood better before engaging a SEO firm.  I made the decision hoping it could be part of a ‘silver bullet‘ solution to raise our trial and conversion numbers and as we all know, the silver bullet doesn’t usually hit where you want it to.  I also think that the firm could have advised me better upfront on things like website conversion, dropped the ball a couple of times, and could have proactively paid more attention to the direction things were going.  When I last checked their site, it looks like they have changed their focus more to SEM (search engine marketing) than just SEO.  

Although it does hurt to have spent the money (especially considering the economy today), several of my peers have spent tens of thousands more dollars than I did with similar results.  So I feel a little less dumb when I look at my company’s P&L statement.  In fact I know several web company CEOs in town who have suspended their SEO/SEM campaigns to focus on other ways to bring more qualified/convertible traffic to their sites after not seeing expected results.  

Overall, I learned a lot and when the time is right, I may consider re-engaging with SEO again.  I have no hard feelings against any of the people I worked with at the firm.  They are all nice people, and since I don’t want to focus on feeling let down, I have chosen to think about it as educating myself and helping someone somewhere feed their kid or pay their rent.  Such is life! 

The biggest lesson I learned was: SEO is not a good choice when you are creating a market!  It’s hard to predict what people will search for when looking for your product in a market that is not well defined.  It’s hard to even know how many or if they are looking for your product!  I’ve mentioned before the example of a baby blanket.  When you are looking for a ‘baby blanket’ or a ‘red soccer ball‘ you know what you are looking for.  When you are looking for a way to get your baby to sleep better at night or understand his feeding patterns, you may not even know you are looking for a web and mobile based tool to help you track his activities.  So even if you land on the Babble Soft site, you don’t have a frame of reference to compare it to. 

So I chose to end the contract rather than spending thousands of more dollars for another 5 ½ months with all signs pointing to the fact we weren’t going to achieve the hoped for results.   I could have continued but I didn’t want to have to deal with a situation where none of us wanted to be in thereby making all of our lives more stressful.  I’ll never know if I did the right thing but given the economy, I’m sure glad I’m not having that big cash outflow each month when I’m not seeing the equivalent or greater cash inflow.   Maybe I let them out easy, but I think the money is better spent paying our mortgage instead!  Here are the highlights: 

Facts for SEO Analysis on Babble Soft

  • Search engine traffic went from 14% just before the beginning of the campaign in December 2007 to 36% in September 2008 with a peak of 58% in July after ending the campaign.
  • Referring site traffic went from 42% to 46% with a peak of 51% in August 2008 due to a fabulous article on BabyCenter called The basics of baby schedules: Why, when, and how to start a routine.  This article resulted in a record amount of trial signups and still sends qualified traffic to the site and I didn’t spend any money for that lucrative mention!
  • Direct traffic went from 43% in December 2007 to 17% in September 2008 which is good because the number of people who know to directly type www.babblesoft.com or another URL link on our site is few in the world.
  • Trial sign-ups went up 200% from November 2007 to June 2008.  They increased 500% from November 2007 to September 2008 because of the BabyCenter mention.  However, since we just launched the web and mobile applications in 2007, the base amount wasn’t that high to begin with.
  • Conversions went up some as well but that again was because the base to grow from wasn’t that high.  They didn’t go up near the amount we all hoped for to cover our SEO costs.  That’s why percentages are great to quote but they don’t mean you are breaking even yet. 🙁

Key Learnings from my SEO experience: 

  • SEO is not a great place to spend your money when you are creating/making a market.  There are just too many unknowns.
  • Focus on getting mentions in places where your target audience visits (e.g., BabyCenter).  This is hard to do without PR help but sometimes you can get lucky.  People have spent tens of thousands of dollars on public relations firms as well and still not achieved the ‘perfect’ story placements.  Since I don’t have a big marketing budget, I am taking things into my own PR hands and hoping I’ll get a big mention from the free Help A Reporter Out (HARO) PR leads I now get.
  • If you have the budget, experiment with keywords using Search Engine Marketing (e.g., Google Adwords) until you see what keywords work to get qualified traffic to your site, and then revisit SEO.  However, if you are creating a market this could prove to be an expensive endeavor because you might have to do A LOT of guessing!
  • Spend a significant amount of time making the appropriate conversion changes on your site.  In other words, make sure your site gets people to sign up and part with their money!  Make sure your SEO firm not only understands the importance of conversion but can also identify the changes and make them up front.  There are people who know how to make your website flow and your text copy sing a siren song.  You need to find someone who gets your market and if you are creating a market, you might be the expert and have to wing it yourself.  

I think that the SEO/SEM firms are going to face hard times with the changing economy as many businesses will.  If you have the time and money to do it right and you’re selling something like ‘red soccer shoes’ or ‘Halloween costumes’ then SEO might make sense for you.  If not, it’s probably best to turn over another low-cost marketing rock while you create and define your new market.

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Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

9 Comments on “What They Don’t Tell You About SEO – Part 4”

  1. 1 Laura P Thomas said at 8:47 PM on October 22nd, 2008:

    Great “real life” lessons – thanks for sharing!

    Laura P Thomass last blog post..Social Media Press Releases Gone Wild

  2. 2 Carole said at 9:01 PM on October 22nd, 2008:

    You said they have a guarantee: is it a money-back guarantee? Because if it is, nice people or no, I’d be asking for my money back….

    Caroles last blog post..How to Send a Text or Picture Message from Your Computer to a Cell Phone

  3. 3 Aruni said at 9:11 PM on October 22nd, 2008:

    @Laura – That’s what social media is all about…sharing your lessons!

    @Carole – the gaurantee is only if I stayed on for the full 12 month contract. There was a 30 day out which I took because I didn’t want to keep spending the money. I knew that when I made the decision. Didn’t want to keep throwing money away. 🙂

  4. 4 Scott Allen said at 10:09 PM on October 22nd, 2008:

    Thanks for sharing your discoveries. It defies the conventional advice (and certainly the SEO marketing pitches), but seems so obvious once you show how you arrived at your conclusion. And that’s the power of story vs. just making a list.

    I used to do SEO professionally. The longer I did it, the more I wanted to quit — not because I couldn’t deliver results — I could — but because I realized that 80% of the results came from 20% of the effort, and that 20% was usually enough to get a client the results they wanted. The other 80% was basically so we could have decent billings. The fact of the matter is, if you had the bandwidth to read it and implement it, you could learn everything you’d ever need to know about SEO from http://BruceClay.com and http://www.highrankings.com.

    There’s still justification to outsource it, but most small businesses can get all the SEO they need by a) starting a blog and b) taking advantage of every online publicity opportunity they can. Simple.

    Scott Allens last blog post..Entrepreneur Media Wants to Have Its Cake and Eat It Too

  5. 5 Scott T. Reese said at 7:28 AM on October 23rd, 2008:

    Aruni, Great post! Thank you for taking the time to share. I’ve never engaged any SEO/SEM firms before and I learned quite a bit reading this blog (the first one I’ve read on your site). As I was reading the post I was asking myself, “Is the target customer clearly defined or clearly understood yet?”

    Our marketing director has just moved onto the Google search engine kick and is focusing some of our budget in that direction. The CEO is letting him experiment to see if we can better position ourselves on product searches. My experience so far is that search is useful for a buyer who has already decided to become a buyer or potential buyer and the first step is online research. So far, I have not one success story in using the web to identify a prospect who is not already interested in my solutions. I have to qualify that I’ve always done B2B transactions.

    My experience as a sales guy, sales leader, and executive is that I’ve always learned the most and generated the most revenue when I’m spending time talking by phone or face to face with prospective, existing, and previous customers. The information from these exchanges has been invaluable for me to:
    1. Clearly define my customer
    2. Clearly understand what my marketing and sales message should be
    3. Guided my input and sometimes demands for product engineering / development

    Good luck and I’m looking forward to hearing more about who your target customer will emerge to become as you are working to create a new market!

  6. 6 Aruni said at 10:02 AM on October 23rd, 2008:

    @Scott Allen – Thanks for your insights. It’s interesting to read about your SEO experiences and the 80/20 rule applies there too. It’s back to square one and taking it a day at a time for me!

    @ Scott Reese – You are so right about people who are interested in buying being the ones targeted by SEO. In our case, most people don’t know how useful our tools can be and they probably won’t spend the time to educate themselves. My last business was B2B and it was much easier to look the customer in the face and figure things out. In a B2C company, it’s harder to find out where your customers are or even if they exist in big enough numbers to make it worthwhile. I’m just planning for the fact that we’ll be slightly ahead of the market and be ready when it hits. 🙂

  7. 7 When is Hiring an SEO a Bad Idea? | Seo Services, LLC - Indiana based search engine optimization consultant said at 8:25 PM on October 24th, 2008:

    […] week, Aruni pens part four of a series she’s written about search engine optimization. She writes this post several months after ending an organic search campaign with a firm […]

  8. 8 thom singer said at 7:16 AM on October 26th, 2008:


    this is a great post. When entrepreneurs share real life experiences on their blog they help everyone.

    I have had similar results with Google pay per click ads. I spent a lot of money, but did not see much results. Granted, I was not set up for the “right” type of conversion pages, but did not have the money to spend on what the “experts” suggested.

    Alas, the same old story for the bootstrapper in 2008 as in 1908, if you had tons of customers and making tons of money you could do Class A marketing. But then you wouldn’t really need to do it.

  9. 9 Stopping to Celebrate! 100+ Party Links that Mark Our History - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas . . . You’re only a stranger once. said at 12:01 PM on November 2nd, 2008:

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