Does SEO really work?

One of the questions I’m often asked by prospective clients is, “does SEO really work”? The answer is yes, but it depends on your expectations.

Unlike SEM (pay per click marketing) where you can outbid your competition for the coveted spots at the top of page 1 of Google, with SEO you can only outrank them if your site is deemed more relevant and worthy of that lofty ranking by the geniuses at Google. How Google goes about determining that formula is due in large part to their murky and mystical algorithms, and no one outside of the tech giant really seems to have the answer. But that doesn’t mean that SEO is a complete crap-shoot.

There are many tried and true methodologies for improving traffic and keyword rankings in Google organic. On-site SEO services like rewriting meta descriptions and title tags, and creating and optimizing relevant and keyword-rich content all have their place in SEO success. Off-site SEO work like back-linking and citation building are certainly critical to success as well.

But Google search, whether paid or organic, is a page 1 or bust operation. So while moving an important keyword from the number 100 position to the number 20 position is impressive, it’s not likely to result in any new business for the client. To get anything out of SEO, you really need to be on page 1, and ideally in the first few spots on Google. The problem is, there are only 10 organic spots on page 1, and typically half of those listings are taken-up by sites with enormous amounts of traffic that a small to medium sized business will never be able to outcompete. That only leaves a handful of page 1 slots available for all the competing businesses in a major city or metro region. So what to do?

We tell prospective clients that real SEO success doesn’t mean all of your keywords are at the very top of page 1. That’s laudable, but unlikely to happen unless you have almost no competition. In the real world, the way we measure success in the SEO channel is to obtain SOME page 1 rankings for SOME important keywords. The more the better, but the goal is to have at least a handful of page 1 rankings for keywords that drive new business. That’s a far more achievable goal, and if reached it usually produces a positive ROI for the client. In other words, they get enough business out of having some of their important keywords on page 1 of Google to easily justify the cost of running the SEO campaign.

In the hyper-competitive world that we live in, that’s what real success looks like in the SEO channel.