SEO Agency Case Study: Why Should Prospects Choose You?

simply-the-bestIn this post, Joanna and I want to know what YOU think about 5 SEO agency sites – by giving you a chance to rate how strongly they make a case over their competition…

Part of outperforming your competition involves telling your site visitors exactly why they should choose you over any other available options. This is the essence of a value proposition – a clear statement that explains why your solution is better than all the rest.

And what better place on your home page to promote your competitive advantage than in your headline and supporting copy…

Your headline is typically the first opportunity to tell people what you have to offer (remember the F-shaped reading pattern). It’s not your ONLY opportunity to communicate your value, but if you don’t grab a visitor’s attention with your home page headline, your chances for success (i.e., reducing bounce) drop dramatically.

Why did we choose to focus on SEO firms this time?

The SEO business is extremely competitive, and there has always been an interesting tension between SEO and CRO, with subject matter experts in the former category historically writing for search engines, and SMEs in the latter category focusing on user-centric copy. It’s clear, based on my recent experience reviewing 50+ SEO agency sites, that copy is still being written primarily with Google in mind, and at the expense of creating meaning for visitors.

Please don’t send me hate mail on that last point – I am well aware of the “enlightened SEO” and their prioritization of humans over bots. The Copy Hackers team is a BIG fan of SEO. :-)

You Can Learn From These Sites

First, let’s take a look at some SEO agencies that are getting it [mostly] right. These are examples of sites that I believe are making a strong case for getting visitors to engage and read more… using their most prominent home page copy (sadly, I had to wade through more than 30 Web sites before I found 5 worth highlighting on the positive side).

Of course, first impressions come from more than just headline copy — the visual design of the home page plays a massive role — but I am focusing on the messaging, and its ability to convince a visitor of a distinct competitive advantage.

Boostability:

boostability-good

Boostability is one of the few SEO agencies I examined that takes a visitor-centric view in their primary message.

Increased visibility and profits are desirable outcomes for most businesses, so I think visitors will continue to read. They also highlight the fact that they’re focused on local search, which narrows the field, but also acts as a quick filter for anyone not looking for help with local search (your home page should act as a filter, too!).

The value proposition is very simple — getting your business noticed by local prospects — supported by a believable data point. The copy could be improved by providing a concise statement about what makes Boostability particularly skilled in their domain area. Overall, nice work.

eBrandz:

ebrandz-good

eBrandz has taken the approach of squeezing a lot of information into the home page hero by rotating the content across 6 key areas. I think it’s a step up from the all-too-common “slider” technique, for no reason other than the fact that the sections are clearly labeled. “What We Do” is the first section visitors see (and perhaps the only thing they see), so I’ll focus there.

Their copy choices are solid… “largest SEO company in the world” plus 3 specific ways eBrandz will help your business. The use of phrases like “proprietary white hat SEO”, “ROI (between 10 to 1800%)” and “beat your competition” are compelling.

It’s just too bad the messages are presented in such a dull manner. There is no need to repeat “WHAT WE DO”, and if they’re really the largest SEO company, shouldn’t they treat the copy to hit home on that point? Seems like something to consider…

Qualified Impressions:

qualified-impressions-good

I was on the fence about including Qualified Impressions in this group — mainly because it doesn’t follow the “desirable + unique” approach to developing value propositions — but I think its “Your Are NOT Alone” statement is interesting and likely effective. So many of its competitors focus on “we” versus “you”, so they’re already at an advantage.

With their supporting copy, they strongly suggest that they know the path to the top of the search engine rankings — and they’ve succeeded at doing so in a way that appears repeatable (i.e., for 300+ clients). Their use of “unbeatable rates” will appeal to the budget conscious (and possibly companies with bigger budgets, too), and highlighting a 90-day trial, specifically using the “make you a believer” statement, serves to eliminate risk and build confidence in first-time visitors.

Unfortunately their thoughtful copy does not extend to their CTA. “REQUEST NOW!” is not only vague, but it offers no value to the visitor.

ThinkBIGsites:

think-big-sites-good

I’m presenting the sites for each category (i.e., good and bad) in alphabetical order, but if I’d sorted by effective value proposition messaging, ThinkBIGsites would have risen to the top. It’s not a perfect value proposition, but it’s a front-runner compared to the others.

The primary copy on their home page appears to be selected with purpose. The targeted business size again serves as a nice filter. The statement about affordability makes their solution more desirable. And the sub-head has a nice ring to it… who doesn’t want a “flood of new customers”? Even their choice of “Let us” makes the company feel more approachable.

And where does the copy lead? To the option of acquiring 21 free tips. In that regard, the site feels unique relative to its competition, who typically try to take visitors directly to a lead generation form. ThinkBIGsites first wants to prove itself through some [hopefully] useful free content. Well done, guys!

Zemanta:

zemanta-good

Zemanta is focused on a particular segment of SEO: content marketing. And even with its somewhat sparse presentation of home page copy, I think it accomplishes more than many sites that use considerably more copy.

The site makes a point of targeting a set of ideal customers in its headline. While a targeted message like this doesn’t necessarily convey uniqueness or desirability, it still connects with the visitors who fall into any of the categories. The visually more substantial message, “Amplify your content’s reach and impact” is both unique and desirable… as it’s not a message you’ll find on competing sites (unique) and the act of amplifying content sounds very desirable, perhaps even generating some excitement in readers.

You Can Learn From These Sites’ Mistakes

Now let’s examine some SEO agency sites that have more work to do. One of the most disturbing themes I noticed in going through dozens of similar sites was the volume of copy used in the headline, sub-head, and supporting points. I’ve tried to provide a range of examples here, so not all of the sites below overload the visitor with too many words.

But I wonder… are SEO companies in general too focused on how well the search engines respond to their home page copy? I understand that they’re trying to ensure they rank well in such a competitive field, but what happens when the traffic — actual people — arrive at their sites? People don’t want to hunt for a reason to stay; they want to be given a reason to read on. And burying a statement of competitive advantage (i.e., value proposition) is counter to the ultimate goal of getting leads and conversions.

HigherVisibility:

highervisibility-needs-work

These examples aren’t meant to criticize… they’re meant to be constructive. Higher Visibility misses the mark with copy that is too soft and vague. The question posed has an obvious answer, and so I don’t believe it needs to be asked, and the answer provided comes across as blatantly self-serving.

The fact that the company is “nationally recognized” helps build a case against its competitors, but unfortunately it stops there. The paragraph continues with a mission statement (something that is focused on the company rather than the visitor), a non-specific targeting statement (i.e., “companies of all sizes”), and a request for contact.

The banner teases the visitor with a value statement, but will people stick around long enough to read what follows?

Hop Online:

hop-online-needs-work

If it weren’t for the SEOmoz logo in the header, I wouldn’t know if I’d landed on the right site or not. There are no other mentions of SEO to reinforce the click I just made. But that’s another set of issues…

Where is Hop Online’s value proposition? Being able to “speak your language” (literally and figuratively) is a good thing, but it does nothing to separate this company from any other SEO firm. Getting the job done is also table stakes. Surely there is more to this company that what’s presented at the top of its home page.

Increasing your site’s profitability is desirable, but how is that achieved? Is it the people, process, tools… what exactly? And I’d recommend against positioning the only benefit statement within the CTA copy — CTAs should include benefit statements, but not ONLY there. I’m sure this is a great company to be recommended by SEOmoz, but there is no compelling evidence offered beyond a short list of clients.

KeyRelevance:

keyrelevance-needs-work

In terms of supporting imagery, Key Relevance brought a smile to my face. Though that’s probably just the geek in me talking.

So what’s happening here? The company appears to be relying more on the image than on the copy — strange for an SEO agency. I’ll bet they’ve been doing much more than just helping their clients “understand Google”, but you wouldn’t know it. What have they been able to achieve for clients that is repeatable for prospects?

And then there’s “How can we help you?”, which is a question better answered by Key Relevance than by the first-time visitor, no? It might be just me, but I’d like to know exactly how you (Key Relevance) can help me. Yes, I want to understand Google, but I want results, too.

Slingshot SEO

slingshot-needs-work

In case you’re wondering, I think it’s just fine to lead with a compelling offer on a home page — in this case, a free download about marketing channel attribution — and then move into why someone should choose your company above all others. Just be sure that the copy that follows is at least as strong as the compelling offer.

Unfortunately for Slingshot SEO, the copy is not as strong as the offer. Doesn’t it read like a jargon-filled mission statement? There are a lot of buzzwords used, but these words will never create buzz. People want specifics, not generalities, and this is the home page’s biggest sin.

Virante:

virante-needs-work

Even if you craft the best value proposition ever created and skillfully reveal it in your headline, it won’t mean anything to your business if it can’t be easily read (by humans). Virante has a readability issue with its hero copy — something that could be easily addressed at the same time the copy is optimized.

Similar to Slingshot SEO, Virante also suffers from a lot of copy that says very little. The words they chose don’t paint a picture of superiority over the competition, nor do they stir any emotion in the people who come to the site wanting to find an SEO solution. Headings are an issue… “Organic SEO” and “Welcome To Virante” aggressively challenge this copywriter’s diplomacy. :-) And the copy that follows the welcome message makes absolutely no connection between Virante’s services and the “stream of potential new clients and visitors”.

Virante has perhaps the biggest opportunity to improve its bounce rate and set itself apart from its competitors.

So What’s YOUR Take?

And now it’s your turn to have some fun. Please take what you’ve learned in this post and in the past couple of posts about value propositions and differentiation — and share your opinion about the effectiveness of the following 5 SEO agencies’ home page messaging. You’ll instantly be able to see how others have voted.

[Votes are anonymous, but be sure to leave a comment at the end of this post if you'd like to expand on any of your choices.]

Ayima:

ayima-poll

[poll id="5"]

BlueGlass:

blueglass-poll

[poll id="7"]

Distilled:

distilled-poll

[poll id="8"]

Keyphraseology:

keyphraseology-poll

[poll id="9"]

SEO Gadget:

seogadget-poll

[poll id="10"]

You made it! If you took the time to vote on 1 or more of the 5 sites, thank you! If not, it’s not too late to share your opinion!

I hope you had as much fun reading this post as I had writing it, and I encourage you to dedicate some time in the coming weeks to hone your Ultimate Value Proposition — and make it clear to visitors why they should do business with you. It’s one of the easiest elements of your home page copy to test, and when you get it right, you can apply it to much more than just your H1 and H2… get it right and you can make your site visitors want to do business with you!

And let us know what you think about any of the 15 sites in the comments below… agree or disagree!

~lance

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  • Lindsay Wassell

    Thank you, Lance, for choosing Keyphraseology as an example (in the voting section). We’re rethinking our website now and I’ve taken your guidance on-board. We didn’t fair too badly in the voting, but we have some work to do. I’d love to get your thoughts again once we feel we’ve “nailed it”. :)

    • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

      Can’t wait to see where you go with it, Lindsay!

  • http://ProspectSnap.com/ Andrew Woo

    I like these posts w/ voting :D

  • Aaron

    Lance said: “One of the most disturbing themes I noticed in going through dozens of
    similar sites was the volume of copy used in the headline, sub-head, and
    supporting points.” I found this very interesting as I think I’m guilty of this at times. So, generally, where should that extra copy (assuming it’s good) go? Further down the page or to a landing page? And just how much is too much?

    • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

      Great questions, Aaron — thank you for chiming in.

      The answers have a lot to do with visitor expectations.

      Chances are you clicked a link to reach this blog post — in an email, on another site, in a tweet, or somewhere on the Copy Hackers site itself. And it’s likely that you knew going in that you were about to read a blog post… which tend to have plenty of words to read. :-) Hopefully your expectations for finding a useful post were met!

      Now what about the person doing research on SEO agencies? Chances are she will want to quickly compare and contrast the offerings of various companies — which will likely involve visiting a Google search results page and then multiple home pages. Does she expect to have to read a ton of information to conduct her investigation? I would say not. Her particular task at this point is to get a quick read, not a long read.

      You should write your home page to deliver the maximum impact with the fewest [carefully chosen!] words. This will give first-time visitors the answer to their question (i.e., “Should this site be in my consideration set?”) with the least amount of effort — and they’ll thank you for it, even if they choose not to do business with you.

      If your home page copy is particularly compelling, you may get a second click… on a Learn More or How We Work link — which are the places to deliver more details and build up their interest.

      I look at it this way — as a stepped approach:

      1. Google search results: Very little copy (determined largely by Google)
      2. Home page / landing page: A little more copy — just enough to compel the visitor to click deeper into your site
      3. Secondary pages: Provide all the details here, as the visitor has formed an expectation to read more based on their click from your home page

      Hope that helps!

      • Aaron

        That helps tremendously. Thank you. Keep up the awesome posts.

  • copywriter

    Reminds me of most industrial advertising–sucks.

    • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

      I do agree that as a group, SEO companies appear to be overlooking serious opportunities to develop sites that engage visitors. As I mentioned in the post, I had to scour dozens of sites to find a handful to highlight on the positive side.

  • mukunth

    Was the voting site content chosen purposely to be bad?

    • http://www.toppingtwo.com/ Lance Jones

      That’s an interesting take! I actually chose 5 sites from a list of top-ranked SEO companies. I actually don’t think they’re all bad… but they are pretty representative of what I found.

      • omouse

        do digital marketing agencies next! :D they’re all very image heavy with awful copy imo