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SEO Is Not a Last-Ditch Effort

September 23, 2008
Sales are down for many businesses due to the slow economy. Business owners and CEOs are looking for that one thing that can pull them through the hard times and keep them afloat. When times get tough, many turn to SEO, hoping that it will be the ticket to increased sales. While SEO is almost always a good idea, if you're counting on it to save a failing business, you may want to rethink things.

The customers you receive from search engines should not be what your entire marketing plan consists of. SEO is a long-term strategy for increasing your targeted customer base. It's the gravy to the rest of your marketing initiatives. It's a way to reach those extra customers whom you wouldn't have been able to reach previously, but it should never be the meat and potatoes of your business.

Here's why:

SEO isn't a quick fix. If you didn't design your website with SEO in mind and you haven't given much thought to it, it's going to take time to plan your SEO strategy. It will take weeks to do the initial research required to even know where to begin. While there may be some low-hanging fruit you can grab quickly, without the necessary research, you wouldn't even know where to find it.

SEO isn't something you can just turn on. It would be great if we could just flick a switch and suddenly your website would be optimized and receiving highly targeted search engine traffic. But, unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. Site architecture needs to be redefined, anchor text links need to be rewritten, Titles and Meta descriptions need to be created, and page copy generally needs a complete overhaul. Even paid search can't be turned on with the flick of a switch – keywords need to be defined, landing pages created, campaigns need to be set up, etc.

SEO needs time to age. After your website has been put into perfect SEO shape (after many months of hard work), it will start to receive more targeted search engine traffic. But even that is a slow process. Traffic will increase incrementally, and get better over time as the on-page SEO work begins to mature.

SEO needs link popularity. On-page SEO is only half of the battle for more search engine visitors. The success of your SEO depends on the overall link popularity of the website. If the site has been around a long time and has already built up a lot of links, that will certainly help things go faster. However, most sites will need some additional work in this area. Even with great overall link popularity, the links may not be targeting anchor text that correlates with the on-page SEO work.

SEO needs to be done in conjunction with other marketing. While SEO is a relatively inexpensive form of marketing, it shouldn't be the only thing you do to gain business. SEO is very volatile and the search engines can change their formula or drop your website on a dime. You should never count on the visitors you receive from organic search to always be there. Use it to supplement your other marketing, but always be aware that what Google giveth they can also taketh away. It's a good idea to perform other online marketing campaigns such as paid search, email marketing, blogging, social media marketing, etc., but also offline marketing such as direct mail, print advertising, radio spots, etc.

There's a lot that goes into a successful SEO campaign; when done correctly it's a worthwhile, long-term investment for nearly any business with a website. Just make sure to build it into your marketing plan from the get-go and not make it an afterthought. While I have seen SEO save some companies' businesses, more often than not I've seen it be too little too late.

If your business is doing fairly well without SEO, that's the best time to get into it and start collecting that extra targeted traffic!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, a Boston SEO Company.

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 David Brooks said:

This is an excellent, necessary and timely article. I will most likely recapitulate this article to a couple clients of mine.
 Anna Slyter said:
Once again, Jill, you've hit the nail on the head. Every business owner should be reading this article and heeding your advice. Integration of all marketing efforts is the way to go!
 Deb Brothers said:

Thanks for putting into words exactly what is timely and to the point in today's market place. I have many clients coming to me in exactly this manner. I am passing along this info to some clients of mine, said perfectly.
 Michele said:
Thanks for a great article Jill. I wish more business owners and Execs would understand this. I recently interviewed for an SEO position with a major catalog company and was amazed to listen to them talk about the quick fix SEO would bring to thier business. I didn't take the job.
 Al Kalar said:
Thanks, Jill. I sent a copy to my best client. I've been trying to get him to do some of the things you talk about and perhaps an article by the best in the business will push him over the edge.
 Mary Walilko said:
I completely agree with you and appreciate that you make these facts known in both your newsletter and forum. I have seen a few people place all their hope and money into SEO and ignore other avenues of marketing. It has never worked.

Search engines are changeable. In addition, the brand name needs to be out there in every possible way. Reading, hearing and seeing the same brand in all forms of advertising helps build "brand recognition" which also helps sales on the Internet.

Thank you for making this so clear in your article.
 IMAccess said:
That is the problem though with a lot of business owners, they think there is a "flick of a switch fix" to SEO. They do not understand that a good SEO campaign is like a fine bottle of wine, it takes time to age and get better. As always you never want to put all of your eggs in one basket, SEO is one form of marketing that a business can and should be doing. Relying only on SEO though is a bad marketing practice for any company, when the engines change and they lose there ranking for whatever reason they cannot take the hit because there marketing is only focused on one thing.
 Chris Butler said:

Thanks for a great, to-the-point article. I often find myself telling our clients that there is no "magic" to SEO... just a long process of strategic planning and hard work, which is obviously a let down to some that thought it was going to be a simple thing they could check off their list.

I'm glad you're out there providing some reality!

 Lunarpages Review said:

I absolutely agree on you. Just think of the nature of the internet. It cannot survive without search engine. And when this has implanted into everybody's mind and habits. The possible sales activity will follow too. People who are looking for a product will search for the info and when come to search, search engine is a must.
 Robert said:
Jill I agree 100%. Far too many people think that by doing a little SEO work that their site will rank highly and their business will flourish. The real point is that the internet really only reflects what is already happening in the world. As with real estate, if real estate isn't moving then all the SEO in the world isn't going to move it. After all a larger slice of nothing is still nothing.

On the flip side however I can't help but point out that:

"If your business is doing fairly well without SEO, that's the best time to get into it and start collecting that extra targeted traffic"

Then some would argue the whole snake-oil scenario all over again. If they're already doing fine, then you're just tagging along.

I guess we just can't win.
 Jill said:
But Robert, them already doing fine means already doing fine via other means, not doing fine in the search engines.

It would be to do even better than fine. So not sure where the snake oil would come in!
 Gene Walls said:
Great article and reminder that it is/has never been good to place all your marketing eggs in one basket. However, I think good SEO practices can be a good foundation to work from. It supports the other channels.
 Robert said:
Jill, the problem I've encountered on those that are doing fine is that you can't do anything better for them. In this case the snake oil is that they are already doing fine...

Yes I know that you can prove an increase in visitors, signups, sales, etc. The thing is that they don't acknowledge that it was the online efforts. To them, they never really saw an improvement. Unless they're made DotCom millionaires overnight they don't see how you've helped them. That's what I was getting at.

Yeah, I know, avoid that type of client.
 Jill said:
@Robert, but you can measure the increased search engine traffic very easily through web analytics packages, so I'm still not really sure what you're getting at!

Just show them that they had this many visitors from Google on these particular keywords before, and now they have this many. Oh yeah and your sales went up too... :)
 Carrie said:
Thanks Jill! I'm new to SEO and you're one of my main resources and often provide the exact information and words I need to confirm my thoughts (as I don't trust them on their own just yet!). This article was helpful because my web development firm has seen an increase in requests for SEO - mostly AFTER they've just redone a website. So this will help us get it on the table at the beginning of the project and include it where it will gain the most leverage. Also, it's confirmed my thoughts that a targeted SEO campaign is not really necessary for short-term websites like we do for conferences/conventions/tradeshows. These are sites that are up for usually less than a year and targeted traffic from search engines other than for keywords that include the name of the show is minimal. I think these types of site would do better to make their content better and increase usability for people registering (or who need convincing to register). Am I off base here?
 Simon Hetherington said:
HI Gill

Great article and one that I will be referring to when managing my clients expectations. It is a real dilemma though to many optimizers because it isn't what people want to hear.

How do you convince a business owner to invest in optimisation instead of PPC, banner advertising or even local paper advertising when he is on a tight budget and needs results straight away?

Is it better to walk away? I say use your best judgment. I have known client sites to get listing within 3 to 4 weeks, and some that take 6 months. It depends on the key phrases.

I find that if you work back from a specific goal and use realistic conversion percentages you can get to a required increase in traffic that you can then find through a number of longer tail key phrases. Sometimes all the client needs is two or three more inquires a month.