Business owners right now are wondering “Is SEO worth paying for?”
I'm not going to make friends with this blog post, I'm almost sure of it. But it's time someone in the industry sat up and told the truth about SEO – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First, what is SEO or Search Engine Optmisation?
SEO Definition: Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of affecting the visitiblity of a website or a web page in a search engines “natural” or un-paid “organic” search results. In general, the earlier or higher ranked on the search results page, and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine's users. (Reference: Wikipedia)
What do I know about SEO and why should you listen to me?
The feature image of this blog post (shown above) is a screen shot of my Google Analytics account for one of my businesses. It shows the continual growth of traffic (visitors) to my website since I started back in 2010.
When I started that company I had 1 strategy in mind – build my business using SEO (or Search Engine Optimisation).
Back then, SEO was a tactic that you could use quite aggressively. I entered into a market that was filled with big budget businesses who play with millions of marketing dollars each year. I was a little, 1 man band with a shoestring budget. But I had something they didn't: the ability to quickly adopt and master a strategy that was still misunderstood and underutilised at the time.
I spent hours grinding out that strategy – often 14 or 16 hour days just on doing SEO. I'm talking scouring the web for link opportunities: Getting high page rank ‘follow' links, leaving blog comment links, mixing up anchor text in my links, adding deep links to my website, revising my sites architecture to squeeze every ounce of ranking effectiveness I could. I wrote a shitload of articles and blog posts. I created mini niche websites and optimised those for additional, highly targeted traffic. I created Squidoo pages, Hubpages, WordPress.org pages. I syndicated, I guest posted, I optimised images, URL's, Titles, headlines, keyword density… you name it, I did it.
SEO was like a winnable game. Each week I'd check my rankings on dozens of keywords I was optimising my site for. Each week I'd see a result for my efforts. That little green number with the green arrow meant I was climbing the rankings.
If I got a red number, it meant I lost rankings, so I'd start with my competitor research. I'd reverse engineer their website. I'd use software to see where their links are coming from – how they are beating me and I'd set out to smash them out of the ball park.
Can I do SEO? Yep.
The result? I've made over $30M in sales due to SEO on that one website.
Surely that means SEO is worth it right? Not so fast my friend…
Now, if I was unscrupulous, I could leave you with these numbers and you'd probably be thinking “Far out, $30M in sales just from SEO”.
That wouldn't paint the whole picture and you'd be making the same mistake I see so many people make.
Misconception #1: Visitors = Profit
The one common metric that every SEO agency pushes into the face of every business owner who contracts them is Website Visitors.
They'll say: “Surely, if the traffic is going up each month, it must mean we're doing something right? Surely, if the traffic is going up, we're doing our job?”
Here's the killer. I know a lot of businesses who can show me an increase in website visitors, but tell me they haven't acquired any new business to speak of.
They'll tell me they're making the same profit as the year before when they had 25% less visitors.
So what is going wrong here? If we're paying for SEO and we're seeing results like more visitors, why aren't we getting more clients?
The problem is, you're not getting relevant visitors to your site.
Misconception #2: All SEO is Equal
To understand what I mean by relevant visitors, I need to explain some fundamental workings of Google and Bing.
Search engines provide answers when someone is looking for something.
So when you go to Google and type in “mountain bikes” Google is going to provide you with a list of options.
In the case above “mountain bikes” is the keyword phrase. This is what you typed into Google.
That keyword is just one of millions of variations when it comes to the term “bikes”.
Each different search produces different results.
Results for ” mountain bikes”
Results for ” mountain bikes under $1000″
Results for ” mountain bikes sydney”
As you can see, all the results in the ‘Organic' listings (not the paid ads) are different. But I would also argue, that the users doing the search are different too.
What do I mean?
The intent of the searcher is different.
A user searching for the generic “mountain bikes” is probably just interested to see what's available, or might be looking for a stock image for a brochure or perhaps some other random reason.
A user searching for “mountain bikes Sydney” is probably much more likely a potential customer to a bike shop in Sydney.
So which website visitor do you want to attract?
The potential customer right?
Unfortunately, you can't be sure what your website visitor searched for in the search engine because Google now hides a significant number of search keywords.
In the instance shown above, 35,034 website visitors came via Google – but I don't know what they typed into Google because Google doesn't show me that data anymore.
Yes, they used to. There is a lot of speculation as to why they no longer do, but the best one is probably the proof in the pudding that their paid Adwords revenue significantly increased after making this change.
So in summary, getting the right traffic to your website is not only difficult, but it's barely measurable using SEO.
This is probably why you're growing in traffic volume, but it's not having an effect on your customer numbers or profit results.
Misconception #3: Ranking for specific keywords
In the golden age of SEO (which was only a few years ago) you could easily target very specific keyword phrases.
In today's world, it's harder to go for specifics.
Yes, an SEO agency will optimise the website for those specific phrases, but ultimately the power is with Google as to what you do and don't rank for.
That power can't be understated either. Because as many businesses found out over the last couple of years, Google can change their algorithm and wipe your rankings from their search results.
Really you ask?
Imagine spending thousands of dollars on SEO only to find it was all in vein and you have to start again. Ouchy momma!
Fuck you panda.
This is a great question and I wanted to outline a strategy for you going forward so you can assess if SEO is worth paying for, or if it's simply a waste of money.
Take this quick test;
1. Are you paying less than $1000 per month for SEO? YES / NO
If you answered Yes, my guess is you're getting little to no value and could potentially be damaging your website rankings if the business looking after your SEO is creating spammy links that Google penalises.
Today, SEO requires an intelligent marketing strategy to work. If you're doing it on the cheap, the business working for you is cutting corners.
If you answered No, my guess is that you're generating irrelevant website traffic. Either people who are just looking for information or your numbers might be skewed by bots crawling your site. Check your Google Analytics under Acquisition / Referrals and look at where some of your website visitors are coming from.
If you see domains like;
Then you should discount those visitor numbers altogether. They are spammy and funnily enough, performed by a so-called reputable SEO company.
3. Is the SEO company looking after your SEO creating really great content? YES / NO
Google rewards companies with good rankings if they publish great content that gets shared by website visitors naturally.
So creating a great video like this that gets 10 million views is an excellent SEO strategy.
However, if the SEO company is only writing a 300 word article to publish on your business blog – and it's much like the other gazillion articles they published previously, then there's a good chance you're wasting your SEO dollars.
4. Have you run a pay per click (PPC) campaign on your high ranking keywords? YES / NO
Here's where the rubber can really hit the road.
If your SEO provider has given you a report that shows you ranking #1 for certain keyword phrases, you should run a PPC campaign on those keywords and set up conversion tracking.
That way you'll see if people who search for those keywords actually convert to customers.
A few years ago, I was approached by a business to do a marketing audit for them. We were investigating a whole lot of things from their overall lead generation strategy, their web presence, their sales funnel, etc…
When it came time to review their SEO strategy, they sheepishly confessed they didn't really know what SEO was, but they just knew they needed it. That's not unusual. What I did find unusual was how they had been sold the SEO service.
They were asked to nominate 3 primary keyword phrases they wanted to rank for.
There was no other instruction given. Just “Tell us what you want to rank for”. So they randomly chose 3 phrases.
“Building” | “Fine Homes” | “Construction Companies”
I can't blame them for choosing those words, they make sense if you're a new home builder right? Unless of course you know how Google works and how keyword phrases are vastly different in intent.
None of those 3 phrases would have given them 1 cent of business if they managed to rank #1.
Had they run a PPC campaign, they would have discovered that within a week and cancelled the so-called SEO campaign, saving them thousands in wasted dollars – and in wasted opportunities.
Does that mean SEO is dead?
Absolutely not. Businesses are still making money because Google puts them at the top of the search results.
What is dead is old SEO techniques that were highly effective and could rapidly promote your business up the Google rankings ladder, quickly, easily and cheaply.
If you're responsible for the company email account, you've probably had weekly emails from companies in India that promise 1st page rankings for only $120 a month. That kind of service is dead. It doesn't work. It did a number of years ago, but not anymore.
Don't be tempted. They will cost you reputation with Google, and that's not something you want to mess with.
Where to from here?
OK so now you know SEO isn't all gravy. It can work, but it requires work to do so. So what can you do to make SEO worth it?
Answer: Content marketing
Content marketing is what Google wanted you to do all along. It's the new form of SEO that can not only work as far as search engine results and rankings, but it can work on different mediums as a great marketing campaign both in paid and free promotion.
What's more is, you're building a stronger business asset. With content marketing, you're enhancing your brand in highly visible places. You're creating good will. You develop a fan base. You can increase customer loyalty.
Everything you ever wanted your business to do can be a direct result from your content marketing strategy – AND it will positively impact your search engine rankings as a side effect.
The HelloFlo video shown in this post is a perfect example of great content marketing.
I hope that for some of you reading, you're now better equipped to answer your own question of whether SEO is worth it for your business. I'd love to hear your comments, so go ahead and leave one below.