In our blog post, SEO Tips for Small Businesses, we addressed the importance of developing your SEO strategy for your small business and provided tips to help get you started. Today I want to discuss the next big question every small business owner asks: is SEO a good investment? The answer may seem readily apparent to most people, but when you run a small business you don’t often have the luxury of disposable income. We understand that every dollar counts and we want to make your dollar count, but there are a few things one must understand before investing in a SEO campaign to better your business. Let’s start with expectations.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

For business owners new to SEO, managing expectations can be difficult when one doesn’t even know what one wants. Some business owners may not know where to begin. Some feel that they need leads, not SEO, but this would be the equivalent of building a house without laying a foundation. Other owners may feel that investing in link building services is the way to go, but often find that the services they’ve used have only caused penalties and wasted money.

Regardless of what an owner might know or not know, it is important to have realistic expectations of the SEO process. Achieving a coveted position in first page results in a search engine may take several months and there are no guarantees that your business will stay at the top. While many business owners will expect immediate and enduring SEO results, consumer trends fluctuate rapidly and repeatedly, which causes changes in keyword ranks. It comes with the territory, but if this reality isn’t made apparently clear from the get-go, then this will likely leave the business owner feeling dissatisfied and frustrated. This might even result in the loss of the client’s business if they’re not sure what to expect from the campaign. This is why it is so important to address and set realistic expectations so there won’t be any surprises.

When it comes to initiating an SEO campaign with an agency, a lot of business owners believe that spending $2k/month is a lot, that it should buy about 40-80 hours of work plus the ability to regularly email their SEO 20+ times per day, etc., but this is wholly unrealistic. In reality, a budget of this value typically allows for an average of 15 work hours per month, which is just enough to do maintenance level work, fix a few technical or minor issues, and maybe do one or two small things per month that might make very small gains in SEO. It may seem surprising, but it’s true, and if you’re promised otherwise, then you should question the credibility of your agency.

If you can spend money at a certain level and achieve 100% ROI, you should do that ALL day long.  Even if it’s a 50% ROI, for a lot of businesses in a lot of industries, that’s a good return.  For some in other industries, maybe 10-30% is realistic.  These numbers are hard to estimate.  For some businesses in some industries, it might be impossible to truly calculate ROI for SEO, as the data might not be available to directly attribute everything to SEO.  In other cases it is next to impos  sible to determine that some of the performance improvements made will directly result in a single sale.  Best guesstimates can be made, but there’s little to nothing in the way of proof.  The bottom line being, you need to spend money to make money, and if you have the ability to calculate that and you can do it at a healthy ROI, then it would be a mistake not to do it.  Here are some examples of several different types of campaigns with either immediate or long term results:

Chart One

ROI image 1

(Chart One shows 2-3 weeks of work with on-site optimization. 16 exact match keywords had significant improvements in rank with many hitting the first page for the first time.)

Chart Two

ROI image 2

(The end result was a 24% increase in organic traffic month over month.)

 

INVESTING IN YOUR BUSINESS

Investing in an SEO campaign can be one of the best uses of a company’s marketing budget and can serve a company well if it is acquired in an intelligent way. For some businesses, depending on their market, product, service, etc., it might be necessary to spend $100 to make $130 ($30 profit, 30% ROI), and that might be completely realistic. Generally speaking, if a campaign leads to improved keyword rankings, increased organic traffic from those keyword rankings, increased conversions from the increased traffic, and if those “conversions” equaled increased sales of their product/service to a degree, then that was worthwhile for the amount of SEO budget  and your business would have had a good ROI.

More often than not, companies will barely spend anything in SEO and freely dump tens of thousands of dollars into PPC and Google AdWords.  That’s fine, too, but in a situation like this, a company might want to consider reallocating at least a small portion of their PPC budget and invest those funds in SEO to additionally build good long term organic results. As a business owner, it is important to understand the value of SEO, be open to and willing to pay for services that most likely won’t reflect immediate results, and invest enough to provide a decent return on your investment.

Chart Three

ROI image 3

(These results are from a 6 month campaign for an 80,000 monthly search volume, extremely high competition keyword.  Rank improved from #31 to #7.  The ultimate result was a huge improvement in brand visibility and new visitors.)

 

WHEN CAN I EXPECT RESULTS

This is the million dollar question. The short answer is, from a well-executed SEO campaign, about 3-4 months, but achieving this is far more complicated because it all depends on your website, the age of your website, and if any penalties have been imposed against your site.

If your site is brand new, the search engines will most likely acknowledge it sometime within the first 3 months of creation. If your site already has a history with the search engines and is in good standing, i.e. has no penalties, has  built new links, produced meaningful content, etc., then an SEO campaign can reflect results in less time. The type of results you can expect, and how quickly you will see results, will vary from project to project, and as with all projects, patience is an absolute must. Beyond that, the extent of your investment will also determine your results.

IN CONCLUSION

SEO is the foundation that can build long term stability of traffic, while also increasing it as well.  In the long run, SEO and the organic traffic it can help build eventually becomes some of the “cheapest” traffic in comparison to growing PPC budgets.  PPC costs money.  SEO costs to invest in and build it over time, but once it’s built and, provided it was built safely, you often can maintain that increased traffic for far less than it might cost to acquire that same traffic from PPC.