Is SEO worth my time and money?
It’s a confusing topic with the tangibility of a voodoo spell.
What does it take to really make it worth the effort?
We use search engines to find what we want on the Internet, so the common perception is that our product or service needs to be found on Google or we can’t sell anything.
Well, maybe or maybe not. There are a few things to consider before jumping into the deep and mysterious waters of the SEO world, but we need to understand the ROI (return on investment), the time frames involved and compare those to other marketing options.
- How many visitors can I expect to my website for every keyword that I get to the top half of a Google search result? Basic keyword research will give you a general idea as to the potential each keyword has for search traffic. However, keep in mind that this information is a very rough draft because Google isn’t 100% forthcoming with hard data about search results unless you run an Adwords campaign and pay for the results. Even if you have the exact number of people who search for this particular keyword, you then need to apply the breakdown of people who will click on your listing based on how high you rank on the results. Something to consider is that the first position gets 31% of all the clicks and it drops sharply down from there.
- What about the other search engines? 70% of all searches done in this world are done on Google; Bing is 10% and Yahoo is 9.5%. It goes down from there. I’m not saying that the other search engines are irrelevant, but statistically, they’re less relevant.
- Out of all the visitors to my website, how many will do what I want them to do? This really isn’t an SEO question, but it needs to be answered in order to calculate your ROI. Most common goals would include a “Call To Action” like: Fill out a form, Call Us, Send an email, Buy from my online store, etc. Some of these actions are easy to measure, ROI and others are a little more difficult.
- How difficult is it going to be to achieve one of the top 5 spots for this keyword? There are a few tests that you can do to evaluate this, but none of them are guaranteed. As an example, a simple evaluation of who currently occupies those spots will give you an idea. I did an evaluation for a client and the top five spots where occupied by the likes of Best Buy, Walmart, Overstock.com, etc. Although nothing is impossible, the odds of taking over those spots are slim. You can also use the keyword tool provided by Google Adwords to see if they label the competition as Low, Medium or High. I prefer to do a Google search and use this in front of the search. allintitle:”keyword”. This will tell you how many websites are actually trying as hard as they can to rank for that particular keyword. The reason I say trying hard is because this type of search will tell you if a page on the website has that exact keyword or phrase in their title tag. If the results are over 2000, it will take some effort to achieve a page one result. There are many more tools to evaluate how difficult this battle is going to be, but this is the minimum you should do.
- How much time, effort and money is it going to take to rank for one of those top five spots? This is where the SEO guy tells you it will take 3 to 6 months to achieve results. Well, that’s a stock answer that may or may not be true. The Google algorithm changes daily, so how could anyone really know. Unfortunately, this is a guessing game with far too many variables. When you are talking about SEO, don’t forget that being good won’t cut it. You are competing against everybody who wants to occupy those top 5 spots so you need to be the best. So now you need to ask yourself if you are the best or can you hire the best. Then once you have a guesstimate of the cost and time involve, you can evaluate the ROI.
- How long can I stay on top? Assuming you finally arrive at one of those top 5 spots in a search for the keywords you have chosen, how long can you expect to stay there with no additional effort? This is another slippery question with no solid answer. Every SEO professional will tell you it won’t last forever and they’re right. As for exactly how long, it might only be a week, it might be a year. It depends on the competition and the changes in Google’s rules.
- How much will it cost me to stay on top? This is a more realistic question because if you want to stay there after investing so much to get there, you need to maintain your efforts. Whatever was done to get you there needs to be continued. The debate is if a percentage of that effort is needed or the full effort is needed. That is a matter of debate. But in order to evaluate your ROI, that needs to be taken into account. I would suggest that something between 60% and 100% of the effort used to get you to that spot needs to be exerted in order to maintain the spot.
- What about my competition? Obviously the people that you displaced from one of those premium spots will want it back. Are they going to just let you have it or is this going to be a cold war escalation? There are no hard numbers for this, but it is something to consider. If you are spending your maximum budget, do you have the upward flexibility to spend even more to keep your top spot?
- Is the price of SEO going up? The cost of Pay Per Click raises every year and the number of competitors goes up every year, so it is only likely to assume that the cost of SEO will go up every year as well. I bring this up for two reasons. If you think you are going to get a quality SEO service for a discounted price refers back to the point made above about being the best. If you are trying to anticipate the true return on investment for SEO over time, you need to calculate a minimum 15% increase year after year.
- What magic needs to be performed to secure a top spot? It is important that you know exactly what the SEO agency is going to do for you to ensure your top ranking. The reason behind that is simple. Google has some very harsh penalties associated with “Black Hat SEO”, ranging from a drop in ranking to a total delisting of your website from their search engine platform for the next 2 years. If the SEO agency you hire tends to cheat, you will pay the price. Another reason to know what is being done to your online reputation is that some SEO companies will structure their SEO efforts so that if you ever leave them, your ranking will drop like a rock. You need to know that what is being done for you are going to stay in place and you will benefit from it regardless of your continued business agreements with this company.
- Can I take over once the ball is rolling? If the company is transparent with their practices and you feel comfortable enough with the processes, you could take a shot at it. Normally, the skill set is pretty high and keeping up with the industry changes is almost a full time effort these days. But, you can give it a shot. It’s normally easier to maintain a spot than to recover once you have dropped.
- What is the value of branding to my business? Not all benefits of SEO are measured in immediate ROI. The benefits of brand recognition through more eyes on my business name and position have value as well. That value needs to be quantified and taken into account when evaluating the true ROI over time.
- Can I charge more money? As your branding and visitor traffic increase because of the higher ranking, will you be able to increase your prices.
- Is Google the only part in town? NO! The real name of the game is a multi-facetted approach where you can be found every place a potential consumer might look. Depending on the type of business you have Google might not even be the best place to show up. As an example, if you are in the food and beverage industry, Yelp is a very large player and reviews on that platform carry a lot of weight. This also applies to Facebook for the same industries. I’m not saying to ignore the search engines; however, they might not be on the top of your list for where to spend your money first. If you are selling products, Amazon is giving Google a run for its money as the second largest eCommerce-related search engine.
- Should I just pay for my clicks? Pay per click (PPC) can be done with Google, Yahoo, Bing, Facebook, etc. They all have their hand out willing to take your money. The control of only paying for the click is very appealing and getting to the top of the page isn’t hard, just fork over that money. A case could easily be made for PPC as an ongoing advertising expense. In my experience it is easy to spend money and much more difficult to make it with PPC. There are a lot of companies that are very good at that game and you are competing with them as well. The ROI for a PPC campaign is easier to calculate than with SEO because you can pick the landing page and use a tracking phone number or other analytics to evaluate conversions. In this way you can at least take it for a test drive to see what it can do for you. I would strongly suggest getting some help with this process. There are a lot of studies that show different percentages of clicks from ads vs. organic listings, but none of that really matters because you only pay for the clicks not the impressions. If nothing else, a PPC campaign can provide valuable information about actual traffic you can get from various keywords.
- Can I get paid traffic from other social media? Not all paid advertising is pay per click. You can pay for the number of impressions as well. It’s a good idea to look at options with Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Each of these has their own rules and audience culture. As an example, the mindset of a person on Facebook is far different than the same person doing a Google search. When they are on Facebook they are in an entertainment frame of mind and are less likely to change that mind set into a buying frame of mind. The cost to reach a large number of people is relatively cheap, but the conversions are at a much lower percentage. The Linkedin audience is a more professional demographic so the culture is different than most. There are opportunities here but you need to know the rules of the game.
- What other options do I have? Any business person knows that the advertising options are virtually unlimited. A few more to consider when analyzing your options would include: Apps for mobile, Telesales, YouTube videos, TV ads, Radio, Billboards, Newspaper, Other print ads, Direct mail, Banner Ads online, Affiliate marketing, Email marketing, etc. etc.
There is no clear cut answer as to whether or not SEO is worth it for your company; however, it would be strongly advised to get some trusted help to make an informed decision before you go down that road.
Most companies can benefit from some degree of SEO, it’s just how far do you want to wade into the pool. Is the kiddie pool more your speed or are you ready for the big boy pool?