The best place to hide a dead body is page two of Google, according to Avalanche Creative, which is why the Grand Rapids-based search engine optimization (SEO) consultant leverages an empathetic, people-focused approach to helping businesses get in customers’ faces.
Founder Lance Beaudry became very interested in building websites in the early 2000s. Although he describes himself as social person, he often would skip social events for projects he was working on.
“It was pretty much dropshipping before dropshipping was a thing, slideshows for graduation parties,” Beaudry said. “The most exciting thing for me was building a website for a business, to try to attract people to the website and make money somehow.”
Beaudry got away from site building, however. After watching his mother fail at being an entrepreneur, he didn’t see how he could be successful as a web developer. After high school he went to Grand Valley State University for a teaching degree.
“I love to teach. I love to break things down, but along the way, I couldn’t scratch that itch of building a website and growing a business,” Beaudry said.
He credited the purchase of a $20 book, which rekindled and refined his website building skills. Right out of college, he got a job as a landscaper, but the hard labor made him realize he didn’t want to do it for the rest of his life.
In the evenings, he would learn how to code and build websites for people and even made a good side hustle out of it.
One website he built in particular, where small- to mid-sized churches could develop their own mobile app, ranked high on Google and taught Beaudry the importance of SEO.
“Using Google to learn SEO — there are tons of people willing to share good information about SEO,” Beaudry said. “Tons and tons of trial and error — that’s how the most SEO experts I know today learn. It’s to be good at googling, which is kind of ironic.”
In the case of his church app website, Beaudry gave information about what options churches have for building apps and what benefits they can get out of having their own internal app. When people search for those options and benefits, Beaudry’s website would be the first result that popped up.
Beaudry eventually sold the website he developed, but its success led him to doing SEO consulting for business clients. His wife, Rayanne, at the time was working in the nonprofit sector while advising her husband on business practices.
“She was free labor for the longest time,” Beaudry said, laughing.
“After doing a lot of free labor, I decided I like this,” Rayanne Beaudry said. “We just got to a point where I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. I can help you grow this business.’”
With Rayanne on board, Avalanche Creative tripled its revenue and its team in the course of two years, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I worked with freelancers a little bit before Rayanne, and as soon as Rayanne was in … within a year we had three full-time employees,” Lance Beaudry said.
SEO is becoming more important to businesses when promoting themselves, Rayanne Beaudry said. The economy is experiencing a shift in labor, as well as a generational shift. As more young people move into decision-making positions, they’re going to Google first to find resources.
“Maybe the old way of getting noticed is you would go to a trade show, you’d get on the vendor list, you get on the phone with someone, but now if someone is looking for a landscaper or any kind of BTB resource, they’re going to Google,” she said. “We saw that in the last year with the pandemic. Everything went online. If you’re not using your website as an active lead generation source, you’re missing out.”
SEO also is one of the few marketing activities that compound over time, Lance Beaudry added. Although businesses can certainly lose visibility if they don’t practice good SEO, the front page of Google is free real estate.
It’s also less sales-focused and more people-focused, he added. Companies that leverage SEO well will first educate customers on their services and teach them to come to them if they need help. For example, Avalanche assisted a local landscaping company, Superior Groundcover Inc., in writing a blog about DIY spray-on lawns, or hydroseeding, because many potential customers in Michigan were searching for hydroseeding.
“Why would we want the company that offers hydroseeding as a service to write a blog about how customers could do it themselves? Well, these people … they haven’t made up their mind yet,” Lance Beaudry said. “They’re just trying to figure out what does it take to do it themselves. If you lay out the facts — don’t sell Superior’s services — just tell them how to DIY … they’re going to come to the conclusion that, ‘Oh, this company really helped me understand that I do not want to do this myself. Maybe I’ll call them.’”
Proper, people-focused SEO isn’t just about tricking the search engine by stuffing certain keywords into a page. It’s about helping the end consumer find exactly what they’re looking for.
“A lot of SEOs will panic about Google algorithm updates, but we really don’t worry about that,” Rayanne Beaudry said. “In the end, Google is trying to help searchers find the best content, and so are we. If you’re interested in helping the end user and creating the best experiences for them, you don’t have to worry about Google algorithm updates. They’re only going to be in your favor.”
Vanity metrics also are not a sign of good SEO practices, Lance Beaudry added. Just because a website has a high amount of traffic, that doesn’t automatically equal more customers for the business. It also doesn’t mean anything for a website to rank No. 1 for a keyword nobody searches.
“It looks good. It makes the business look good, but it doesn’t equate to generating new business all the time,” he said.
Another successful client Avalanche has assisted is White Lake Dock & Dredge, an environmental dredging and marine construction company in Norton Shores. Avalanche helped the company rank above FEMA and Wikipedia when googling the keyphrase “rip rap rock revetment.”
“When the shoreline was eroding and people’s houses were falling in the lake, they were calling this company to prevent that from happening,” Lance Beaudry said.
While landscaping makes up a good chunk of the sectors Avalanche services, the bulk of its clientele work in the health care, manufacturing and software industries.
“We try not to be too specific to any industries. It keeps us curious,” Rayanne Beaudry said.
“I’d say that’s one of our biggest value-adds,” Lance Beaudry said. “If you were to google ‘hydroseeding SEO specialist,’ you wouldn’t find many — well, you would find our website (laughs), but that’s kind of our value-add is we’re SEO agnostic. We can train our team to become experts in very niche industries.”