Business owners these days are consistently and overwhelmingly hit up by salespeople pitching search engine optimization (SEO). Email from SEO “experts” litter inboxes with unwanted proposals and promises of No. 1 page rankings and dire warnings of doom if a business doesn’t spend more time optimizing its website.
For years, SEO has been the elusive Shangri-La of digital marketing — an undefined product that promises large amounts of quality visitors to a website for a relatively small amount of money. If that seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.
Here’s the truth. SEO is a real thing and if done successfully, it is extremely valuable. But it’s not cheap, it’s hard to do, it takes a long time to produce results and ultimately there is no guarantee of how well it will work.
The thing about SEO that’s made the snake oil salesmen come out of the woodwork is that it’s also really hard to prove if it’s being effective or not. If you have a good pitch and you have a businessperson that doesn’t have the time or desire to understand digital marketing but knows it’s importance, SEO is the ultimate con because everyone knows it’s valuable but no one knows the formula of how it works. Ultimately there is no accountability.
SEO is certainly complicated to execute and understand, but let’s try to break it down simplistically. There are essentially two parts to SEO — the technical side and the content side.
The technical side of SEO is based on how well your site functions. Does it load quickly? Is the site mobile responsive? Is your site map up to date? Do you have broken links on the site? These technical issues and many more determine how well Google ranks your business in searches.
To improve your technical SEO, you’ll most likely need a web developer (preferably the company that created the website) to regularly look at your site to ensure that it is up to the latest Google standards (which change consistently).
SEO technical upkeep is a “best practice” and something you should be doing. However, be aware that some less than honest agencies and developers may charge you to upkeep their SEO without ever making changes to the site. It’s wise to ask your SEO expert every so often what they’ve done lately to improve your search rankings.
When SEO is sold, it is often on the content side. Essentially, the strategy with content SEO is to fill a site with new, fresh and engaging material. This content is written using “keywords” that are relevant to a business' website. Content SEO is popular because it’s relatively easy to produce and post. You only need to be able to write using relevant keywords and topics.
The problem with content SEO is that you can spend months on it, write dozens of stories and never make a dent in a websites search ranking. That’s because it’s more of an art than a science. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is simply no guarantee of ROI because Google doesn’t reveal exactly how it ranks websites. We just know that it’s based on many, many variables.
In the end, SEO is important, but if your company doesn’t have the marketing money to spend on a consistent SEO campaign with a reliable SEO specialist, your best bet is to buy digital advertising. Through the many forms of digital advertising, you can target customers according to your businesses needs. Most importantly, unlike SEO, you can control how much or how little your brand is advertised. You can analyze the effectiveness of your campaigns through analytics. Finally, you can come fairly close in determining an ROI on your marketing dollar.