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Let’s first address the elephant in the room. We’re an SEO agency, selling and delivering SEO services is our main source of income.
 
One could therefore expect a certain amount of bias to be in play.
 
We’re not going to deny that. SEO is awesome, we love it. We believe that for a lot of businesses it is the most valuable marketing channel.
 
That should also be taken into account. We love it because we see the results. We understand the power of search engine optimisation and have witnessed how it can transform businesses.
 
Cool, elephant addressed.
 
Also, there are a lot of points included in this article. As such, we thought it would be useful to provide a little bullet point summary prior to diving in:
 
 
Factors to be aware of:
  • Don’t expect instant success
  • Predictability
  • It requires resources & budget
  • Great SEO is a complex beast
  • What is the future of SEO?
 
The good stuff:
  • Google’s inherent societal trust
  • Pure volume
  • Low cost of entry
  • Push (interruptive) vs Pull (inbound) marketing
  • Influence on audience data, targeting, user experience and other channels
  • Conversion rates and total costs
  • Longevity of ROI
  • Audience data

SEO isn't all rainbows and pots of gold

We thought we’d start off on a different tact to others. It’s obvious that at some point we’ll start singing SEO’s praises. It’s not all rainbows, pots of gold and giggles though. There are some downsides to SEO that are important to address. Far better to fully understand what you may be getting yourself into than to run in with unbridled optimism (*naivety)!

Don't expect instant success

SEO is very different to paid advertising (i.e Google Ads or paid social). The paid channels are often referred to as ‘pay to play’ channels, meaning that as long as you pay, you have near instant visibility.
 
Search engine optimisation is viewed more like a long term investment. A pension plan if you will.
 
This can be particularly off putting for some, especially less established businesses. They require fast lead generation and importantly, fast ROI on their marketing investments. Finding the cashflow to invest in a channel that won’t produce returns (often for many months) can be problematic.
 
The whole SEO industry wishes this was not the case. It would make our lives a hell of a lot easier! It is the reality though and is something that you need to be aware of.
 
As you can see from the graph below, one of our clients was in the ‘SEO Slog’ for months. They saw some initial growth in traffic but then had to trust in the process. It eventually paid off with a sharp increase in organic traffic, but it wasn’t easy. It was stressful and there were times when we all though ‘is this going to work?’. As SEOs we have to trust in the process, for the long term. 

Predictability

If the lack of instant results is frustrating, the lack of predictability compounds it.
 
A good SEO agency can provide rough timeframes in terms of when results can be expected, but they’re not guaranteed. There is a certain amount lee way on either side. Sometimes results come sooner than expected but conversely, they sometimes take longer.
 
As we can see from the graph below in comparison to the one above, the growth has been much steadier. It goes to highlight how unpredictable the timeframe and graphs can be, but with the end result being the same (more organic traffic).
Steady organic growth

Predicting when you might realise your investment is fraught with peril. SEO just doesn’t work that way. It needs to be viewed as something that you keep investing in. It’s almost a fixed cost in your budget moving forward. At a point, it will start to pay dividends.

It requires resources & budget

So do all marketing channels? In fact, so do pretty much all business activities?
 
True. Undeniably.
 
The difference is that other channels can be bootstrapped. That’s not to say that you can’t bootstrap SEO, but to run a great SEO campaign you’ll have to do one of two things: devote time or money.
 
This puts a lot of people off. The need for long term, consistent investment. It’s not a small ask.

Great SEO is a complex beast

Following on from the investment requirement, SEO isn’t a point and shoot type of marketing. This is especially true in competitive markets.
 
Campaigns can be complex, with lots of moving parts.
 
Why should you be aware of this? Well, if you’re in a competitive market, it means that dipping your toe in the water isn’t necessarily a viable option. You’ll need real knowledge and expertise to be successful. This means investment.

What is the future of SEO?

In the early to mid teenies there were a plethora of articles with the title “SEO is Dead”. That wasn’t the case the and it’s not the case now. It does raise an interesting question though. Where is SEO heading? If SEO requires consistent long term investment, what happens if SEO does die?
 
The good news is that SEO isn’t going to die any time soon. What the industry will need to do is to adapt to a new type of search. Google have already stated that they want to move towards a ‘queryless search‘ environment through Google Discover. Voice search is also on the rise. Video is likely to continue growing in prominence.
 
These are all considerations for the SEO community moving forward. It’s nothing surprising though. All industries are continuously evolving and SEO is no different.
 
 
Still with us? Great.
 
Those are a list of items that we believe you need to be aware of before we get all wide eyed and giddy about the benefits of SEO. We can now look at the more exciting and optimistic side of life!

Why is SEO important? 7 Key benefits of SEO.

This is what you probably came here for. Perhaps you’re looking at SEO as a novice, or want to reaffirm why you’re running a campaign. Whatever the reason, prepare yourselves, we’re going to be singing SEO’s praises.
 
 
Just before we get started, there is a mini benefit outside of the seven listed below. We didn’t include it in the seven because it is not specific to search engine optimisation. It applies to a lot of things in life: diversity.
 
You wouldn’t put all of your savings into one stock option. It is prudent to diversify, without spreading yourself too thin.
 
The same is true in marketing, and it’s somewhat of a balancing act. You want to assign enough resources to a channel to make it a success. However, it’s not good to be reliant on a single channel for lead generation. SEO therefore is an opportunity to diversify your lead generation, to hedge your bets. Who knows, it might evolve to be your biggest channel at which point you may want to look to diversify again!
 
Let’s jump to it.

Google's Inherent Societal Trust

Google’s search engine results hold a general underlying trust within society. This appears to be especially true amongst younger generations.
 
Our trust in Google’s search results come despite a growing concern around personal data and misinformation. Though this concern isn’t specific to Google. Facebook’s embarrassing episode with Cambridge Analytica comes to mind as the most publicised.
 
Whatever the case may be, on the whole, people trust Google’s results. They dominate the search engine market and have done so for over two decades. Millennials have grown up using Google as their window to the world’s information. ‘To Google’ something is even an official word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and has been since 2006. It’s a verb synonymous with search
We mentioned in our article on how search engines work, that ‘google says’ is a phrase you hear all too often, even if it’s scraped information. The advent of featured snippets, the Knowledge Graph and instant answers has only fuelled this inherent trust.
 
It goes one step further as well. We only need to look at click through rates for Google Ads and organic results to see the difference. The general public can identify ads. They gravitate towards the organic results, in part due to their trust in Google to provide the best result for the search. Layer in that less than 1% of searchers click on a result that is not on the first page and it seems clear. There’s a reason why SEOs joke that the best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google.
Google average Paid CTR Instapage

Image credit: Instapage and Wordstream

Organic search CTR graph

Image credit: Advanced Web Ranking showing average organic search click through rates

Search Engine Optimisation isn’t just about ranking number one. Yes, the higher you rank, the higher your click through rate. Yes, your CTR tends to increase exponentially as you get closer to the fabled top position. Yes, search engine traffic is likely to be one of, if not the largest source of traffic for your site. All great things.
 
SEO is so effective because it capitalises on this inherent trust. All of the above factors are for nought if your customers do not convert. The great thing about SEO is that this trust (alongside other factors such as targeting) results in high conversion rates. Almost every company’s Google Analytics that we see shows that organic search has the highest conversion rate. Don’t underestimate the power of trust in the equation.

Pure Volume

Search engines are a major part of our lives. They provide structure to how we access the vast amount of information on the internet. The world uses Google at a staggering rate. 3.5 billion searches globally, every single day. Don’t think that someone is searching for you? Think again.
 
Obviously, those 3.5 billion searches are not all for the same thing. Some subjects, people or industries have more searches than others. It doesn’t change the fact that if someone wants information, or is looking for a product……they Google it.
 
This point doesn’t need to be laboured. The pure volume of people searching for information creates opportunity. SEO capitalises on that opportunity.

Low cost of entry

“Wait. You said that SEO takes a long term investment of time and resources.”
 
True.
 
“You also said that it can be a complex beast. That for competitive markets you need real expertise”
 
Also true.
 
“So what the hell are you talking about ‘low cost of entry’. It doesn’t make sense”
 
Let’s define what we’re talking about. In economic terms, this would be described as ‘barriers to entry’. Investopedia define these as the “costs or obstacles that prevent new competitors from easily entering an industry or area of business”.
 
It’s true that to run a successful SEO campaign in a competitive market, there is a requirement for expertise. This translates to a cost of time or money. But a barrier to entry refers to the initial costs and that’s what we’re talking about here. That’s the whole reason why we’ve created all of these SEO Guides for beginners. Sure, you may need to spend some of your own time reading and implementing. But in comparison to other forms of marketing, SEO has a pretty low cost of getting started.
 
That’s the whole reason why we’ve created all of these SEO Guides for beginners. If you want to get started, you can. SEO is often thought of as this secretive world when in fact it is an industry that shares a crazy amount of information. Even the analytics tools like Google Analytics and Search Console are free.
 
Let’s compare this with paid advertising. Let’s say you want to advertise on social media, Google’s Display Network (GDN) or Google Ads.
 
It’s a stark difference.
 
Content isn’t king here. Cash is king.
 
If you don’t have the upfront cash to pay for the ads, you cannot enter the market. That’s why they are ‘pay to play’ platforms.
Cash Supreme
For a lot of businesses, cashflow is a primary concern. With paid advertising, not only do you need upfront cash, but you also need to factor in a delay. There might be a sales process, or an amount of time when your audience is considering their options. Yes, these can be mitigated by targeting the most transactional search terms but for service businesses there can be a delay. We also need to look at how effective a campaign is in the first weeks or months. There is a certain amount of data needed to optimise a campaign – data that you have to pay for by running a campaign in the first place.
 
We’re not saying that paid advertising is bad. On the contrary. If you have the budget, it opens up a lot of opportunities. When comparing monetary costs of entry though, SEO wins every time. You can get started with a little bit of elbow grease (not literally).

Push (interruptive) vs Pull (inbound) marketing

This is a big one, so take note.
 
It’s a fundamental shift in how brands are able to interact with their audiences. It’s a key reason why SEO is so effective and why you should invest either time or money into SEO.

What is the difference between push & pull marketing?

This is somewhat paraphrasing from HubSpot’s explanation of inbound marketing so check that out as well.

Push Marketing

Think of it this way. Prior to the internet, marketing (or advertising) was more of a spray and pray technique. A billboard would be erected in high traffic areas, with the hope that say 1 out of every 1000 people that saw it might be interested. That’s an arbitrary figure but the theory remains. It’s not very targeted. It relies on a critical mass of exposure in order to convert a certain percentage.
 
Push marketing can be more targeted. A business might take an ad out in a newspaper because of the demographic that reads it. They might advertise in a football stadium or in certain event spaces. They could run an advert on a particular channel, or in the ad breaks of a particular tv series. This is because they are able to make an educated guess at the type of people that frequent that particular location.
Outdoor advertising
It’s still what you might deem as interruptive.
 
Interruptive marketing can take many forms, from telesales to push notification on your phone.
 
Again, it’s still interruptive.
 
The prospect in this situation has not expressed a desire to see the ad, even if they like it or even end up buying. In fact, they were involved in another activity when they were exposed to your brand. There was a primary activity taking place before you interrupted it to get your message across. Naturally, the conversion rates for this type of marketing (in relation to total views) is low.
 
*push marketing still works. Adverts still run and advertisers are demanding more and more data from those selling space. They’re accessing more data in order to target their audience more effectively.

Pull Marketing

As the title of this section suggests, and you may have guessed, this is the opposite of push marketing.
 
If you continue to read more of our guides and blog posts you’ll hear the word ‘intent’ a lot. Pull marketing capitalises on the prospect displaying their intent before seeing an ad.
 
The internet and especially search engines have given rise to this type of inbound marketing. They certainly didn’t invent it, but have made it accessible to the masses. Nor is pull marketing exclusive to SEO. Remarketing falls under this bracket, so do newsletters or social media targeting.
 
Let’s focus on SEO though, in our opinion it is by far the best example. It is also the central linch pin for the attract phase of HubSpot’s inbound methodology.
When a consumer wants to research a problem, search for a product or wants information, what do they do? They might go on Pinterest, they might ask their friends. More likely, they Google it. We live in a world where consumers can find solutions to their problems online. They can start right in the awareness phase where they know they have a problem but don’t know the solution. All the way to the decision phase where they are ready to make a transaction.
 
Guess what? Google is often the first, and last port of call.
 
Pull marketing focuses on capturing these individuals. Identifying when they are interested and advertising. It’s targeted. When the prospect displays their intent, your brand is there.
 
It is the intent that makes SEO so powerful.
 
As soon as a prospect searches for anything related to your brand, product or service, they’ve given the game away. You know that if someone searches ‘long distance running shoes’, that they’re looking to buy a pair of long distance running shoes.
 
That’s very specific and has been the focus of SEO for many years. Be visible for these high volume, high intent, highly transactional search terms (keywords). They’re great and will always be part of SEO, but content marketing also makes up a large portion of SEO.
 
We have to take into account the buying lifecycle. There’s going to be an opportunity to engage with this prospect before they reach that transactional stage. They might be searching for a running training plan, or information on injury prevention before this search. It might have such clear intent, but it these searches still have very high relevance to a trainer manufacturer/seller. Through content and SEO we can start to add value to their buyer’s journey. We can gain brand exposure right from the very beginning.
 
The searcher is showing their hand at every stage as they transition towards a purchase. We can target these topic specifically, with content that is valuable to them, their situation and their needs.
 
Sounds a lot better than the interruptive version to us.

Influence on audience data, targeting, user experience and other channels

Search Engine Optimisation is often thought of as a very specific practice. It requires technical knowledge and is reliant on items that only relevant to SEO.
 
That’s not the case.
 
In fact, it’s not the case for any type of marketing. From experience though, SEOs tend to brand ‘out of their lane’ more than other channel specialists.
 
What do we mean by that?
 
A lot of other areas of marketing, such as paid social, will be laser focussed on making their ads as effective and cost efficient as possible. Rightly so, that is their primary goal. The same is true for SEO. Our primary goal is to increase search visibility.
 
However, due to Google’s inclusion of user experience factors within search, we also have to address the full buying lifecycle. It could then be argued that SEO has more influence than any other channel on the buying lifecycle. Or that SEOs must consider these factors more than others. It does depend on who you talk to, but any worth their salt will be devoting time to this.
 
These are some of the factors that a great SEO campaign should take into account:
 
  • Brand strategy
  • Buyer personas
  • Buying lifecycle
  • Amplification through alternate channels such as email and social
  • Paid ad spend. For example, utilising analytics from Google Ads
  • Conversion rate optimisation
 
To summarise, investing in SEO can have a positive impact on your search visibility but that’s only part of the story. It should have an impact on your ability communicate with prospects and customers. It should have an impact on the cost per acquisition of your Google Ads campaigns. It should have an impact on your conversion rate and overall user experience.

Conversion Rates and Total Costs

We’ve already covered how SEO is based on the user intent. Armed with this knowledge, it means that SEO is often one of the highest performing (if not the highest) channel with regards to conversion rates. This can obviously differ between industries and businesses but on a user by user basis, it ranks very highly indeed.
 
If SEO produced instant results, we have no doubt that it would be the most popular marketing channel available. Even with the cost to set up and produce results factored in, over the long term the total CPA is low. That is very much as a result of SEOs capitalisation on the searcher displaying their intent when they search. It means that as SEOs we can be very targeted with our traffic.

Longevity of ROI

Marketing budgets can be fickle beasts. They ebb and flow. It’s the reality of how marketing is viewed by businesses. It’s often the first on the chopping block in difficult times.
 
The fickle nature of marketing budgets increases the risk profile of ‘pay to play’ channels. When the budget is available, times are good. Although an over reliance on pay to play channels means maintaining acquisition figures when budgets are cut is hard.
 
As an organic marketing channel, the benefits experienced from SEO can be long lasting. Over time and especially in highly competitive markets a reduced spend may result in a gradual decline of ROI. However, as a rule, SEO will deliver results far longer than other channels. This links in with total cost and ROI because when you factor in the total value received, the ROI of SEO is significant.

It has its flaws, but SEO is a great investment

It’s strange. SEO is both an easy sell and a hard sell. The long term results are no brainer, but there’s short term issues. A lack of instant results, forecasting and ambiguity on timeframes can produce a certain amount of apprehension.
 
We get it. We deal with this on a weekly basis. Not only are we speaking to new prospects but also to existing clients. We understand some of the frustrations and believe you me, we wish they didn’t exist.
 
It’s not for everyone. Some may be better off assigning budget to alternate marketing channels. Some may not have the budget to survive the SEO slog. Others may not even have the resources to bootstrap SEO. That’s fine, focus on what has the highest impact for your business in your current circumstances.
 
If you do have the resources though, stop putting it off.
 
It’s like investing. How many times have you heard someone say “if only I’d started putting a bit of money every month into it, 10 years ago”. It’s the same with SEO. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time to plant a tree is today.
 
It’s a long road and needs commitment, but when you’re up and running you’ll wonder why you ever let yourself get distracted.

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