Google are bringing us 30% more local enquiries. We had to change to cope. P.S. SEO is dead.

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Our enquiries are getting more local.

Google are bringing us 30% more local enquiries. We had to change to cope. P.S. SEO is dead.

I seem to be spending more time out visiting towns and cities nearby, with less time travelling, and more time with potential customers.  

I blame Google.

We’ve noticed a significant change in the type of enquiries received at our main business.  Expressions of interest in our products and services are getting more and more local.

Web enquiries and telephone calls come to us daily from all over the world, but increasingly we are finding that it is local organisations (increasingly from London) calling about our e-learning systems and services.  “How did you find us?” is always how I end a call, and more often than not the answer is “Google.”

As a business which covers the whole country, I first found the statistics in our Analytics account alarming.  The stats show (when compared with a year ago) our national enquiries decreasing and our local enquiries increasing. We’re getting less interest from the Midlands and up North, and more from the Home Counties and London.  Had we done anything differently? No, not at all…. but Google have. 

Google is going local.

I’ve never been a fan of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Profit orientated SEO companies attempt to manipulate the way Google displays search results.  Some tactics they use are dubious and the ultimate outcome has invalidated the quality and integrity of search results, and Google knows it.  Finally something has been done about it, but the impact is affecting our business. 

SEO has always been a necessary evil for businesses like ours who need regular enquiries to keep our pipeline moving.  SEO expertise is ‘bought in’ by businesses to guarantee products and services return, ideally on the first page of search results for a specific keyword string. 

Over the years I’ve worked on SEO first hand, I’ve bought in services from individuals, and paid vast amounts of money to various SEO companies to understand my companies, and help try to reach potential customers.

Overall the success has rarely been worth the investment.

We’ve experienced SEO companies damaging our URL for the long term through Black Hat techniques, and we’ve experienced SEO companies who have done absolutely nothing for months on end while taking a monthly retainer fee while claiming that “SEO is a long and complex process.” Personally, I think SEO is a bit like having a wee in the wind.

I think it is fair to say we’ve all be a victim of bad SEO company trying their best to help their companies reach new customers; as web searchers, how many times have you searched for something, been returned so called ‘relevant’ results, clicked a link to then be delivered irrelevant content, which then makes you immediately click back and try a different search term?   SEO companies are a big cause of the ‘irrelevant results’ problem which search engines appear to be now fighting back.  

Why would you use an external company to promote your business anyway?  The people who best market a business effectively is the people who actually work there.  You know your products inside out, you know your services inside out, and if you talk to your customers you know what they like and what you should improve.  

Google appears to have fought back against the SEO industry by making it impossible to be on the first page for a specific search term as search results are now based on delivering local relevant knowledge.  SEO companies can now not guarantee to their customers that they can return a specific business, product or service in the first page of Google results for the entire country, and SEO companies have no useful place in the future of the internet. Smart SEO companies are already refocusing their business activity around social media and interacting with leads rather than generating them. 

Anyway, back to our challenge…

A healthy pipeline to us means an increased exposure to potential customers, capital to continually innovate our products and services, new features to excite and keep existing customers interested, and referrals from existing to new customers, this ultimately leads to our continued growth.

Looking at our Google Analytics, I can see more visits from local web searches from surrounding towns, searching on terms such as “public sector e-learning”, “e-learning authoring” and “e-learning provider” – when I compare with a year ago the same terms show visitors to our site from all over the UK compared with the concentrated map that surrounds us today.

So what has happened?  Should we be worried?  What have we done?

What happened:  Google got local

Google’s new USP is showing people where it is, rather than what it is.

Have you noticed now that when you search on Google for something it tries to relate (where possible) to something local to where you are searching?  A few years ago searching for ‘pet shop’ would return a definition a pet shop, while today Google tries to return a pet shop near you, with directions, and if possible recent customer experiences.  Google camera cars have been frantically driving around the UK, photographing every street, mapping every business and feeding that information back to users through search results.

We as a business are now experiencing the outcome of that strategy.

Google is bringing local to its searchers, and therefore we’re getting more local enquiries.

Are we worried:  No.

At first I was, when a whole market is taken away from a business it is not easy, you only have to look at poor Truprint whose multi million pound business was wiped out overnight by the invention of the digital camera, the poor SEO companies that built their entire business on ‘first page on Google guarantee’ are experiencing similar.

What we are now discovering is that we are spending less time on the road, and more time with our potential customers. We arrive at meetings more alert, we can relate to and share local stories, and ultimately we are only a short distance away should we be needed to help clarify a query or provide on-site support.  Compare this with when we had more enquires from further afield, we’ve actually become more cost efficient and, with less time on the road, more environmentally friendly.  

More interestingly, our business is now an extension of the Google experience.  Our people are adding value first hand to what Google returned as a ‘search result’, and we call a ‘potential customer’ – we’ve jumped out of the Google page, visited the customer and, more often than not, sealed the deal. 

Obviously there is always the concern that further afield potential customers who would have found us a year ago, through a traditional national search, won’t find us as easily; I think this is what Google wants, they know that a Manchester based searcher is better off linked with a Manchester based company to extend their own Google experience.  I also think Google is giving a two fingered wave at the SEO companies who have been trying every trick in the book to manipulate the system and steal away what would have been lucrative AdWords revenue. 

What we are doing: We’re learning

With Google going more and more down the road of localization, I fully expect our business to concentrate more on delivering local solutions to local organisations.  We still generate a tremendous amount of long distance business through our procurement channels, through our channel partner programme, and through the Government Cloud, where we are listed as an approved Government supplier for e-learning.   

Our challenge will be to increase our channel partners, who will in turn be able to offer our products and services to customers local to them, and I’m working on how to do this.

I expect that this new Google Algorithm is going to hurt businesses in industries who need to sell their product to people away from their base, such as a Cornish ice-cream maker trying to supply hotels in London, but returning in local searches more frequently in Cornwall. I expect this is also part of the Google strategy, as the Cornish ice-cream maker will have to consider AdWords to buy space on London based search results to advertise and promote their product, again another kick in the teeth to the SEO companies. 

Reflecting on the change in enquiries has been a positive experience for our business, both in how we deal with potential customers, and how we meet the needs of our existing clients.  

While Google gets local, you need to get smart. If you have an SEO contract with an SEO company, cancel it now. 

Written by Matthew Eaves, Operations Director at CLS UK. CLS design, build and deliver elearning systems and courses to Business, Education and Government across the world.  

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