SEO is the most misunderstood specialty in all of Internet marketing. Self-proclaimed SEO experts sometimes have no idea what they are talking about. Bad SEO players (black hat SEOs) intentionally overpromise in their attempts to secure new clients. On top of all this, best practices for SEO change on a monthly basis, making it a challenge for even the best and the brightest in the SEO community to stay current and offer the right advice.
How then, can a CEO determine if SEO is the right Internet marketing investment? Here are five key things to consider when evaluating the opportunity.
- Is there enough online demand for the keywords that matter to our business? If your business sells consumer-banking services nationwide, there is obviously a tremendous amount of online demand – i.e., people using Google and Bing to search for your services. On the other hand, if you sell buggy whips in a three-county area, there aren’t likely to be enough people searching to make an SEO campaign worthwhile. Most businesses lie somewhere in between: preliminary keyword research will give you a good picture of the potential.
- Can we budget enough and long enough to succeed? Low budget SEO campaigns seldom if ever work. Effective SEO campaigns involve a lot of activity, from content production to technical tweaks and ongoing maintenance on your website and off. What’s more, SEO campaigns can take several months or even longer to generate a critical mass of sales leads. If you are prepared to spend upwards of $2000 per month and sustain it for a year, results are attainable. If you are not in a position to make this type of commitment, other Internet marketing options are more promising.
- Is our competitive situation favorable or unfavorable? A company should never decide about SEO in a vacuum. If competitors are spending six- or seven-figures on SEO, your company will have an uphill battle fighting for organic search engine visibility. However, if competitors have a weak presence, you have an opportunity to earn a powerful advantage.
- Can we devise a winning SEO strategy? If you are in a highly competitive industry, as noted above, you need not throw in the towel on SEO. It’s possible a local strategy, or one involving long tail search terms – ones that are less popular but offer a high likelihood of conversion – could enable you to obtain a very healthy ROI for your efforts.
- Do we have the internal systems and resources in place to support SEO? Many is the time an SEO campaign fails even though it generates a steady stream of sales leads. The reason: the company fails to follow-up promptly and professionally on those leads, causing them to evaporate. (Our lead validation team and clients are able to hear this happen, by listening to phone leads.) Another common obstacle is a company’s inability or unwillingness to produce or collaborate on content production. Without high quality, relevant and useful content, an SEO campaign will never get off the ground.
Of course, underlying all of this is your need to talk to SEO specialists who know what they are talking about. How do you know if someone’s preliminary keyword research is valid? How do you know if what you are being told about your competitive position in the organic search market is accurate? How do you know whether a proposed strategy is achievable or pie in the sky?
Carefully vet SEO consultants fully and carefully before putting stock in what they tell you. Things to look for in an SEO partner:
- Has the SEO been around for a long time?
- Is it eager to give you referrals?
- Do its referrals report tangible results from its SEO campaigns?
- Are its online reviews positive, negative or nonexistent?
- Is it willing to show you samples of its monthly reporting?
- Can it explain its work in plain language, or does it hide behind technical jargon?
- Can it show evidence of its credibility within the SEO community?
Generally speaking, a professional SEO is unlikely to promise the world, and will never promise the world for a few hundred dollars a month. Don’t be tempted by a slick sales pitch: SEO is a slow and steady race, but one that pays enormous dividends when run properly.
Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, an Internet marketing firm with headquarters near Chicago. Brad writes frequently on B2B marketing topics with articles that have appeared Moz and Fox Small Business.