Is SEO worth it, or is the time and effort better spent on other marketing channels such as social media, TV ads, PPC, etc.?
In a nutshell, the advantage of SEO versus other marketing channels is that SEO traffic is self-sustaining and long lasting. Once a website ranks for a keyword (e.g., “new york plumber”) in the top 10 search results, it will usually stay there for many months, or even years, with near 0 effort on your part.
While in the top search results, your website will continuously attract new and free traffic. This traffic is real Internet users, people that can become paying customers.
This is why so many companies invest time and effort in SEO. One initial SEO campaign can lead to months, or even years of sustainable, high-quality traffic and potential customers with no ongoing cost.
Other marketing channels, such as PPC, work on a pay-to-play model. You need to spend money all the time to attract traffic and sales. These marketing costs add up over time and can eat up a company’s profit margin.
But SEO does have its downsides. The biggest is that it can take many months to reach the top of the search results. The second is that some niches are extremely competitive and require a lot time, effort and even upfront financial investment before seeing tangible results.
What is SEO?
SEO is a set of principles or techniques websites can follow to gain search engine’s trust, move up the rankings and attract more organic traffic & sales.
All the popular search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo have something called the Search Engine Results Page (SERP), which displays text, videos, images, and other content relevant to what users searched for. SEO’s primary goal is to rank your website in the top 3/10 positions within search results.
The SERP. The world’s most desired real estate.
Why is it important to rank higher?
Traffic on search engines follows a “winners-takes-all” model. The first three links on a results page usually attract somewhere between 50% to 60% of the traffic, with the rest split among the remaining 7 results.
But there’s a huge difference in traffic even among the best three search results. In most cases, the 1st position takes around 30% of the traffic, the second 15% and the third 11%
The image below shows the average traffic distribution for an average Search Engine Results Page (SERP) with 10 links:
How does SEO Work?
Millions of new web pages and websites appear every day on the Internet. Search engines discover these new pages using tools called “crawlers” or “spiders”.
When a crawler finds a new page, it will “read” the text on the page, the URL link, image description, meta tags and so on until it learns the topic of the page.
Once a crawler figures out the page’s topic, the search engine’s algorithm will show the page to users who search for that particular topic.
In all of this, SEO’s role is to make sure that your site is well optimized for the targeted keyword or topic, is easy to navigate, has good loading times, no errors, and has high-quality content relevant to users.
Optimizing your website includes writing attractive titles, meta descriptions, choosing the right images and URL keywords.
To get SEO right, you need to take care of three aspects of your website.
Technical SEO involves optimizing your site’s loading speed, sitemaps, solving duplicate content issues, site security, navigation, structured data etc. Fortunately, technical SEO is usually a “one and done” type of activity, with little or no ongoing maintenance.
On-Page SEO is the process of optimizing content on a page or website so it ranks for a particular keyword. The purpose of on-page SEO is to help search engines understand what a page is all about.
It includes practices like performing keyword research, writing catchy headlines, adding relevant internal links, optimizing your images, and writing relevant meta descriptions.
Off-page SEO means building up your site’s reputation and how trustworthy it is to search engines by acquiring links. Search engines will measure your site’s trustworthiness by counting how many other sites point links towards it. Improving off-page SEO involves writing guest posts, acquiring quality backlinks, and linking to high-quality websites.
7 Reasons SEO is Worth it
1) SEO can be easy to learn
Doing basic SEO is a lot simpler than most people assume, and is a skill someone can easily learn with some trial and error.
Finding the right keywords, creating new SEO optimized pages, improving existing ones or speeding up a site can take as little as 10-30 hours of work.
Knowing how to do each one isn’t that difficult either, since there are plenty of guides on each topic.
It only seems difficult because doing some SEO changes today will produce effects after 1-3 months. Because of this, it takes a long time to learn which SEO techniques & keywords produce traffic and sales, and which ones are dead ends.
Other marketing channels provide results in a few hours (PPC) or days. This quick turnaround makes it easy to experiment with different things in a short amount of time and see what works and what doesn’t.
2) SEO brings free traffic
Once a page / website ranks well, it will provide free traffic for as long as it maintains its top search positions.
This means qualified and interested users visit your site on a daily basis, view products, and services and even become paying customers – all without you spending a single cent on acquiring said traffic.
Compared to SEO, with PPC you’ll have to pay for each and every single click. Depending on how competitive the niche is, the sums involved could range from $1 to $50 per click.
With good SEO, you can make sure your site gets a steady flow of free, targeted traffic for years to come.
3) SEO traffic is sustainable, consistent and long-lasting
Social media traffic, pay-per-click ads, TV, radio or any other forms of publicity will bring an initial explosion of traffic, which dies down almost to nothing as people get bored of the ad or spending stops.
By comparison, SEO traffic is very consistent and stable. After a page / article ranks, it will generate roughly the same amount of traffic week after week, month after month.
To be fair, some industries do have seasonality, such as travel blogs generating more traffic in the summer, but the general point still stands: SEO traffic is sustainable.
The best part of SEO traffic is that it can last for years, with near 0 maintenance. If it’s an article, the most you have to do is update it every 6 months or so with new information.
4) SEO has a higher return on investment compared to PPC & other forms of advertising
In the US, the average cost per click is approximately $1, across all industries and marketing platforms such as Google Ads, Twitter, Facebook Ads etc.
If your marketing budget is only $500, the average PPC campaign will bring you 500 clicks. It may sound like a lot of traffic, but you may not even get a sale if the campaign/landing page isn’t optimized.
SEO can bring in that much traffic per day at 0 cost (if you choose to do it yourself).
Granted, SEO does require more upfront work as well as waiting for your pages to rank. But after that, everything is ROI positive.
5) Focusing on SEO improves all aspects of your website
SEO is more than just finding the right keywords, it’s a complete set of best practices that will make your site more appealing to search engines, but also to actual people that visit your site.
When done properly, SEO improves your site’s loading speed, navigation and ease of use. SEO helps you better structure the information on your website so users can quickly learn more about your company, products, services, blog content and more.
In short, SEO will help your site be more readable and user-friendly. Users interact more with sites with a clean structure and clear language, simply because it’s easier to understand what the site is offering (and not offering).
Websites with poor structure and confusing language come across as shady, even scammy, so most users avoid them.
6) SEO can establish you as an authority in your field
Appearing on the first page of search results will help you come across as an authority in your field. As far search engine users are concerned, it takes a lot of competence and knowledge to be in the top results.
The benefit is that users will be much more willing to trust you and/or your company. They will work on the assumption the services you offer are legit and of high quality, otherwise Google or Bing wouldn’t rank you as the top result.
This helps you in many ways. For instance, it will be easier to convince a potential client to sign up to your services since you already have “Google’s stamp of approval”.
Next, you can even ask for higher prices on your services than competitors since you will be perceived as the more premium, competent offering.
7) New niches with little competition will always appear
Many marketers think that SEO is a saturated niche, where huge sites dominate every possible keyword and make it impossible for small sites to compete
Huge sites do exist, and many subjects are indeed very competitive. However, there will always be new subjects, trends, products and services to write about that have very little competition.
As an example, starting with 2014, the “tiny house” phenomenon exploded in popularity. This gave rise to a whole new set SEO subjects companies could explore to get traffic and turn it into sales.
The “tiny house” niche is fairly mature now, but companies in the niche that invested in SEO early on are now reaping the benefits.
Even in mature niches there will always be new subtopics that haven’t been written about. For the insurance industry, it can be new insurance products. For lawyers, it will be new laws and regulations. For plumbers or electricians it can be new techniques or products etc.
The point is that it’s never too late to use SEO.
8) SEO rewards genuine expertise in a particular field
A lot of blog articles and content you see online and in search engine results is written not by people who are experts in their field, but by content writers. These are basically marketing employees who are paid to write content and generate traffic.
Most of the times, these content writers have no qualifications in the field they are writing about, and it shows. The information they present is often wrong, incomplete or even downright harmful.
An article written by someone with true knowledge of the subject will immediately stand out – in a good way. Articles written by people with real knowledge contain that critical information Internet users search for. Search engines will very quickly pick up that users are satisfied by a particular article, and will then propel that article to the top spot in search results.
4 reasons SEO is NOT worth it
1) SEO takes a lot of work
There is no getting around the fact that SEO takes a very long time to produce results. Depending on your strategy and domain strength (the number of other sites that link to your site), you might need to put in continuous efforts for months, maybe years, to see good results.
In addition to this, the process of SEO requires you to create high-quality content. Content creation is a tedious task and requires a lot of effort. If you are looking for immediate results, SEO might not be for you.
2) Search engine updates can be devastating
Work isn’t enough to be successful with SEO, you will also need luck and cooperation from the search engine.
Let’s say you spend years working on SEO and finally achieve results. But then, the search engine decides to change its algorithm for some reason, and this tanks your traffic. Traffic losses of 30-50% are possible (though not that common) after a search engine update.
One bad algorithm update can wipe out a year or more worth of SEO work. To recover, you will have to create a new SEO strategy based on the new search algorithm’s latest version.
On the other hand, it’s also possible that a search engine update will improve your rankings. When one site loses traffic, another one will pick up the pace. Being on the “good side” of a search engine update can be exhilarating as you see your traffic and sales shoot up in just a few weeks or months.
3) Some niches can be very competitive
The problem with SEO is that you will have to compete with countless other websites fighting for the top spot just like you.
Your SEO strategy needs to be better than your competitors if you want results. Good enough won’t cut it and is not the winning formula. Figuring out what works & what doesn’t can be very time consuming.
In some niches, it’s not possible to compete as a self-taught person and you may need to hire specialized help, such as SEO marketers or agencies to do it for you. This will drive up the overall cost of doing SEO as a marketing channel.
4) There are no guaranteed results
Whether it is paid ads or SEO, none of these can give you any guaranteed results even after putting in money and effort. You might spend years working on your SEO strategy only to see no results.
There can be multiple reasons for this. For example, you may end up writing content that generates traffic but doesn’t convert well. Or you may have written about subjects that are too competitive and hard to rank for.
5) No immediate ROI
To implement SEO, you might be investing not just money but also huge effort. And to see these efforts pay off and bring you returns in the form of leads or sales, you might have to wait for years. So, while paid ads might bring you immediate ROI, SEO will not give you any ROI for years.
Even if your SEO strategy is perfect in planning and execution, it will still take time for it to produce results. This is just how an SEO marketing strategy works. When done well, SEO generates slow but consistent growth instead of a sudden, explosive one.
If you’re looking for quick and fast results, and don’t want to play the long game, then SEO is not the right strategy for your business.