Summary: If you are a local business and are contemplating working on the SEO of your website, this post is going to explain to you why it is a bad idea for you to do it and why you should get the best help you can. It is written for the people that want to spend an hour or two each month and get the job done. I hope it saves you a lot of headaches.
(You don’t need to be a mad-SEO-professor to know that most of the search engine action happens in Google, so while Bing and Yahoo! may be important in your location I am going to ignore them for now.)
1. SEO is a very complicated guessing game.
Google has a notoriously strict non-disclosure agreement for their staff. Everything that goes on is within a secret mathematical code that very few people are allowed to talk about for reasons of competitive advantage. Think of this as being similar to the ingredients in Coca-Cola.
That mathematical code was – and continues to be – created by a small army of PhD computer scientists and mathematicians. It is a very serious business. (The game of SEO).
Back in 2010 Google admitted publicly that there were around 200 factors in their algorithm. Things have changed since then and I doubt many SEOers would think it is only 200 now. Also back in 2010 Google admitted that their algorithm changed over 500 times the year before, in large part to stop people guessing how it worked. At 500 changes per year, there is no such thing as set and forget in SEO. You will need to keep at it every week and every month. It is a guessing game with moving goalposts.
tl;dr – SEO is ridiculously complicated (look at this!), secret and changes all the time.
2. You will need assets.
If it so complicated, how do people know what works? Simple. They / we build lots of different sites and when big changes are made we can see what works now and what has been penalised. I personally have around 80 websites at the moment. I know people with several hundred. And we compare notes to pass ideas back and forth and help each other. No man is an island.
If you suddenly feel inadequate that’s ok. We all went through that once. However, if your hope is to work on just one website and see and learn everything you need to know, that is unlikely in the modern Google.
As you start working on all these sites, expect to spend several thousand US$ and many months building it all. (The SEO blog network phenomenon).
tl;dr – you’ll need infrastructure and that includes some smart friends that know what they are doing.
3. The learning curve is very steep.
You want to get to grips with SEO for your business? Then you’ll need to start looking into:
- domain names
- keyword research
- competitive research
- site structure
- content creation (written, photographs, video, YouTube, infographics)
- Information Retrieval
- copywriting, psychology and sales
- internal linking
- inbound linking
- social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+)
- “local” factors such as Yelp
- anchor text
- graphic design
- user experience
You might not need all of those elements, you might need others as well, but the more competitive your sector is, the more likely you are to need to understand lots of those factors.
If you know a little bit about SEO, you were probably scanning that list for the one thing you recognise, META details. And I didn’t even put them on the list! If your SEO knowledge starts and stops at META details, you only have about 99.98% of the rest still to learn…
Most of us have spent years building up these areas of knowledge and we still work on our SEO smarts every week and learn as we go from our work. I am now confident enough in my skills that I openly call myself a marketing genius. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but good SEOers are generally very smart multi-disciplinary people with plenty of intellectual horsepower. If they are willing to work for $10 per hour you don’t want them – they won’t be good enough. (How much should SEO cost?).
tl;dr – whoa! This is one heck of a skill-set. If you get good at it, you’ll probably quit your office job and do this instead because there clearly are not that many people that will become good or great, so you will expect to earn more money.
4. It is more expensive than you imagine.
Once you start taking SEO seriously you’ll need tools. Some of these tools will help you to automate grunt work, some will help you to perform analysis (rankings, backlinks, content, etc).
Once you have a full suite of tools you will probably be paying around US$1,000 per month at the low end to perhaps US$3,000 per month if you are in a competitive niche and want some fancy link building gadgets.
Speaking of links, you’ll need some. Who knows how many…?
These days, most bloggers know that they can sell ‘guest posts’ to businesses that want to compete online. Depending upon the website and the niche, placing a post might cost anywhere from US$50 to US$350. That is for one link. Alas, you’ll need a lot of links, from dozens to hundreds. (There are many ways to build links and this is just one piece of the pie, but it is illuminating).
I know a guy that runs a firm that sells these links. I think it best that I don’t name his firm (if you ask I’ll recommend him to you), but suffice to say that they are doing some very cool stuff with big data analysis of links. The two following paragraphs have been copied from his company’s facebook page:
“LINK DEAL: travel, general, family themed sites – Ideal for a travel brand: 40 sites, DA40+, PR4+, Trust Flow 15+ – £9,500″
“Urgent: Sport Betting Text Link Clearance – I’ve got 100 links, all DA35+ TrustFlow:17+ Sports links that I need to sell today at £250 per link, all will be placed in 300 words of well written content. £25,000 for the job lot!”
Hold on! I bet your site falls under the category of “travel, general, family themed”. That might mean you need to spend amounts like this too.
I have once seen him advertise a link bundle for gaming sites at £54,000. In the real world, that buys a Lexus or a Mercedes. Online, that is monthly link spend in a competitive niche.
His company obviously aims at firms that are in very competitive spaces. But still, if you plan to do this yourself to save a few hundred quid you will be in for a very rude surprise. In a space where the winner takes most, the ability to spend more money more wisely than the competition is a business advantage. In fact, many businesses literally try to buy their way to the top – being number 1 is worth that much to them.
His firm also has a high-end SERP monitoring tool aimed at gaming firms. It uses some really cool tech and mathematical analysis. He hasn’t launched fully yet, but he tells me that the tool will be priced at GBP3,490 per month. That is just analysis – no actual work is being done.
I know another guy that does affiliate marketing in Sweden. I won’t say what niche. To help support his money sites he has built a monster network of blogs. He tells me that he buys around 30 expiring domains every day and that his hosting costs are around 600 euros per month. This is serious stuff.
tl;dr – there is no such thing as free SEO. If you plan to spend zero, your results will also likely be zero. If your competition are spending more than you (and spending it wisely) they will open a lead that will become very hard to close. The time and financial costs of tools and infrastructure is prohibitively expensive if you only have one website, but if you work on lots of sites the costs becomes more justifiable.
You know that if it goes well search engine traffic can power your business to new heights. If it has such potential your competition may be committing resources to it like the important channel it is. If they are idiots blowing money, you might be able to get an edge, but if they are smart and spending money what makes you think you’ll be able to beat them for free? This is especially true if you don’t yet know what you are doing. Your self-confidence is misplaced and failure is virtually guaranteed.
5. The costs of failure can be very high.
Going back in time to early to mid 2011 I lived mainly from the income from just one website. I had put in the hard work and things were paying off. It was great! Then I was hit by an unexpected algorithm change and my traffic (and income) plummeted. Down by around 90% in about two weeks. The result is that for this particular website, the only way I can fix it is to take it offline and start again on a new domain. It was a harsh lesson, now learned.
I know people that had to lay off members of staff and close companies due to that same algorithm change. Brutal.
One of the ways we learn SEO is to see the things we get wrong and not get them wrong in the future. As the game changes, so do we. The guys I know that were in SEO 3 years ago and still are today are very careful.
For most businesses, SEO needs to be very carefully considered and risk management is vital. If you get it wrong and the company is reliant on the leads generated, what might happen? Choose your tactics carefully (Should small businesses fear SEO link building?).
As if this were not enough, poor SEO can be a little like inflation. Day to day you don’t see or feel it, but over the long-term it is very costly. If you can’t make your site rank well, what advantages will your competitors build up when they grab a larger share of your market and potential customers? How far might you fall behind?
tl;dr – if you get SEO right, there will be more qualified leads into the business. Soon the company will come to rely on those leads and hire more staff etc. If it all suddenly goes wrong, the impact can be brutal. You need to know what you are doing.
6. What are you a specialist in?
If we are to believe Adam Smith and the Wealth of Nations, then we all should be following the invisible hand that guides us to do the things we are personally good at.
You are, I hope, good at running your business. If you start to spend an extra 20-30 hours per week doing SEO related tasks, what impact will that have on your company? What customers will you overlook? What will your staff get wrong? What sales won’t you make?
Warren Buffett has been known to explain that opportunity cost is vital in investment. If a person invests their time or money in option A, what will this stop them from doing that might be important? In the case of a small business owner, if option A is running the firm and making sales, and option B is SEO, the choice ought to be obvious.
tl;dr – internet marketing is time consuming. If you plan to run your own SEO efforts, will that thinking also apply to other areas? Will you run and test your own facebook and pay per click ad campaigns? Will you write your own copy? Will you shoot your own videos for YouTube? Will you design your own banner ads? If the answer is yes, then are you already a web design agency? If not…
…hire a professional.
Read about my services here.