Recently, I've had the pleasure of talking to several companies that have very niche products and services. They are looking for ways to improve lead generation and are considering Search Engine Optimization (SEO) as an option. However, they question the relevance of SEO for attracting their target customers.
Because their products are so specific, they are concerned that pulling a large number of loosely interested people to their website may not be useful. They are focused on quality not quantity and they are looking for highly qualified leads that are willing to spend large sums on very specific solutions. The people in their target market are subject matter experts--engineers, lawyers, doctors, robot engineers--who know exactly what they are looking for. Can SEO legitimately help these websites?
SEO is fundamentally a mass market tactic. Generally, its aim is to increase website ranking and maximize high volume phrases (those that are searched most often) in order to drive people to a website. With good keyword research, this results in lots more "pre-qualified" people visiting a site. However, most keyword recommendations lean toward high volume phases which also tend to be more general in nature.
This mass market approach is not effective in niche markets where the language is specific and the audience is highly educated in a particular field. It may be difficult for SEO to show meaningful improvements in website visits in areas where the language is very specific because these tend to be much lower volume phrases. People looking for those things can usually find them, whether or not the website is optimized for search engines. In this situation, does SEO offer any benefit? Does it make sense for companies in niche markets commit resources to SEO?
Despite the argument that search optimization is not as critical in niche markets, there are some important aspects of SEO that should be considered; some of these are a normal part of a good optimization program and others are subtle, but effective, ripple effects.
Here are six additional benefits that a good SEO program can bring:
1. Remove unnecessary barriers. Even in very niche markets, your site needs to have some basics in place to ensure there are no barriers for search engines to find and index you. There are some things you can do that actually impede your website’s ranking in search engines. These technical factors are unnecessary mistakes that can hinder visits to your site regardless of its content.
2. Take Advantage of the low bar. In niche markets, most competitors have not optimized for search engines. In this competitive environment, the bar is actually set very low. With some simple updates it can be possible to out perform the competition in organic search without much effort. Also, it protects you against the risk that a competitor will realize the same thing.
3. Create a purposeful content framework. Usually, I find that websites without an SEO perspective have a very loose content creation process. Oftentimes, content is created in response to a customer comment or a news article, and unfortunately this approach results in a disorganized website. Imagine a designer who has no brand guidelines to work from—there would be no consistency in the designs. So it is with content created without a clear strategy. SEO can address this directly by providing a framework for content development. This, in turn, improves the user experience of anyone who visits the website. Instead of a haphazard assortment of articles, website visitors find cohesive, highly relevant content. This can improve brand perception and lower bounce rates.
4. Additional Lead Generation. Lead generation from whitepaper downloads also are a natural extension of the SEO content strategy. Some content ideas are worthy of additional exploration—and can be developed into whitepapers and case studies. Because it is common for this kind of content to require an email before someone can download it, you can use these to build your opt-in email list. Although these content pieces do not have SEO value because they are “gated”, the opportunity for additional lead generation is a real benefit from a good SEO content plan.
5. Analytics clean up. SEO depends on analytics to understand if it is working. Because of this, one ripple effect of a good SEO program is improvement in the quality of your analytics. In most cases, people have problems with their analytics that need fixing. These analytics issues can be addressed as part of the SEO work. With better data we get a better understanding of how your website is performing and can derive better insights which may surface some optimization opportunities in other areas. This could be funnel optimization, landing page optimization or onsite engagement optimization. When the analytics is better in general, you are able to apply these benefits in other areas.
6. Gain perspective on your brand perception. Brand awareness is also an area of SEO that comes into play. “Back links” (links from other websites) are a key part of search engine ranking which also happens to be critical in building brand reputation. When popular, respected sites link to your site, search engines view this favorably. So, part of a good SEO program, is reviewing the origins of your inbound links. This can provide some interesting insights. For instance, when doing a back link review recently, I found a public forum post that included negative comments about a client. The forum was on a popular industry website (which made these comments more important). Although the posts were several years old, they were still visible and indexed by search engines. It was the SEO process that led to the discovery of this negative brand sentiment, which the company would never have known about otherwise.
A good SEO program is good for business in many ways, but here you can see six of the less-obvious benefits—even if you have a niche product or service. SEO’s broad market approach may not be the primary reason for some companies to use it, but the other important ways it can help improve your website make SEO well worth doing.