Many of our clients, friends, and even local competitors we've been talking to over the past several weeks and they say we seem to be busy. We are and we know why and are going to tell you how we're doing in one area. That area is search engine optimization and social media. It's actually technology that gives us our edge. As software developers we think analytically to grow business. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars on tools to help our small business clients rock it. We get tools that work together that give us insights into what the internet is doing. With that information we can dig deeper than most and spot trends months before others start reacting.
We also believe in transparency and try to help every small business grow as we feel there is enough goodwill, experts, and truly awesome people in Northwest Indiana. It will be no surprise that to us our biggest competitors are those of companies on the stock market as they are national players and that is where we see ourselves. We're going to talk about our most expensive tool today that we use yet is still affordable any small business can afford.
Our main tool of trade is called SEM Rush. This is primarily a search engine optimization tool as we know that having an optimized website is critical. If you're not out client or not (we hope you are!) we want to see you live the American dream. Social media is equally critical when it comes to search engine optimization. SEM Rush has social integrated as well but isn't our only social media tool we use. I'll talk about our other tools at a later time but today it's all about SEM Rush. The benefit is more than 90 days of analytical reports that compare not just the search engines. They look at the search engines and social media together and help us spot trends and changes. Facebook and most free/individual social platforms don't give you more than 90-days of data let alone combine them for this trend analysis. We are able to use years' worth of data and not just your data but that of your competitors as we gather that information as well. This is why it is critical when we look at our clients and ask who their competitors are that we don't look locally but nationally (even globally for some) as well.
Last year our clients all averaged 20% or more growth for our social media clients as they see the value in not only a website but social media. They continue to grow as every month we gather more information that helps us help them grow. But "what" is growth to us as it is different for everyone. First, if growth to you is fans that that is what it is to you. For us though fans are one of the areas we don't look at for solid growth. We would rather see you with a few hundred loyal fans that buy from you then a thousand that don't buy, engage, or interact online with your brand. I am breaking the rest of this article into three sections just for social media. Why social media because today you need both social media and SEO to have solid business growth. Ignoring one will result in less than desirable results. What I will talk about below isn't a result of "just social media". It is a combination of social media and search engine optimization that produced these results.
The first thing I want to say is I had no ideas the numbers would be for the year. We typically look month-over-month with looks over an entire year happening in December/January of each year. I was curious and wanted to look at the first quarter as that is a good overall baseline of where we are headed. I also want to say in many situations ours is not the best of performers. We were actually our "worst" performer for 2018 which still resulted in more than 20% of growth. I knew we were doing good month-over-month but I hadn't looked at our own annual numbers until 4am this morning when I am writing this. I knew we were growing but these even amazed me.
The first area is audience. We want to see growth but we want to see it organically (not paid). Losing here would not worry me if my other two areas grew. Having growth here though is a great add. The chart below is our growth to local and national competitors for the first quarter of 2018 for every social media outlet we are on. Audience wise we are not bigger than our social competition but we are growing at a positive pace overall.
Our next area is activity which is really how often are we posting. This is where in the past six months we have really started picking things up. In fact, our biggest pickup has been on Twitter. Twitter for us has never produced a single customer. So why would we be doing more there where others have created paying customers? The first was diversification and pushing into realms we haven't had results previously. This is part of being agile and turning weaknesses into strengths. The other reason is that we saw change in the social landscape six months ago (again the importance of reading and understanding your data). Many are just now starting to grasp these changes which has given us a very powerful advantage and foothold in building our brand on different platforms.
Our last area is where we consider our goal of a minimum of 20% growth to be. This is where your audience is engaging with your brand. This is what turns your business investment online into physical dollars and true business growth. The more engaged your audience is the more likely they will be loyal to your company/brand, talk up your company, and your business will ultimately increase due to the positive remarks across the entire Internet. For 2017, our engagement was at 20.01% (the lowest of all our clients). For the first quarter of 2018 it is 22.4%. This is a nice change and I'll actually be looking at every client for quarterly results going forward rather than looking at month-to-month increases. Change like this is what makes us able to adapt quickly and without fear of things that are happening on places like Facebook and Instagram right now. What you will notice that I find the most positive is even though the majority of our activity right now is on Twitter the engagement is actually on Facebook. In 2017, Instagram held 0% of our engagement this year it is also trending up as we are picking that up (more on that in another post).
I have talked about growth and transparency laying out where we are, where we are starting to go for our company, as well as one of the software packages we use. If you do look at SEM Rush for yourself as you want to do it yourself you won't need to be on the Enterprise plan options like we are. You can "go Pro" and get it for less than $100/month. If you want the historical data you'll want to upgrade to Guru but getting started this program will do you well. Expect to spend six hours once you learn the software each month for each of your sites you have configured (e.g. website, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.). The first three months expect that to be triple with updates and recommendations for your website. If you only visit the software once a month expect those numbers to double or triple easily. I can say I basically live in the software from 6am to 9pm moving between client sites and writing code for all the latest Google happenings.
In fact, one nice feature you can see that gets a lot of usage on our website is "Current Google Search Engine Database Trends" that can be found right on our homepage. On days that are High or Very High that means major Google updates are most likely being rolled out. This is where many people see dips in their search engine result pages (SERP). I know I look at this daily but click on the link as it gives me the ability to drill into specific industry types which gives more information so I can see trends of what Google and the other search engines are probably doing.