Kentaro Roy is the president and founder of Kentaro Web Design + SEO
, a web marketing agency in downtown Ann Arbor. He is currently a business student at Eastern Michigan University, where he funds an annual scholarship for the information assurance program in the College of Technology. Kentaro has been named to the 2012 class of Crain's Detroit Business 20 In Their 20s
You can also find Kentaro at the major SEO conferences, and at the dog park with his golden retriever mix, Mei.
As detailed in the first post about SEO in Michigan, the SEO industry in our state is still very young. And that makes it very easy for part-timers, moonlighters, and scammers to take advantage of the growing numbers of businesses who want to use SEO as a business tool. There are some very good, professional agencies out there, but unfortunately we've heard too many stories like Andrew's.*
Andrew is an appeals attorney working out of Ann Arbor, and he had been working with an SEO agency for several months when we met him. He was concerned because it seemed he was paying hundreds of dollars a month for nothing: he wasn't seeing any results, and we later found out that four months of SEO had only sent three visitors to his website. In fact, Andrew had made a separate website for his business on his own, and that website (with zero SEO) was ranking better and receiving more traffic than the site he was paying the SEO agency to promote.
It turns out that his SEO company told him that he was ranking for ‘hundreds of keywords', but upon closer examination we learned that the keywords he was ranking for were not competitive at all, and received little to no search volume. So Andrew's website was ranking for keywords that nobody was actually searching for. Their work had provided him with very little value, and he had paid what comes out to over a thousand dollars per visitor.
We participated in several conference calls with Andrew and his agency, to help him figure out just how much he was getting out of their service. The longer we spoke with them, the more obvious it became that Andrew's actual ROI was next to nothing. The representative we spoke with was evasive, and couldn't tell us more than "SEO takes a while to gain traction" and that "Andrew's site was ranking for hundreds of keywords". He is no longer working with that agency, and was even able to get some of his money back from them when he canceled their services. He isn't a client of ours, but we were happy to help him get out of a bad situation.
Unfortunately, it's very easy for business owners who are too busy to do their own independent research to get taken in by these types of companies, who may say things that seem promising (like "you're ranking for hundreds of keywords" or "we'll make you rank #1 in a week".) That sounds great, but how many keywords your website ranks for is not important, because Google associates keywords with others that are closely related. So even if you were only theoretically targeting one keyword, you could also rank for several others that are closely related. Also, a keyword that is not competitive and has no search volume is not worth your time. And you should never trust a company that says they can get your site to rank first for any keyword within a week (or even within a year)--no one can guarantee number one rankings within a set amount of time.
Unethical SEO companies will tell you things that sound like good progress is being made, but actually mean nothing for your business. If you're working with an SEO company, it's worth your while to do a little research and ask questions. Most SEOs will be happy to answer their clients' questions and clearly outline the results of their work for you. And if they aren't, consider that a red flag.
Our state's SEO industry is a young one, but that doesn't mean that Michigan-based businesses should have to deal with unethical companies taking advantage of the situation. Like any other investment, a little research can go a long way when selecting an SEO company to work with. Don't hesitate to ask the following questions when shopping around for an agency:
1. How will the progress and any results be reported to me?
2. How will you change my website to optimize it?
3. What information do you track, aside from rankings? Will you be tracking conversions and performing ongoing keyword research?
4. Will I retain complete access to my website during and after your work?
An ethical SEO company should be able to answer these questions fully, and provide you with regular reports. Don't settle for less!
*name changed to protect individual's privacy
Unlike Washington or California, which have thriving SEO (Search Engine Optimization) industries, Michigan is a little behind. While businesses that survived the recession are growing rapidly here, SEO hasn't fully caught on yet in many industries. Here's what that means: it is the perfect time for a few forward-thinking companies to jump in and get a leg up on their competitors, taking advantage one of the most common consumer behaviors today: Internet search.
Almost everyone uses search engines to find information online. By optimizing your website, you're making it easier for people to find your business when they need you. Usability and relevance are two crucial elements of SEO, which sets it apart from other marketing methods, since making your information more findable and user-friendly directly benefits the consumer. Some search terms (keywords) are more competitive than others because they have high search volumes (think "shoes" or "low fat recipes"), so it is difficult to get your website to rank well in search engines for these keywords. Less competitive, but highly-relevant keywords can help you more narrowly focus on your target market and qualify your website visitors. Businesses that start SEO campaigns before anyone else have the advantage, and will be ranking for keywords long before their competitors even enter the arena.
Geo-targeted (or localized) SEO helps Michigan businesses place themselves in front of the customers who will be walking through their doors: the locals who are using the Internet to look for a service like "barber" or "coffee shop". Though increasing your web traffic can definitely help your business, a million hits doesn't do anything for you if none of those visitors convert. Geo-targeted SEO allows you to qualify your visitors and market directly to your target audience.
Just how important is search in modern marketing? A PEW Research survey taken earlier this year found that 74% of all Americans use search engines, with 91% of those users reporting that they "always or most of the time" find what they needed when using a search engine. Internet users of all ages have faith in the power of search engines to help them find what they need, and satisfaction is high.
Because SEO is an ongoing endeavor, the sooner Michigan businesses begin optimization, the more visible their site becomes online, leaving their competitors far behind.
Kentaro Web Design + SEO is a little over two years old, and growing fast. I established myself as a freelancer for several years in the real estate industry, helping real estate professionals get more business from the Internet. As a licensed Realtor in the state of Michigan with years of real estate experience, I had begun to see a need in the market for a web marketing professional catering specifically to the real estate industry. I began offering web design and web marketing services to local professionals, growing my client base until it became clear that I needed to hire someone to help out.
Starting a web company as a student was very time consuming, but I wouldn't call it challenging or difficult because I loved every minute of it. One of my main concerns when starting the company was age discrimination – I remember telling a friend jokingly that I should invest in Touch of Grey for my hair. I wasn't sure if people would think I was too young and inexperienced to want to work with me. This never became an issue in the evolution of our company, as we always had results to show for our work at meetings with prospective clients. I believe that anyone passionate about what they do will find a way to manage their time and resources to work towards their long term objectives.
I'm originally from South Lyon, but our company is based in Ann Arbor, which is where our first office was located: a work space we shared with about a dozen other professionals. As our clientele grew, we continued to hire employees with additional skill sets, and we grew to be the agency that we are today: five employees in an office in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. Our team is made up of young people with talents ranging from content creation to web development to sales. It takes a lot of collaboration to get from point A to point B in a small business, so finding a good fit is a crucial part of our hiring process.
Though I started out working with real estate agents almost exclusively, we've diversified quite a bit in the past 2 years. We now work with businesses in manufacturing, health and supplements, tech startups, and service professionals to help them capitalize on their online presences to bring in more revenue and generate leads. Right now, we offer a variety of web marketing services: web development and design, SEO, web analytics, and pay-per-click ad management. We focus on making websites profitable, using both on-site and off-site techniques to create sites that can convert leads and do more than just look pretty on the Internet. Geo-targeted SEO has been very successful for many of our clients, who are all Michigan-based businesses. We also integrate online marketing with clients' existing offline marketing, like direct mailings or billboards. One advantage of being a small business is that we can easily tailor our services to meet each client's needs, instead of selling a pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all product.
We've also begun to offer consulting services, and I like to act as a resource for people who may not be able to commit to a web marketing contract with us, but still need information or may want our help in the future. Last month, we actually helped a local small business owner get out of a one-year contract with a company that had taken thousands of dollars of his money for SEO, but sent literally zero qualified visitors to his website. He isn't a client of ours, but we were happy to help him get out of a deal that was wasting his time and resources.
As we move forward, our goal is to continue to brand ourselves as a Michigan-based web marketing agency. We will continue to help more brands in new markets, as well as provide our services to more national and international clients. We're very excited to continue building our team, and are planning on adding two staffpersons this year.
In 2011, I established a scholarship fund at my current school, Eastern Michigan University. Kentaro Web Design + SEO sponsors a $500 award to a student enrolled in the Information Assurance program at the College of Technology, which is renewable for three years. I chose to make this contribution to the program for two reasons.
First, the technology field in Michigan is still young, so we need smart, talented people to stay and work here and help us grow it. We've heard it over and over, but keeping professionals and young talent in Michigan is very important for our economy. We need to make Michigan a place where the next generation of leaders wants to study, work, and live.
My second reason is that cyber security has grown into a crucial component of doing business in the twenty-first century, but again, the industry is still very young in Michigan. Every business has digital data that must be kept confidential, which we are obligated by law to protect. The safe storage and transmission of sensitive data is crucial, and for many companies it's a full-time job. As technology continues to develop and businesses pursue options like cloud storage, the demand for cyber security professionals' skills will increase.
Though the scholarship fund is not a large one at this point, I plan to grow it along with my business. As a student myself I know that every bit helps, and I'm happy to take this opportunity to give other EMU students a hand. My professional and academic experiences have proved to me that Eastern produces many high-quality students (four of our five employees either graduated from Eastern or are currently studying there, including myself). I'm convinced that the university will continue to produce top-notch talent. We've worked with several interns and independent contractors who also were Eastern students or grads, and they were just fantastic to do business with.
We love our relationship with Eastern and look forward to building that relationship for many years to come.