Flash back to the year 2011 when I recall hearing an ‘SEO guy’ pitch a small business owner. He made an analogy comparing SEO to investing in renting a home when you can buy it. Rather then paying Google money to be at the top and get clicks, you could invest in SEO and not pay ‘rent’.
That’s sounds peachy.
But the reality is, SEO is more like building a home that may never actually get completed, and can be taken away from you at any time, without notice. At least when you pay rent (metaphor for paid advertising), you get something in return.
So in my professional opinion as a business owner and investor, SEO is not worth it for most small businesses because SEO lacks a quantifiable outcome, measurable timeline, and scalable returns. Along with that, the trend of using of search to find content online is consistently declining at a faster and faster rate.
I’ll elaborate on all this in this article along with what to do instead.
Certainly I am aware that every ‘SEO guy’ is going to defend their practice; for those jump to the section below titled ‘game of smoke, mirrors, and pseudo analytics’.
Almost 15 Years In The SEO & Digital Marketing World
So who is this guy that just gave you the brutally honest truth?
My ‘business career’ started in 2009 when I launched an e-commerce business selling motorcycle parts, that was driven by search engine optimization. I sold the business in 2012 and started an offline business in the home service contracting industry. I went on to start and acquire home services businesses, all of which I grew rapidly through digital marketing. In 2019 I got into the lead generation industry, generating leads in the high competition industry of financial services.
My skin is in the game. I don’t do marketing for clients. I don’t have a pitch. That’s why I can brutally honest.
Now let’s jump into the nitty gritty of why SEO isn’t worth it.
1. SEO is a game of smoke, mirrors, and pseudo analytics
I’ll start with the bottom line; Google wants to serve the most relevant information to it’s searchers. You either need to be the best ‘relevant information’ for Google to serve, or create it. In words, if someone searches ‘roofers near me’ Google understands that the user is looking for roofing services in their area, and that like any consumer they want a reputable company. You need to be that.
No amount of SEO magic sauce is going to make you that reputable local roofer. You need to build that reputation.
Now let’s back it up a bit here.
Have you ever asked an SEO what exactly they are going to do? Chances are they will give you a dish of buzzword salad, chalk it up to some magic sauce and you nod your head…. still with no real understanding of what they are going to do.
That’s because they’re going to do some spammy things like setting up a bunch of spam backlinks or sending fake robot traffic to your website and see if that manipulates Google into placing you moving you higher. That’ll work for some sites, for a short period of time, and for the rest it will get swept under the rug.
That leads to the next point ‘pseudo analytics’. Because we literally have no idea how Googles Algorithm works you cannot have statistical analysis of anything… such as the impact of work or changes that are made. SEO’s may show you case study after case study justifying their results… but really all it is, is data mining or confirmation bias. There is literally no way of know if the results in an SEO case study are the result of ‘seo work’, the company’s external branding efforts, or are related to some other unknown Google ranking factor.
2. Google is driving users to a paid placements
Google anything… chances are the ‘above the fold’ section (what you see when the query results loads) will be filled entirely with ads.
Here’s an example of search for ‘roofers’.
It’s all paid placement. The actual organic results are seemingly buried.
Google has a major incentive to drive users to their paid placements as that is how they make money.
Over the years Google has also gotten more aggressive with it. It used to be that the organic results were near the top and there were only a few ads that stood out as ‘ads’. Now the ads blend in, are incredibly conversion optimized and there are more of them.
This really diminished the value of a top organic ranking over the years and I am confident the trend will continue.
3. Users are finding content in other methods online
Think back 10 years ago. If you wanted to find something online, you had to Google it. That was really the only method people had for discovering content online.
Now a days though, there are many other apps and methods for finding content online. My girlfriend for example spends her whole day connected to the internet, but hardly ever opens an internet browser, yet alone a Google search!
If you want to find a restaurant, you’re probably more likely to use Yelp than Google.
And social media algorithms are better than ever at showing you content that’s pertinent to what’s on your mind before you even Google it.
4. Google’s algorithm looks at factors that are beyond manipulation.
Nearly anything you pay for as a ‘seo service’ is going to do something that attempts to manipulate the Google Algorithm so you can move up.
Some of those common tactics include spam link building, and fake clicks on your website.
Your ‘seo guy’ isn’t the first one to come up with these tactics and Google has long since been hip to it.
They *may* work briefly, but ultimately you’ll be whacked back.
Rather than look at these ranking factors which can be manipulated, don’t you think that Google with the brightest minds on the planet and deep pockets to pay them, and now more than 20 years in the ‘search game’, would look at factors that can’t be manipulated by one lone ‘seo guy’ in his basement (or India).
What factors might they look at? I believe branded search volume, time in business, reputation across multiple sources are all factors. I’m sure there are many more, that are beyond my comprehension.
Remember what I stated above
the bottom line; Google wants to serve the most relevant information to it’s searchers. You either need to be the best ‘relevant information’ for Google to serve, or create it.
What To Do Instead
I must clarify, that my primary purpose of this article is not to stop business owners from doing things to grow their website traffic organically, but rather to save business owners the expense of throwing money broadly at ‘SEO’ with the expectation that some guru will get them free web traffic that will bring them riches.
There are things that can be done which are likely to increase traffic, and are actionable items. Still the value of them is ‘variable’.
Maintain passing scores of Core Web Vitals.
Core Web Vitals is an assessment of your website’s performance to actual internet users and it back an officially published Google Search ranking factor in 2021.
Through data collected from the Chrome browser, Google takes an average of 6 metrics to determine whether your website passes.
In my experience, my sites that receive a ‘passed’ do notably well in Google search, such that I have made it a priority to ensure all my sites maintain passed score.
This action is not just for search engines but it has practical value in enhancing the user experience that potential customers have with your brand.
Publish content on your website.
Write blog posts that answer questions from your customers. Write blog posts that explain your services. Write blog posts that show off your business.
Then make videos about all those topics.
Get this content on your website to show real people that your business is the best and expertise is real! Google will recognize it and direct more search users to it.
Note: this largely needs to be done in-house with the use of some external service providers — that will not call themselves ‘SEO’, rather content marketers.
Use that content to nurture.
Creating content is time consuming and expensive. It’s also frustrating when no one sees it because Google isn’t showing it to anyone.
Rather than waiting, show that content to people in your sales pipeline.
If a lead asks a question, give them a personal answer and cite your content on it.
If they want to see examples, send them a link to a blog post containing examples.
This will give you a return on your content! The by-product will be ‘SEO’.
Budget for paid customer acquisition.
Relying on free traffic from Google is a poor business move. Ultimately all ‘free’ traffic sources have an incentive to monetize businesses benefitting from their platform.
For that reason it is important that businesses can thrive when paying for ads to acquire customers.
Build your real world brand!
Ever notice that established brands seem to dominate the search results?
For example if you Google search for a roofer, you’ll certainly see companies like Homeadvisor, and Yelp and BBB up there. You also might find some local roofing companies that seemingly do no SEO up there.
They’re not up their by chance. If you do some analysis, one thing you’ll notice about many websites at the top of Google is that they have a high amount of branded traffic relative to their competitors. This means people are directly seeking them out on Google, and indicates that their website is valuable. I believe this is among the most powerful ranking factors for Google traffic, and no ‘seo guy’ can improve your branded traffic.
My final words ‘is SEO worth it?’
No, you shouldn’t invest in SEO specifically, because…
A) most SEO services are a gimmick.
B) SEO is likely to diminish in value.
Instead invest in content marketing and brand building. Use your content to future relationships with current leads, prospects, and past customers. The by-product of doing this well be organic traffic.