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Should You Spend Money on SEO Instead of Something Else?

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Is the SEO juice worth the squeeze?

“In SEO, is the juice worth the squeeze?”

I remember the early days of working in social media and being exasperated by the “what’s the ROI of social media” question. It bothered me because I could see how well social media could help mobilize people. But I came to grow frustrated and angry when creative social media campaigns failed to deliver results and so I began to study and explore other facets of digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) being one. What I soon found was that your communication should work together, with a larger view of how all the channels communicate.

So here we are, many years since my early days talking about social media, and I am screaming louder than anyone to look for the ROI. In fact, I find myself more often than not talking potential clients out of social media and search engine optimization services and not into them.

Maybe they are better getting specialized training for their teams. Perhaps they need another kind of engagement.

Or, possibly, I just talked myself out of a job.

“That seems foolish, KiKi. Why would you do that? Don’t you like making money?”

Yes. Yes, I like making money very much. (I promise! Want to test me on it? If you send me a check, I promise I’ll cash it!)

But since I plan on keeping and earning a good reputation, I would much rather make certain people receive the best value for the time and money they spend with me so they will spread the word about my work, keep working with me, and I can sleep peacefully at night.

What that means is that I often push back a bit on what a potential client thinks that they want to make sure it is the right answer for them. Everyone, especially a business owner (like me!), receives a multitude of SEO spammers almost daily and it gives the impression that SEO is a get-rich-quick scheme preying on rubes who desperately want to bring in more business and would do anything for it.

SEO Saturation and Google Reality

The dream of a “set it and forget it” dashboard is also an exercise in futility because SEO is constantly changing and (mostly) improving the results we see, making it harder and harder for people to game the system to artificially inflate their results. That said, there are still loopholes that I see websites (including some SEO companies) using that will, inevitably, be penalized by Google once discovered.

I actually really like the changes Google makes because more often than not it forces people to choose to provide valuable content that is easily accessible to people and updated regularly. Thinking through how to provide the most value to those who listen to you (and connecting with other reputable sources who do the same) is the best way to improve your search results. Someone skilled in quality SEO strategy will help you do this and will often touch on most points of your digital ecosystem.

Some Hard Truths About SEO

1. SEO takes time.

Making improvements today will take a little while to show up. Some things, like technical SEO improvements (related to things like making sure you have your XML sitemaps recognized and Google Analytics properly configured), will give you faster results that can help you with metrics and become easier to find online in the first place.

Creating a backlink strategy or updating the metadata on images will take longer to show ROI.

2. SEO (done well) can transform your organization.

Good SEO can provide clarity around which organizations and influencers it would be most valuable to create relationships or resources with and what your website visitors find most valuable.

Discussions about SEO projects can easily become a social media optimization project or a content strategy project or an inbound marketing project because SEO feeds into everything from reviewing your social media content and platforms for the best optimization (being seen) to how people with disabilities use your website.

3 SEO is about much more than keywords.

When I do competitive SEO work, I can tell people approximately how much their competitors are spending on digital advertising and even show them samples of their most successful ads.

Working on your SEO can provide business intelligence that is more valuable than making sure you use the most popular long-tailed keyword for a phrase you wish to rank for because Google is getting even better at understanding what we are asking for and providing it. It will lead you to ask questions like, “how can I best prepare my website for the increase of voice search using Amazon’s Echo or Google Home or Siri?”

But that means we need to know how to communicate to Google (or Facebook or YouTube) in a way that gets the content consumed more quickly. That’s a different ask than what many of the SEO offers you receive in your inbox are answering.

“So, is the juice worth the squeeze, KiKi? Should I spend money on SEO rather than something else?”

Your first responsibility is to make sure you know why you are talking to your audience in the first place.

You should be able to explain how you will (regularly) provide them with something worth their attention. Why do you want them to find you online and, once they do, what are they supposed to do?

…and then what happens?

I wouldn’t spend a dime on social media, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, paid social media advertising, or anything like that until I made sure I answered a few more questions. You have to get curious in order to get to the true core of the work that must really be done.

Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask a potential client to find out if an SEO service is what they need or if there is a better way to help them.

My Favorite Questions to Ask Potential Clients About SEO

  1. How do most of your organization’s website traffic get to the website today? Is it through organic search, direct, referral, social, or paid? Is there any reason that could or should change?
  2. What are the biggest problems your potential customers or members are facing and how does that translate to the searches they are making on Google? In other words, is your website optimized today for the types of things your ideal customers are looking for – even if it isn’t connected to a service or benefit you directly provide?
  3. If I could give you your ideal audience’s attention for just one minute, how would you use it? What would you say?

SEO can be incredibly powerful when used with a purpose. It is, sorry to say, not a magic bullet.