An SEO Odyssey
Most of us RMTs love our work. We focus on the anatomy, physiology, and science that supports the art of massage therapy. We continually educate and update ourselves about pain science, diseases, dysfunctions and methods of interacting with people to facilitate the construction of a healthy therapeutic alliance and effectively treat our patients. But ask a group of RMTs about the business side of things, or even more specifically marketing, and a variety of groans, eye rolls and pouty faces will greet you. Generally speaking we ain't in it for the love of the business and most of us, truth be told, crawl out of our skins at the mention of marketing. I am not much different from the majority. So naturally, I try to outsource when I can.
At the start of the year I decided I wanted to make an investment into SEO services. I had a limited sum I could put into it and really just wanted to focus on my studies rather than try to re-acquaint myself with SEO practices and monitoring. It's a whole thing in and of itself and I just... wanted it to be easy. Not so much to ask? Well, apparently it is.
There is a whole learning curve with SEO marketing strategies alone, never mind all the rest of it (social media, pay-per-click, print, web-design) and I did not want to invest the time in that curve. So I outsourced to Doggy Doo-Doo Marketing Services*. I explained my budget and she described something that would fit within it that sounded great. And boy did she ever sell it.
When someone makes something that fits within your (very small) budget and promises you the world... it is not, in fact, likely to be true. Businesses who have a lot of integrity will be willing to tell you directly that they can't do what you are asking. Either they don't have the right skill set to meet your needs, or you don't have the resources to utilize their services. Surely it is not an easy thing to have the discussion about finances or tell someone that you cost more than they can afford. It is much more difficult to receive an email from not only an unsatisfied customer, but a customer whose business you may have hurt.
Surprise and Disappointment
Flash forward a few months, I've paid for the service and I am checking up to see how well it worked. Much to my surprise, disappointment, and mounting panic, when I looked for myself via the keywords I was intending to use, not only was I further down the list of pages on Google than I was at the start of the year, but it seemed like I didn't show up AT ALL.
Clearly something went very very wrong.
My business coach, Jodi Laking at work smart | train smart, was the first to draw my attention to the problem. She showed me how to look behind the scenes of my website and her first question was “why don't you have any keywords anywhere?” A cold sense of dread and some serious piss-off settled in. We addressed this immediate problem and I went home with some homework. I searched again using the most common keywords and went so far as to click the “show omitted pages that are not relevant” button. I wasn't even irrelevant. I was no where on Google.
I didn't even know what the problem could have been. I had no idea where to start so I sent Doggy Doo-Doo Marketing an email. I told them what I had found, and that I was concerned. I didn't blame, but rather stated that something went very wrong with the work done and wondered if they knew what could have happened.
The Value of a Supportive Business Community
And then I turned to my Fempreneur's group on Facebook. Side note – get yourself into a community of business owners. Having a business, even if you're just “subcontracting,” is a stressful, often emotional adventure, and having people around that can commiserate, support, and help you problem solve is worth more than it's weight in gold. Truly there is no measure for what a solid community of people who will have your back can do for your ability to keep on keeping on. Something was clearly wrong and I was quite distraught and had no idea how to even find out what was wrong never mind solve the problem, so I leaned in to my community.
And they leaned right back with support. I got a lot of supportive comments from fellow business women dealing with similar issues and others trying to put their brain with mine to figure out what went wrong. As we brainstormed I began seeing the scope of the problem realizing I was pretty helpless. I wondered if maybe it was time to just... let the whole thing go. Give in. Clearly it was too hard and I didn't know enough to choose the right people to help me never mind help myself. Luckily for all of us, there are people out there who are not just generous and kind, but fully capable of helping a person out when they see they are drowning and I was most certainly drowning.
From that group someone went above and beyond the brainstorm; she recognized I could not solve this problem myself and needed some real help to get the ball rolling. Liz Da Ponte of Narrative Digital Marketing gave me a huge helping hand for which I could not be more grateful. About 30 minutes later we had pinpointed the problem – crappy backlinks and “Black Hat” SEO hacks that Google tries to screen for and eliminate.
In the effort to keep their search results relevant they look for websites that try to trick the search engine into posting their listing at the top of the first page. Google does not like this. Google punishes you for doing this by making you irrelevant or worse... almost invisible.
To say the least, Liz was possibly even more pissed than me! Reading my story she knew, right away, I'd been drawn in to a “too-good-to-be-true” situation, paid my money and got exactly what I did not want. And she could see that the steps out would be long and I needed some direction. Liz possibly saved me from what looked like certain doom to me. She reassured me that, while it would take time, the problem was fixable and she would help me out. She took time out of her long-weekend schedule to help me attend to the bad links, producing a file that I could submit to Google to facilitate my dissociation from the links Doggy Doo-Doo generated for me.
Gratitude is not a large enough word to describe how I feel about the help Liz shared with me. When I needed it most, someone stepped in, said “it's not as bad as it looks though it ain't good and don't worry because I am going to help you.” This was exactly what I needed and Liz followed through. With my disavow list in hand I was able to at least get a ball rolling in the right direction.
What's this got to do with Massage Therapy?
Absolutely nothing... other than the fact that I practice massage therapy and not marketing strategy and made a few huge mistakes I would like to help my colleagues avoid. Learn from my errors, listed below.
Intellectual Laziness: I chose to outsource something I knew nothing about. A better choice would have been to get some educating in what SEO is, how people do it, and what to expect from the various efforts people make for SEO. Had I taken the time to educate myself more, it's likely I would have found that I could do a lot of it myself without someone else taking complete control. And even if I decided I still wanted to outsource, I would have had a better idea of what to ask regarding HOW a person was planning to build my SEO. This would have enabled me to better determine if their “treatment plan” was actually going to get me to the results I wanted, if what they proposed was reasonable, and most importantly, if it was ethical and in MY best interests.
Shopping around for second opinions: It would have been a great idea to ask my Femme's who they were using or had used for SEO, or who was offering that service. I trust this group and the people who are in it. Why? Because we are an honest bunch of folks who work hard to keep our integrity. Likely I would have encountered someone who may have said to me “while I can't provide you a service that fits your budget, I can point in the right direction with these blog entries I have done.”
Waiting too long to follow up on the work done: if I wasn't gonna do #1 first than I really should have done it after the fact. I would have learned about those Black Hat tactics and caught them before they dealt me so much damage. When you pay someone to do work for you, especially work that doesn't really show you it's results immediately, you would be wise to learn as much as you can about it so that you can measure how well their work is performing. Without this, you are at the mercy of tides.
So needless to say, I am currently focusing on repairing the SEO damage that has occurred, following the instructions of those people who have helped me. It will take some time, but with diligence, good measurements for goal tracking and performance, I should be able to recover and you can take this opportunity to learn from my mistakes.
*Doggy Doo-Doo Marketing is not the actual name of the business.