I hear it all the time. SEO is bullshit, SEO is a scam etc. Generally I don’t care because my clients continue to laugh all the way to the bank. Honestly I welcome the derision, because less competition always means more margins for my clients.
But SEO is B.S. especially if nothing has changed in an agency or consultants approach for a decade. The SEO isn’t just technical on-site changes, or backlink building, it is also a matter of CRO, UX design, content marketing, and creating an incredible marketing strategy. SEO cannot exist in a vacuum, it has to be part of an overall strategy or else it will suck. It’s important to understand what SEO can and can’t do.
What SEO Can’t Do For Your Business:
- SEO cannot rank a site with worse user experience than the competition, or at least the baseline in the market space. (i.e. if your site is uglier and harder to use than the average site in your industry we can’t get you to the coveted top 3 spots)
- SEO cannot rank a site that offers a worse value than the competition. This one should go without saying, but if the business we’re working on has a product or service that simply doesn’t provide enough value to be competitive in the market there isn’t a lot we can do.
- SEO cannot rank a site with terrible reputation amongst clients. Like the point above, SEO is never going to be powerful enough to turn back a negative tide of sentiment towards a business.
- SEO cannot turn a sinking boat around faster than the length of time it’s been sinking. Back in the early aughts you could hire an SEO to “flip the SEO switch” on your site and start seeing growth. Nowadays SEO offers compound growth.
What SEO Can Do For Your Business:
- Create and nurture an existing “free” source of revenue from people naturally searching. The problem with Ads is that once you stop running them, that traffic stop. New rankings tend to maintain themselves for as long as the competition remains static.
- Give you access to new markets and customers you might not otherwise reach. Not all consumers are going to click on ads, and any good SEO should be able to guide you in reaching new parts of the market with better keyword targeting.
- Improve the performance and traffic coming to the content you’ve already been creating. Many businesses write blogs but few see traffic success. Besides the quality of that content, the biggest differentiator is often the SEO behind their work.
- Guide you in the creation of a content strategy that generates consistent traffic without constant promotion. No matter what the content marketing evangelists say, leveraging keyword data to assess how blogs can create consistent traffic is pivotal for success.
- Audit and diagnose issues with a sites conversion or sales path among customers. Any serious SEO agency will be able to locate weaknesses in your approach to selling customers
SEO can be one of the most effective marketing channels. You just need to make sure you’re auditing your SEO agency and aren’t getting bamboozled. Most businesses have a comfortable level of AdWords dialed in that can get them the level of return they need. Or maybe they’ve grown their business out through Etsy, Amazon, or eBay shops. But when it finally comes time to do SEO and content marketing businesses are all on their own. It is not a pay to play environment, it’s a winners take all, play to win environment. Given that, I think there seems to be pressure on both sides to ask for and promise #1 results, which ultimately causes poor expectations and execution.
If SEO is Seen as BS, It Is Our Fault
On the side of SEO agencies and SEO consultants there is often a tendency to overestimate the impact they can legitimately have on a business. At the same time business owners expect that a site which has never performed in the top 5 for any keyword in a given niche suddenly deserve the number one position? Rankings these days are earned, not “stolen” or “gotten” by manipulating algorithms, SEOs are just people who know how to play that game.
Don’t be like the gentlemen above shopping for the cheapest SEO will typically get you a scammer and no results.
Why SEO’s Suck?
For what it’s worth I’ve been in the industry long enough to have some opinions about why so many SEO agencies and consultants are so mediocre. At a basic level there is just this tendency to view the Google algorithm as an all seeing magical force, and SEO’s as some kind of mystic snark charmer. It may feel ridiculous but many people in the industry propagate this view to grow their bottom line and limit criticism from clients. On a macro level, I see the common trends below which generally reduces the quality of skills in the industry.
- Skills depreciate over time. Being in an industry for X years typically means you know your’e way around. But with SEO things that were relevant even 3-4 years ago become useless. Which even applies somewhat to professions like doctors.
- People get discouraged, there’ is just too many people trying to underpay for services so talent jumps ship or people leave consulting.
- Lack of real relevant experience from SEO management. Unfortunately management at many ad agencies don’t really understand or know how SEO works. This allows sales and management to sell incorrect expectations and get deals in with the wrong KPIs.
- People leave. SEO can be a grueling career goal with a steep learning curve and lots of manual labor. Many agencies degrade over time simply because the talent leaves the building.
- Most ad agencies focus on their highest value clients. Unfortunately I’ve seen an appalling lack of regard from “colleagues” at other agencies for the smaller accounts.
- Many agencies are churn and burn operations. They’re sales focused organizations and SEO is simply seen as an ad on service to sell.
- Much of the SEO sold, is sold by design agencies, which just try to package SEO in as an up-sell. They ultimately lack the expertise or skill to carry through on growth.
- Most agencies have silos and are structured by division of labor. This reduces the impact and understanding that SEO’s have for the business.
What’s Really Different About SEO These Days
Hilariously not that much. We still want more clicks on our little blue links than the competition gets.
SEO is a blockbuster game, people really need to be top 3, and top position ideally to see any positive effects from their work. But to to be top 3 amongst thousands of competitors you need to make an honest assessment of the holistic experience your site offers, while dealing with the technical aspects on your site from an SEO perspective.
SEO Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Difficult.
SEO isn’t like other dead or dying industries. Anywhere in America you can sit in a car and note people ignoring billboard, seeing only a few older people at cafes reading newspapers, or the fact that everyone cranes their necks right to their phones the instant and ad comes on. We subjectively know that most people ignore the ads, and go straight to the organic results (no matter how perilously far google makes us scrawl on mobile). People might go direct to Amazon for shopping most of the time, but people are often researching a product long before they’re shopping for it. The business impacts of growing rankings are undeniable.
Why I Had to Start The Portland SEO Company
Not to generate a plug for my own business but I got interested in writing this article (rant?) after running across this thread on Reddit from a developer. The thread as a whole is massive and introduced a huge dose of perspectives I would have never gotten otherwise. From my experience, I know that SEO and developers tend to have a mutual disdain for each other generally speaking. I think it’s also fair to say that among the things that business owners have to hire out marketers and developers continue to be the most challenging people to assess and manage. There’s good reason for this. As a whole most experienced business owners know they need good design, development and marketing but they generally don’t understand or have the time to monitor the skill involved with it. I felt like I could at least offer some insight on the SEO side of things.
At the same time SEO services not being good enough was one of my ultimate frustrations with my last agency. I felt like we were in this deadly game where we were never able to make things happen. Management wanted to spend a capped number of hours on an account (what they’d fairly been paid for) I’d have guys and gals on the other-side of the line telling me that they were trying to send their kids to college and needed this to work.
There smack-dab in the middle was me.
I knew I could make this guy’s site do better this month.
From the SEO’s perspective (among qualified professionals that aren’t just trying to churn and burn) the problem always lies with two facts 1) we can always make a site better but never know if it’s good enough 2) people always want more more more. Being an SEO isn’t like being a surgeon…not to get too grandiose here. Being an SEO isn’t like being a plumber. If your plumber stops the leaks and fixes the pipe everyone calls it a job well done, the client pays, and the problem is gone. In SEO, I can take someone from 39 top 3 rankings to 84 top 3 rankings and increase revenue by 37% in a few a month stint, but there’s always more out there. At the same time there’s intangibles, I can do the perfect job and we could get mowed down by the latest Google update, or a competitor that just had a major PR win.
The constant challenge and difficulty is what attracts me to SEO and keeps me interested. For the average business owner SEO will always be a risk, either one worth exploring or not. As much as we do our due diligence and make the benefits and dangers clear as they develop things will always be in flux.
SEO is, and always has been a battle between humans and algorithms. At the point that the algorithms don’t even need search results and just give you answers then SEO will be dead, but until then we’ll continue the battle.