Online search is the new yellow pages. Even older adults rely upon web search to find important information about healthcare, finances, travel and funeral options. With 75% of those who are age 70 to 74 relying on search, it is no surprise that the decision makers for many funerals, who are Baby Boomers or younger, rely almost entirely on searching online to find funeral resources. A key business decision is how to reach them using digital ads vs. SEO?
Being found on the first page when people search is critical
Ensuring that your funeral services are being found on the first page of search is a critical focus. The chance that someone will visit your website or call you falls to less than 5% if you are lower than #5 on the search page. Since most consumers have not started shopping multiple funeral homes (with the exception of cremation) according to NFDA, making sure you are the first one called is a business growth priority.
Most of the programmatic search companies that are part of the "frequent callers' club" are going to only work on a few keywords. But that really isn't adequate, since the number of ways that people can search continues to grow. Today, consumers can talk to their phone, Alexa in their home, or use standard typewritten search terms. And they might search for any combination of terms.
Two options: Search Engine Optimization or Paid Digital Ads
If increasing the number of services you provide each year is a priority, then you really have two choices to ensure you are ranking on page 1 search for multiple terms. Your options are search engine optimization (SEO) or paid ads (we usually call Google Ads Search Engine Marketing or SEM which is one type of digital ad).
What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is the work of configuring content and web pages so that search engines place them higher in search pages. The work includes the value of content which includes groupings of keywords, the technical structure of web pages as well as the creation of external links to and from other valuable websites that heighten the search engine calculation of page value.
If you wonder whether funeral home marketing should focus on digital ads vs. SEO, it's important to understand the underlying difference between these two approaches. They have the same goal - making sure customers who searching for funeral services can find you. But they are not both equally as valuable.
At the heart, SEO is a way of building up traffic by presenting content that is valuable to both the search engine and the consumer. These two factors are not separate, as Google tracks what consumers do when they arrive at your web page. If the consumer signals that the page is valuable because they stay online, share the page or take an action, then Google rewards that page with higher rankings. If the content is not valuable, then Google takes it down a notch.
Search Engine Optimization relies upon placing great content on your web page. And it becomes an asset.
Consumer trust is generally higher on SEO-configured content, because most know that on the search page, the valuable and more trustworthy content is found below the maps on the listings that don't say "advertisement." There is a general distrust of all advertising, and so leads that come to from organic search will generally yield better leads.
SEO content provides a competitive advantage for funeral homes that make this practice part of their web strategy. Consumers have grown accustomed to answering their own questions online, and their ability to self-educate is an important part of your service to them online. Every piece of online content that you share allows you to increase the trust that consumers have in your company. Becoming the online authority about funeral options, grieving, and the practical bits of help that makes funeral experiences easier gives you a substantial competitive advantage.
SEO content should be viewed as an asset that you build up over time. It will grow in value as you continue to add new content. Paid ads should be viewed as rented space. You will show up on the page as long as you pay the "ad rent."
View digital ads as a way of renting an online storefront with good street traffic while you are working to own the building (SEO).
Like all the other things we rent, paying a monthly ad premium can be a wasted resource if you are not vigilant. Paid digital ads require weekly maintenance plus a sophisticated planning approach. Google and others make a lot of money from DIY search advertisements because without the right training and approach, you'll spend a lot more to get fewer placements and clicks. What's worse, if you don't have a strong strategy, the placement for Google Ads is down to simple bidding war, and whoever is willing to pay more will get the best placements and returns.
If you do need to run search ads in order to create short-term attention, don't stop working to "own" SEO listings that grow over time to reduce advertising costs and create more reliable online leads.
Questions about SEO
The primary concerns that funeral home owners and managers often voice about SEO is speed. Answering the question about how long it will take for SEO to begin delivering leads is an important consideration. Traditional SEO will take 6-12 months to begin developing leads. Those leads will continue to develop over time as the content is improved and it has positive interaction with consumers.
A faster approach, Modular SEO, places SEO content with your website quickly and creates faster lead generation and customer acquisition. This is possible when you are working with a growth agency that specializes in funeral home marketing, such as Story Collaborative. With the modular SEO approach, you will see fully formed SEO with your website beginning in weeks instead of months.
Managing SEO and Digital Ads Well
A helpful marketing approach called inbound marketing provides both a philosophy and a system for addressing this balancing act between ads and SEO. Inbound marketing helps to balance digital ads vs. SEO because mait meets the needs of customers as they explore and consider solutions for the problems they face. Inbound marketing for funeral homes is an approach based upon offering "value first" in the online setting, which is a great fit for funeral homes that want to build long-term trust and rapport in a community.
The inbound approach emphasizes valuable online content, which builds good search traffic by supporting good SEO. This approach also helps the practice website to become an "authority site" by answering the questions that people are asking about their funeral home concerns.
Advertising operates on another principle (interruption) because it stops people from viewing what they are interested in either by blocking or distracting them. People are becoming less and less interested in being interrupted, and the rise of ad blockers and ad-free TV streaming clearly make this point. Given the philosophical difference, does advertising fit alongside inbound?
For the funeral home marketing digital ads vs. SEO question, the answer can be, "yes, do both."
When used as a component of inbound marketing, advertising can extend the value that you offer to help families answer questions and solve problems at the time of need as well as for pre-planning by making your resources convenient to find.
Advertising can also help you extend your funeral home brand beyond your current search engine optimization (SEO) reach. That is, if you aren't ranking well on a number of keywords, or don't have a strong social network yet, you can use ads to "rent" that ranking or space. However, beware of ignoring the longer-term goal of SEO in favor of only the rented online space that ads provide.
Inbound systems can help you manage both organic search and advertising
The systems that inbound uses to build traffic online and relationships cultivate great customers. With good marketing automation, you are able to manage best practice inbound with digital advertising. The same things that are required for good inbound are also required for good ads.
A smart approach to inbound is to blend digital ads where they fit your budget and business goals. The outcomes should be tracked side by side, allowing you to review the costs of acquisition and measure the behavior of those who become prospects from both channels. Customers who come from organic search tend to be much stronger for practice growth, and by blending the two effectively, you can often acquire patients that are self-educating based upon the content that you share.