SEO is irrelevant. Long live the warm lead.

Now, I know the SEO (search engine optimization) folks are going to get their panties in a bunch over this, but hear me out.

If you’re in a highly-competitive space and you sell widgets, or even something like real estate, you need to be found in Google. No question. And pay per click ads are a must for certain types of businesses. But, if you’re a niche player in a service-oriented industry like ours, you’re better off focusing your marketing efforts elsewhere.

Internet search marketing is incredibly complex, expensive to maintain, but ultimately, page one of Google has become the new Yellow Pages. Those with the most money to spend on optimization will be found first. And that’s good. Maybe.

You’ll never see a Yellow Pages ad for Kula Partners nor was there ever a listing for Brightwhite Design in the Yellow Pages. When they made their yearly phone call to try to convince me to place an over-priced ad in the Great Yellow Waste of Earth’s Resources, my answer was always “no”. They’d proclaim, but don’t you want more business, sir? And I’d always say “No, at least I don’t want the kind of business that buys design from the yellow pages.” They simply didn’t understand how that could even be possible. And I hear the same rhetoric from SEO pundits.

Now, that sounds pretty arrogant, and I’ll admit, it sort of is. But the fact remains, people buying design services from the Yellow Pages are generally doing so on one factor alone: price. If you’re a plumber, this might be a good strategy, but as a high-end purveyor of communications solutions, it doesn’t work. We want leads based on advice, warm referrals if you will. Our work isn’t cheap, nor do we want to win projects because we’re the least expensive.

And this is why we recommend people get involved in social media. It allows you to get to know people who could potentially refer your business. Those that know you and know what you stand for will be much better equipped to provide a reference about your capabilities.

SEO certainly has its place in marketing some businesses, but if you’re looking to expand your business by doing great work and bigger projects, your real life reputation is much more important. Traffic isn’t the only goal of a website. Relationships are the measure of success today, not sheer numbers.

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