7 Things You Believe About SEO That Are Not True
Having run an SEO firm since 2003 I’ve had the opportunity to interact with thousands of clients and potential clients. In those interactions I’ve seen a long laundry list of misconceptions when it comes to SEO. Things are not always as they would appear, or as one would expect them to be. While many misconceptions have been clarified over time and rarely come up anymore, others tend to persist like bad habits. And since Google started rolling out its animal-themed updates a few years ago, many of the finer aspects of SEO have changed such that what once worked no longer does. In some cases what used to produce good results can even damage your online marketing efforts today. While this list could be longer, here are some of the common misunderstandings I see amongst our clients when it comes to SEO.
1. It’s All About Rankings. Stop! Rankings do not matter. That is, rankings don’t matter unless they lead to other, more important metrics. What really matters? Traffic, leads, sales, and profits. You can get better rankings without generating more traffic. You can get traffic that doesn’t generate leads. You can get leads that don’t generate sales. And you can get sales that don’t generate profits. Profits are what a business truly depends on to stay alive and grow, just as the human body requires food for survival. The problem with rankings is too many people focus on them as the ultimate deliverable, when in fact they’re down the line. Rankings shouldn’t be ignored, but when you focus too much on rankings (and almost everyone does) you take your eye off the real goal. As a result, the decisions you make about your SEO efforts will not be the ones that give you the best possible growth in profits.
Instead of focusing on rankings, work backward from profits with these questions:
What are our most profitable products or services?
How can we change our sales process to close more deals from the leads we get for our most profitable products? You can skip this step if your business is such that a lead and a sale are effectively the same thing.
How can we modify our website using conversion rate optimization to generate the most leads/sales possible from the traffic we get for our most profitable products?
What keyword strategy will generate the largest number of high-converting visitors to our site for our most profitable products? Note: Your keyword strategy is probably wrong, see #2 below.
How do we optimize our website to execute our keyword strategy?
2. I Need to Rank for My Top Keywords. The old way of SEO focused on a small number of “golden keywords” which, individually, generated a lot of traffic. For example, our headquarters is located in Utah, so we used to focus a lot of attention on ranking well for “utah seo”. We were #1 for this keyword for years, but now we don’t focus on that keyword so much anymore. Why not? Because we noticed that it accounted for less than 3% of our total search engine traffic, and that visitors who found us by searching for “utah seo” weren’t as likely to convert, or turn into leads, as were visitors who found us through other keywords. Someone searching for “utah seo” might be looking for a job at an SEO firm, writing a research paper, or be a competitor. But someone searching for “hire utah seo company” is very likely to be looking to engage a firm like ours. In addition, it’s easier to optimize for these long tail phrases because most of your competitors are still going after the more generic, shorter terms.
3. Google Loves Content. You may have heard people tell you “Google loves content, the more content the better!” Google does not love content, Google loves high quality content. Writing a small amount of high quality content that provide real value to readers and therefore gets shared on social media and linked to by other websites is much better than generating a lot of poor content nobody will care about.
4. The More Links the Better. Wrong. As with content, when it comes to inbound links it’s more about quality than quantity. At best, low quality incoming links will have no positive effect, and at worst bad links may result in damaged rankings or a Google penalty. Focus on natural link building, rather than manually building links. That means focus on creating high quality content people will want to link to, rather than asking for links.
5. Buying PPC Ads Will Help My Organic Rankings. It’s logical to believe that since Google sells pay per click ads alongside the natural, organic rankings, that if you pay Google for those paid ads then maybe, just maybe, they’ll give you a little boost in the organic rankings. But it’s not true. They’re entirely separate. However, for those who believe this is the case for all search engines, you also believe something that isn’t true, because if you’re optimizing in China for the search engine Baidu then running a PPC campaign will positively affect your organic rankings.
6. SEO Can Be Affordable and Effective. I could be wrong on this one. After all, I can only say that in the 10+ years I’ve been in the industry, I’ve never seen anyone get good results by spending less than $2,000 per month on SEO, with the exceptions of highly focused, local SEO campaigns, or niche SEO services that aren’t comprehensive. What I have seen is that companies that get good results from SEO either spend over $2,000 per month on SEO with an outside firm, or they spend a lot of time working on it in-house.
7. SEO is Going to Save My Business in the Next 3 Months. Get used to disappointment. We get clients coming to us all the time, and we can tell they’re in a bad spot, need results fast, and see SEO as their best shot. I feel for any entrepreneur or business in this position, but SEO is a long-term strategy. Yes, you may start seeing great results within 3 months of starting on SEO, but it’s unlikely. More likely it will take 6 to 12 months to get to break even and then, with consistent effort and investment, you’ll start to see the truly profitable results coming in.
What Can I Do?
At this point you might be saying “But I don’t have a lot of time or money, where does this leave me? What can I do?” If you don’t have at least $2,000 per month to spend on SEO, and you’re going after something larger than a local market, don’t waste your money hiring an SEO firm. Instead, go read the Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO and work on SEO yourself. This will help you conserve your cash for other areas where your business needs it instead of throwing it away on something that is unlikely to work anyway. You might find out that you can do your own SEO, and that you don’t need to hire a firm. Even if you eventually do need to hire a firm, hopefully you’ll be able to boost revenues through your own efforts so that you have the budget to hire the right kind of SEO firm. And you’ll definitely be in a much better position to choose the right kind, and to understand the work they’re doing for you.