Is SEO Right for Your Business?

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By now, you've probably been advised to use search engine optimization (SEO) to get your website on the first page of Google. Before you dive in and spend the next six months working hard for Google brownie points, you should know that SEO might not be right for your business. Not yet anyway.

The typical SEO story for most businesses goes like this: They choose a keyword, do some keyword research and work (or pay an SEO to work for them) for months and eventually get onto the first page. Perhaps they even get to the first or second spot. The traffic comes – like it never has before – and they sit back and wait for the orders to come in. Days pass, then weeks. And they wait and they wait.

But nothing happens.

Eventually, after weeks of frustration, someone decides to find out why none of that traffic is buying anything. They set up some surveys and make some phone calls. Perhaps they even hire a consultant to come in and help them. After a little bit of digging about, they start to understand the mindset of the typical person who types that particular keyword into Google. They find out that, for whatever reason, the traffic they have worked so hard to tap into does not have the money to buy their products, or that they simply do not value what that business is offering.

The market – that keyword – is not a profitable one for their business. It’s a dud. If you’ve already tried your hand at SEO, you might have experienced this yourself. This is because every different keyword that is typed into Google is a different market. It represents a different mindset, different desires and a different set of needs. As you know, different businesses offer different things. Even similar businesses operating within the same space will appeal to different types of people differently.

There are a lot of subtle differences that determine whether a certain keyword will be profitable or not for you. Just because other businesses in your space appear to be making money, it doesn’t mean you will.

Ranking in the “organic” search results for a keyword is expensive. It requires a lot of time and a lot of effort. And if that keyword is not profitable, all of that money, time and effort is wasted. So is all the work you would have done to your website to tweak it.

There is a time, however, for SEO. When your business already has a proven and tested model that is already making a profit from a particular keyword, SEO work can be some of the best marketing money you’ll ever spend. Until then, it’s probably not a good idea. 

Closing SEO Escrow

Imagine that you’re moving to a foreign country. You don’t speak the language, you don’t know the culture and you definitely do not know the area. Would you dive right in and buy a house? No, of course you wouldn’t. It’s a massive commitment and it will tie up loads of your capital. If, after a few weeks, you decide that the area isn’t for you, you’d be stuck with a house to sell. And if you finally do sell it, you’ll incur loads of legal fees. (It’s a very expensive way to find out that you don’t like the weather.)

It makes so much more sense to just rent a place first. You can find out if you like the area, then make a commitment when you have more information. If living there works for you, you can buy a house later, safe in the knowledge that you’ve chosen the right place to live.

SEO is how you buy your place on Google. It costs money, it costs time and it costs effort. And if that particular keyword doesn’t make your business a profit, all of it is wasted. Until you’re sure, you should rent your place on Google instead.

Using Google AdWords, you only have to pay when someone clicks a link through to your website. Plus, you can send them to any page of your choice. Your business will appear on page one almost instantly. And even better, you can control many, many different aspects of how it appears. You will have a stream of live traffic to work with straight off the bat.

You can also use the traffic right away to tweak your website until it starts to turn that traffic into sales. Then you tweak your business model and your pricing until those sales start to translate into profit – the only thing that really counts. Problems in your business model that would have taken you many months to discover, had you got your traffic from SEO, will surface in days or weeks. You’ll be able to resolve them quickly and then move on.

If it turns out that the market – that particular keyword – is not profitable for you, or that you’re taking the wrong approach to marketing to it, you will find out almost immediately. If people are using subtle techniques to influence their position in the results, it’s not really organic. This is why Google are constantly introducing new Penguin and Panda updates: to make it harder for websites to gain ranks that they don’t deserve.

Ch-ch-ch Changes

Many businesses object to this approach, because they don’t want to buy traffic. Know this: If your business model does not support your buying customers, then it’s flawed. You cannot sustain a real business with free search engine traffic. If your business is dependent on free traffic, it’s vulnerable to every change that Google makes.

Ironically, if your business can’t afford to buy pay per click (PPC) traffic, then it really needs to start buying PPC traffic so that you can adjust your business model until it can make a healthy profit from paid-for traffic. If your business can only survive on free leads, alarm bells should be ringing.

Most SEOs will tell you that SEO is an investment, and that even after you stop paying, the traffic will keep coming in.

That’s a complete load of rubbish.

Google is always changing its search algorithms. Also, once you stop doing SEO, some other business that still is will take your place from you. Additionally, SEO is a continuous expense. Any idea you have of one day being able to stop and then reap a continuous harvest from your past efforts is a complete fallacy.

If you build a business model that allows you to buy customers, at will, using PPC traffic and make a decent profit from them, you’ll be able to expand that model into other channels. Print advertising, direct mail and other marketing channels will also provide you with a decent profit – using the same model.

The real investment you made, the development of a resilient business model, will allow you to reap a continuous harvest. Then, and only then, does it make sense for you to invest in SEO. SEO will continually lower your marketing expense and raise your profits. While the fun lasts, you can enjoy it. And you won’t be a sitting duck to Google Panda/Penguin updates either.

About the Author: Lewis Bassett is the Director of Bassett Providentia, Ltd.



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RandyeS 10-26-2012 3:33 PM

I get this all the time. Small biz clients who want to be on page 1 & don't understand there is far more to it. Perhaps their pricing is the culprit, or perhaps its the cranky way their phone was answered, or that their checkout is cumbersome, or they require an account set up, or their parking is awful, or ....You get the idea. Being on page 1 is only meaningful when the rest of your mktg operations are in place to support it.

Scott A. Dennison 10-27-2012 6:29 AM

This is an article I wish I had written. I have this conversation almost weekly with someone who simply does not understand how to use the Internet to get customers.

The real sadness for me is when I discover that a local business has 'hired' an 'SEO' in someplace far, far away for a cheap price and then wonders why they're not getting anywhere. Or worse, when their site is ruined by other than SEO best practices (like aggressive link building), they, for the first time realize that there's no one to blame but themselves.

Mister_Papagiorgio 10-27-2012 11:07 AM

I really like the way the author positions the argument for paying for traffic.  SEO is so secondary to how I make money these days- it's really pretty smart to do some testing with paid traffic, get your ducks in a row and then decide if you want to invest in an SEO strategy.  I've been pretty resistant to doing much with paid traffic, but this article has made the idea much more palatable.

RachaelleL 10-28-2012 4:46 PM

I would add that SEO is not right for all businesses because in some industries, the market is so highly saturated that competition from firmly-entrenched big-name players with enormous budgets makes entry into the coveted 1-3 spots impossible. That doesn't mean that small businesses can't find their niches and be successful, but it may mean that the marketing budget is better spent on PPC and CSEs. Great article!

JacquelineS 10-29-2012 8:30 AM

Thanks for the thoughtful article. I think this issue is less about "being right for SEO" and more about running a smart marketing campaign and then being prepared to convert sales.  We live in a world of Internet advertising; virtually every business needs exposure on the Internet, even if they are not willing to admit it.  But a good SEO campaign includes creative thought, extensive keyword research, and insight on what their audience is really searching for.  If those things are done, it is definitely possible to generate high quality traffic from Google, etc. to the website.  Next comes conversion - which is indeed the business owner's responsibility.  The website should represent the product or service being sold in a clear way that gets the visitor to the primary call-to-action quickly.  You don't need a "perfect" website to do this, but Internet marketing is not magic.  I think SEO is "right" for almost everyone, when customized and done appropriately.

DrewP 10-29-2012 3:36 PM

I've had horrible experience with PPC advertising... Was given a $100 free one time then out of nowhere had to pay $300 and couldn't figure out where that went wrong... I've always had more luck with Organic changes and if you do everything how your supposed to do then you don't have to worry about any Google Updates then... Yes you have to stay on top of it as with everything in life but I'd rather have full control with only the cost of time. Not to mention the time to groom your site organicly is no where near as much trying to find the correct times to have your PPC display and potentially getting burned by not setting the right settings... nothing worse than getting hosed with no understanding why!!!

B.M 11-01-2012 4:38 PM

Google will tell you that their paid-for AdWords does not directly improve your organic rank on the SERPs. Instead you need SEO to do that. Buying visitors by carefully using paid internet advertising gives you the opportunity to convert those visitors to prospects, then to customers and then to long-term repeat customers. But you must have good products/services and well-trained staff.

JosephG 11-02-2012 3:43 PM

Sounds like the author was paid handsomely by Google for this article. And perhaps WM, too.

AdWords worked great for us (a B2B company with a niche product line) in its first 2-3 years. It was the novelty of it. Once it caught on with the consumer market, it was all over. We got plenty of clicks, but none were qualified. We realized that our market was no longer the sort to click on ads--they found organic results were more relevant to their search.

We have a great Internet marketing company helping us with SEO and we get much more qualified traffic.

AdWords is useful for B2C, but nothing else. And Google themselves are no help, because they are only interested in getting you more clicks, not qualified traffic.

Zacchaeus Nifong 11-03-2012 11:19 AM

I'm really liking the above post said by @JoesphG. He points out the fact that PPC has it's place and so does SEO. We've been building our SEO strategies for months now, and really looking forward to using a little bit of PPC as well. Nevertheless, B2B is better with pure SEO.

DanH 11-06-2012 11:53 AM

Typical is right, yet that does not have to be the norm. As an SEO professional I use the lens of customer experience and conversion as the ultimate goal. This means that while I am not a designer, I need to understand what the designer is doing, make sure that the design complements the product and that it gives the visitor the right experience. A web developer needs to make sure that it is easy for the owner to make changes through a CMS and that it is easy to keep up with SEO tasks like redirects, semantic markups and of course, unique tags for each page. For new websites ( I work with very small businesses) I recommend to owners that they keep their expenses low with a simple website, add content, including a blog, and see what the traffic does. Then go from there. If the owner can afford PPC, then that is a good way to speed up the process. Using a scenario like this differentiates me from most of my competitors and gives owners more bang for their buck.

TexDesignStudio 11-06-2012 10:03 PM

On the point, and yet so many clients don't get it.  As we dig at what the goals of our clients are we find that they fail to budget for marketing their brand on the ocean web. Onpage SEO can only go so far, and competitive keywords are that.  Inbound marketing that leverages verticals that reach target audiences is what brings in revenue. Combine the two and it sweet magic cha ching.

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