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>1 Is The Loneliest Number
A lot of my recent speaking engagements at both Search Engine Strategies and SMX have been geared towards running an SEO company, dealing with a changing economic landscape and similar issues. It is with this in mind that I got thinking about what separates one company from another. There are many great SEO and SEM firms out there, I like to think that Beanstalk is among them but there are also a number of poor ones. What separates the two and why will some succeed and others fail?
In thinking this over I considered skills first. Is it that the companies that weather the years, ride out the ups-and-downs in the fiscal year and the trends in the economy have the highest skills? Not entirely. At first this seemed like a logical, "survival of the fittest"-type scenario but I have seen skilled people (in this industry and others) going down while those who have very little in the way of skill succeed. So it's not entirely about the ability to get the job done. Or is it ...
One defining trend that I have noticed (though I would be very interested to hear about any exceptions to this you might have) is that the companies that specialize tend to be more successful than those who try to do many things. Companies that start by doing, say, web design and get lured into SEO ("Why give away the client to someone else - it's just a matter of packing in some meta tags and buying some software to submit the sites to a billion search engines every month right?") or try to host their own client's sites ("My reseller package gives me unlimited domains and unlimited traffic.") or offer other services that get into trouble.
So my advice has to be (and I'm not the first to say it) - do one thing, be excellent, and leave the rest to the experts in other fields.
Honestly, I've been tempted over the years to try to delve into other areas. I'm a half-decent designer and I know my code well enough (or what kind of SEO would I be?) so when a client comes with no site but a great idea it's always tempting to take the whole contract, but then reason sinks in (even when I have staff who can do the parts that I can't). Even the Beanstalk site was designed by a professional web designer (and many thanks to Frederick from W3 EDGE Web Design for a solid site that converts well). The key then is to find experts in other areas that you can trust with your clients. To that end I personally look for other, similarly-minded companies that specialize in what they do best and leave the rest to others.
Before I get an onslaught of comments and emails blasting me for saying such a "crazy" thing as noone can be an expert at everything I should note some exceptions to this rule. There are firms out there that consist of multiple divisions, each of those divisions dedicated to an individual task. Let's take for example a firm such as WeDo Hosting Canada (I used to work there more moons ago than I'd like to count so they make a great example). Robert Gagnon (owner) built an excellent hosting facility but it was to support his software development projects. Instead of trying to do it all he created a hosting company and a software company, hired great hosting experts to manage and support the one company and developers for the other.
If you are yourself trying to be a designer, SEO and host (why not add in a little social media marketing and PPC management just for fun) you've basically created a recipe for disaster and if I keep my eye on my watch I should be able to figure out pretty closely the exact moment that it all tumbles into decline. It will be the moment an issue arises in an area that you are not an expert. If your host goes down and you're on a standard reseller package and not able to directly fix your situation, you become reliant on others. What if they didn't make a backup of the product and/or sales database? And now your client blames you and will pull the entire set of services you provide them on the shelf - someone else's shelf.
But I digress ...
Who Are The Experts?
According to Merriam Webster's dictionary, an expert is defined as, "one with the special skill or knowledge representing mastery of a particular subject." This seems like a pretty fair analysis of the word. Now, there are certainly the Leonardo Da Vinci's out there who can unquestionably prove themselves to be experts and masters in a variety of fields however I am not on that plane thus - I am limited to focusing all of my time and attention to a single endeavor. In my case I chose organic optimization and let me tell you (if you don't already know) there's enough going on there to keep one's attention fully occupied and if I had two brains instead of one - both could be kept busy.
The same can be said for all of the other areas that are commonly grouped by individuals. Developers are generally logic-based thinkers, designers are generally creative, good PPC managers have a knack and skill for weeding out specific trends and stats to maximize revenue while minimizing undesirable clicks (those would be the clicks from people unlikely to convert). Social media experts focus primarily on the here-and-now (i.e. what's working right now to drive massive traffic through social media sites) and so on.
Because I like to avoid speaking ill of others, especial those in the SEO-realm I'll focus on my limitations as I'm always welcome to pick on myself. My personal strengths and interests lie in evaluating and understanding trends in ranking fluctuations, analyzing competitors and applying the finding across multiple sites as appropriate. Ask me to design a site ... goodness no - please don't, for your own sake. I can't create pretty things in my head (or on paper) and I certainly can't move that image onto the web. When client's need design or development I send them to designers like Moonrise Design from San Francisco who we've worked well with on a number of projects or Atomic Crayon from Victoria.
Ask me to manage a large-scale PPC campaign - not if you want it to be successful. I can hold my own on small campaigns or campaigns just for testing keywords but when I think of titles and descriptions I'm thinking of the organic results - write them to get the click as it's free and we can work on converting them when we get them to our site. This doesn't apply well to PPC. I'd rather refer a client to David Szetela and crew over at Clix Marketing who have the same feeling we do - their monthly fees are based on your profit not your spend so they're focused on making the most of each dollar in your budget - not just getting rid of it all.
How about hosting? - I'm not even going to go there. I'll leave hosting to the likes of Lunarpages Web Hosting or Superb Hosting. Is there anything more critical to the success of an online business than hosting? No matter what was spent on SEO or PPC or your design, if a site isn't up - what does it matter?
And So My Advice Is ...
If you're a provider of services, be excellent. Pick the one thing you do best and hopefully most enjoy and be the best provider of that service your client could have. Find reliable and trustworthy partners to offer the services you do not and refer your clients to them. You can likely take a commission. At Beanstalk we've opted not to take commissions on referrals just to make sure we're always give what's actually the advice in the best interest of the client, however there's nothing wrong with doing so if you know you're giving great advice.
If you're on the hunt for an SEO or other Internet marketing service - select a company that either does one thing extremely well and can help you find suitable providers of the other services or which has dedicated staff for specific tasks, thus enabling them to learn and focus on the skills best suited to the task they are performing on your site.
But What Does This Have To Do With The Lonliest Number?
Everything. Through this piece I've discussed essentially what will be the downfall of many Internet Marketing firms. The economy is changing. The fat is being trimmed and the most skilled may not be the ones who survive - if they extend themselves into areas where they're not the best.
As a web services provider or as the client of one I'd want to know that I've got the best doing what they do best. Until Leonardo comes back and takes up Internet marketing, design and hosting - that's going to need a team or set of teams - not an individual. If you don't take this advice, well - it's very lonely when you have a poorly designed site hosted on a slow server that doesn't rank very well - or if you're the company who's client had that site.
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