Is SEO a good investment for my business? This is a question that seems to be getting asked a lot of late on many of the Facebook groups that I frequent. Unfortunately, it’s a question that doesn’t have a simple answer as it depends on a lot of factors specific to each business.
What I hope to do here is arm you with a little bit of information that will help you to make a more informed decision about whether you should invest in search engine optimisation (SEO) or not.
Firstly, what is SEO?
If you’re going to invest in it, a good starting point would be to know what you’re investing in.
Search engine optimisation or SEO as it is more commonly referred to is a marketing practice where you increase the quantity and quality of traffic to a website from organic search engines. The video below explains SEO a little further.
What’s the benefit of SEO?
SEO can have a huge upside for a lot of businesses.
Why? Because search engines can generate a lot of traffic for your website and if that traffic is optimised, can result in a lot of new sales for your business.
Some quick points:
- More than 90% of online experiences start with a search engine such as Google (who has the largest market share in Australia by quite a wide margin).
- More than 70% of clicks on a search engine’s results page go to the organic listings rather than the paid ads. The majority of that 70% goes to the top 3 results.
- Less than 15% of people advance to page 2 of Google. People are more likely to change their search term to find what they are looking for than they are to go to the next page.
From that, I’m sure you can see the potential that there is for your business by being on page 1 of the results.
But, it’s not always that simple, is it!
Questions to ask yourself before you start
1. What’s my budget?
This is quite an important point. There is a lot of variation from different SEO companies as to how much it’s going to cost you.
How much is your marketing budget and what percentage of it do you want to devote to SEO?
One of the biggest mistakes that I see being made is 100% of the marketing budget being invested into SEO. No one activity should make up 100% of your marketing. It’s a recipe for failure from the start and in this situation, your money is almost always spent better in another area.
SEO is not a cheap exercise if you want it to be done well. There’s a lot of work and expertise involved and if someone is offering to do your SEO for $200/month, then run away fast. It will likely involve them taking shortcuts and using ‘black-hat’ techniques that may get you penalised by Google.
2. How quickly do I expect results?
This is probably the most common question I hear once someone has decided to go down the SEO route: how quickly will I get to page one.
The trouble with the SEO industry is it has become extremely competitive and quite cut-throat and that has led to a lot of unrealistic promises like “we’ll get you to #1 inside 3 months.”
If an SEO company makes these kinds of promises, then run away fast. We can’t make guarantees on where you will rank or how fast we can get you there. It’s also against Google’s guidelines for us to make those claims in the first place.
What we can do is help your business climb the ranks by creating quality content and a brand that people love and then telling the world about it. The more people talking about you, the better. And Google takes note of this and because they want to give people what they want and are looking for, your rankings improve as a result.
Now, we generally suggest that if you are looking for instant results, then SEO isn’t the right strategy for you just yet. You may be better off considering something like Adwords or Facebook ads.
If you’re investing in SEO, you should be prepared to be investing in 3 months of work before you start to see a return. SEO is about the long-term goals rather than the short-term goals. You’ll be investing money now for a return over the next few years.
3. How competitive is my industry?
Due to the level of competition in some industries, it might not make sense for you to invest a large portion of your budget into SEO. Some industries are so competitive that you can spend $20k a month for 12 months and still not be on page 1.
For those industries, we usually recommend other marketing strategies that are more likely to give you a positive return on your investment.
So, how competitive are the search engine results in your industry? That’s something that can be quite difficult to determine if you’re on the business owner side of the fence.
There are paid tools that SEO’ers use to determine the possible level of difficulty for each industry or keyword. If you want to know how competitive your industry is, feel free to Google keyword planner and we can look up some relevant terms for you to give you an idea so you can make a more informed decision on whether to invest in SEO or not.
4. How much ad competition is there?
This is one that will cause a few people in the SEO world to raise their eyebrows as the usual response is that ad competition isn’t related to search competition in general.
However, I take a different stance on this and put a lot of consideration into how popular a keyword is on ad platform like Adwords. Let me explain.
Firstly, in my opinion, if there is high competition for a keyword on platforms like Google Adwords, then it usually means that it’s an important or valuable word for that industry. If it’s a valuable term and people are willing to pay the inflated CPC rates that high competition leads to, then there’s also a good chance that a good portion of that industry will be willing to spend reasonable amounts on ranking organically for those keywords.
Secondly, if there is a lot of Adwords competition, then there are going to be at least four ads above the organic listings at all times. That can massively reduce the value of ranking in the top three spots in the organic listings because, even if you do rank #1, there are still 4 listings above you and you’ll likely be ‘below the fold’.
In these situations, it may make more sense to look at other areas where you can market more efficiently and get a better return on your investment.
5. Are my potential customers using Google?
This is probably one of the most important questions that you can ask yourself and can be translated/reworded for any marketing exercise that you are looking at.
So, how do you answer this question? The obvious answer is to say yes, of course, everyone uses Google.
While that is true, the answer can be more complicated than that and there are some variables that should be considered.
If you are in a newer, more innovative space, do you have a product or service that people are actively looking for?
If you’re in a more established niche, what volume of people are searching for the keywords that you are hoping to rank for? Tools like Google keyword planner can give you an indication of how many people each month search a specified keyword. Is there enough of a volume to give you a reasonable expectation that you will make a positive return on your investment?
How well does my site convert visitors into sales?
Before you invest a cent into SEO, this should be a big consideration. What is my website’s conversion rate?
Your conversion rate is the total number of visitors that complete a ‘conversion action’. For an online shop, that may mean sales; for a service-based business, you may be tracking completed contact forms as your conversion.
To calculate your conversion rate, you’ll need to know the total number of unique visitors to your site over a defined period and the total number of conversion actions over that same period. We use Google Analytics to track this data – Google Analytics is a free tool from Google that is a must for any business website.
Once we have this data, we simply do some math:
[# conversion actions]/[unique visitors] * 100
That will give you your site’s conversion rate as a percentage.
Now, every industry will have its own benchmark of what is good vs what is bad. If you’re unsure whether yours is good or not, shoot me an email.
If your conversion rate is on the below average side, I would suggest looking into why it’s low and how you can improve your conversion rate before you start to invest in search engine optimisation.
There’s no point sending more traffic to your website if it isn’t going to result in revenue.
To put it into a non-digital way, if 1000 people came into your brick and mortar shop every day but, 975 walked out without buying or asking a question, would you look to bring in more traffic or work out why those people aren’t buying?
There are a lot of tools and methods that can be used to improve your conversion rate and make your website into more of an asset to your business. If you would like to have a chat about your options, shoot me an email and we can discuss ways that you can start to improve.
How important is the platform that my website is built on?
There are a lot of platforms or Content Management Systems (CMS) available at the moment that you can build your website on. The most commonly used CMS’s for small to medium businesses are WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify (ecommerce only), and Wix.
So, are they all equal from an SEO perspective? No.
You will notice that all of these platforms sell themselves as being Google friendly or Google optimised. Out of the box, none of these platforms are optimised for search engines. They do, however, allow for certain aspects of the site to be optimised by yourself or an SEO company.
Which is the best option?
Firstly, we need to know what our CMS needs to be able to do to be optimised for search.
- The CMS needs to allow you to customise the title tags of every page. The title tag is what you see in the top bar of your browser window and gives a brief explanation of what the page is about. The other place it appears is in search engine listings – On Google, it appears as the blue clickable text.Modifying the title tag allows you to tell the search engines what the page is about and, more importantly, it allows you to make your search engine result more appealable for people to click on. It’s your one-line sales pitch to get people to choose you over the result below yours.
- Customisable URL structure. The CMS you choose should allow you to set static URLs that don’t include query strings and are descriptive to what the page is about; usually, this is done by setting the page title as the URL. i.e. mysite.com.au/page-title.
- The ability to add extra parameters to links included on pages and articles. We want to have the ability to add things like “nofollow” or UTM tracking to those links. Unfortunately, a lot of CMS’s still don’t allow for this.
- 301 Redirects. A 301 redirect tells search engines that a page has moved. We may use this feature to consolidate pages or articles or when re-writing the URL structure of a page. We don’t want to lose the previous SEO work we’ve done for that page so we need to tell the search engines that that page has moved and where it has moved to.
- Image alt attributes. Search engines can’t read images the same way that they can read text. So the image ‘alt-atribute’ is a way of telling search engines and vision-impaired people what the image is about.
- Creation of an XML sitemap. Sitemaps are important as it’s a way we can tell Google and other search engines what pages and posts are included in a website. It means that as soon as a page/post is published, search engines can find out about it as quickly as possible.
These are the core factors that need to be considered and weighed against whether you want to build the site yourself or pay a professional to do it for you. All of the CMS’s mentioned above will allow you to build the website yourself, although some require higher levels of technical ability than others.
Of the CMS’s listed above, my advice would be to use WordPress and build it properly from the start. It’s easier to do things right at the beginning than to try and rebuild at a later date. The relatively small investment now will be less than a large cost later.
How to choose the right SEO company
Okay, so you’ve made it this far and have decided that SEO is going to be a good investment for your business. Congrats. How do you now choose which SEO company to use? There are a lot to choose from so just choose us…
In all seriousness, here are some questions and points to consider to help you make the right decision.
I’m not going to give you the answers as there is no one correct answer but on some of the questions, I may mention some red flags.
- How are you going to work with us to improve our search engine visibility and rankings? All good SEO’s have a process and strategy that they use. If they can’t tell you their strategy, then they probably aren’t going to be able to help you.
- How will you track changes that are made to the website?
This is necessary as if something goes wrong and traffic drops, you need to know what happened at that time so you can fix it. If they say they don’t need to make any changes, then they probably aren’t going to be able to help you. If using WordPress, there are also plugins that will track any changes that are made.
- Can you tell me what Google’s best practices are and how do you follow them?
The video below will outline what some of them are. You’ll get some SEO companies that tell you they are Google certified, a Google partner or have a direct line to Google so they are a better choice than others. The truth is that Google doesn’t have an SEO certification system for SEOs. They do have a partner programme for Google Adwords and Analytics but that has no bearing on how good they are at SEO.
- What guarantee can you provide that I will rank #1?
If an SEO company makes you a guarantee of ranking, that’s a huge red-flag; run away fast.No one can guarantee any rankings, especially with the constant changes that are made to Google’s algorithms and nobody actually knows what the algorithm is.The only people guaranteeing rankings are those who are just trying to make a sale.
- How do you define success?
Essentially, you’re looking to find out what metrics and KPI’s are going to be tracked and how you will then know if the campaign is a success.Most SEO companies will tell you they will be tracking the rankings of a set number of keywords on Google and Bing and monitor the traffic to your site. The rankings should show improvements and the traffic to your site should start to trend upwards.However, that alone shouldn’t define success as it doesn’t necessarily mean an improvement in revenue. A third important KPI that should be tracked is how many conversions has the increase in organic traffic created. As mentioned earlier, this can be tracked in Google Analytics.When the conversion tracking is set up, you’ll need to be aware of what they are measuring as a conversion. I’ve seen some campaigns set up so that the conversion action is when someone views the contact page. That’s not really a useful metric as just because someone views a page, it doesn’t mean they actually contacted you. A better metric to track is things like contact form submissions or successful purchases.
- What is your contract term and what happens if we terminate it early?
This is one that is often overlooked, even by larger businesses with in-house legal teams.Contracts are understandable when engaging in SEO – it’s for both your protection and the agency’s. With SEO, the work that is done isn’t reflected instantly in the search rankings, so they’ll want at least 3 months to start to prove results.But, what happens if after say 6 months there are no signs of any improvements? If it’s a 24-month contract, are you locked in for the full period or is there an exit clause?I’ve heard of 24-month contracts being terminated after 6 months and the SEO agency enforcing payment for the rest of the contract. For your safety, ensure there are provisions for early exit should you need it.
- Why should we engage you to do our SEO over someone else?
There is no right answer to this question but, there are some red-flags in the possible answers that you will receive. Mostly you’re just looking to make sure that they are more than just salespeople.The red flags are:
- Because we’re considerably cheaper than our competition. SEO done properly isn’t a cheap activity.
- A focus on the quantity of backlinks they are going to build for you. SEO is massively a quality, not quantity. One quality link can be worth a million low-quality links and low-quality links may get you short-term results but in the long-term, it will get you penalised. And to tie it in with the previous point, quality doesn’t come cheap.
- A focus on the speed at which they can get you results. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint. If they focus on the short-term, they are likely not going to be good for your business in the long-term.
Can I do it SEO myself?
Yes and no. You can certainly learn a lot of the elements of SEO and do it yourself. However, there are also many aspects of SEO that you may not effectively be able to do well yourself.
If you want to learn the basics of SEO, I would highly recommend the Moz Beginners Guide to SEO. At the very minimum, it will arm you with an understanding of SEO that will allow you to understand what your hired SEO agency is doing and whether it is the right strategy.
The main area of SEO that you can very effectively do yourself is the on-site work. Creating content and making sure that the content is SEO’ed will put you one step forward.
What you need to know:
- If you’re using WordPress, install Creating content. It’s a plugin that will make it a lot easier to SEO your posts and pages.
- Focus your blog content on 1-2 long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are less competitive and easier to rank for. They are also more specific and are more likely to result in an engaged reader and a conversion.
- Write the blog post for the reader, not for the search engines. That means avoid stuffing it with keywords that you are trying to rank for. Make the keyword phrases appear in a natural method that maintains readability.
- Include your core keyword in your blog title, meta-title, meta-description, and URL.
- This shouldn’t need to be said but, make sure your site and posts are mobile friendly. You can also take this one step further and set up Creating content which speeds up content serving on mobile devices.
- Optimise your images. As we briefly discussed earlier, image optimisation, including the adding of alt-text where appropriate, is very important. Other image optimisation tasks you can do include making sure the image is the right size for the post rather than being resized with CSS. The benefit of this is load speed. With the CSS option, the page will generally load the large image and then shrink it to the size you want. This slows your site down. By sizing the image to what it needs to be can save a lot of load time, especially on slower internet connections.
- Save your images as progressive .jpgs. This may be difficult if you don’t have any image editing software like Photoshop.
- Compress your images. If you’re using WordPress, there are plugins like Creating content that will compress your images for you.
- Make sure your meta-titles and descriptions are unique for every page and post.
Okay, that was probably a lot to digest but here are the key points.
Yes, SEO can be a worthwhile investment if it’s done well and if it fits your overall marketing plan.
SEO can be done by yourself or by an agency. Both have their own benefits and downsides – only you can make the end decision of which way to go. It’s like hiring an accountant or a lawyer vs doing that work yourself.
The platform that the website is built on is an important decision that requires more thought than what most people give it.
If you think there is something that should be added to this article or would like to share your own experiences with SEO (positive or negative), then feel free to comment below.