If SEO is really worth it depends a lot on the stage and goals of your business and your experience with SEO. If you are a new business owner who wants to test a new product or service for 1-2 months, SEO is likely not a good fit. You should run paid ads on Google or Meta with a small budget and see if people are buying your product.
If you can sell, SEO can help you to reduce (or even replace) the paid traffic with organic traffic. This will take time though and it is very dependent on your niche. Some niches are extremely competitive. Existing players have spent 10+ years and millions of dollars building their websites, so it is unlikely that you will rank on the first page for a transactional keyword.
As a general rule of thumb, if you know what you are doing (i.e. you have 2-3 years of experience and you have ranked websites already), SEO can give you results within 6 months. If you SEO is a completely new topic for you, it will likely take much longer.
There are a few red flags which you should consider before starting with SEO. SEO is largely self-taught and requires patience and persistence. Everything can be learned and for most things, you can learn to like them should you see success. In case, you have some of the red flags mentioned below, you are likely to give up after 1-2 months of SEO.
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When does SEO not make sense?
- You need to quickly test if you can sell a new product and you want answers within weeks.
- You are not excited about your product or business. SEO is a long-term strategy and it is very hard to continue working on it if you do not enjoy it.
- You cannot put yourself in the shoes of the customer and you don’t know or don’t care about them at all.
- You do not like rejection. SEO is a lot of trial and error and sometimes things go wrong without it being your fault. Having thick skin helps.
- You are not technical and you hate writing. It is difficult to achieve success without good content and good backlinks. If you dislike either area, SEO is likely not a good fit for you.
- You are not willing to spend money on online services (like ahrefs.com, semrush.com, etc.). Yes, there are people who think hosting a website for $5 per month is too much and they rather not have a website. Expect to pay at least $100 dollar per month.
- You are afraid of data and graphs. Since you need to measure your progress and adjust your strategy once in a while, reading graphs and inspecting data is very important to steer the ship in the right direction.
There are some characteristics which indicate that SEO is a good fit for you and your business.
When does SEO make sense?
- You are a perpetual learner. Most SEO is self-taught. It is a moving target and a lot of learning is happening by trial and error.
- You are willing to invest at least 6 months (writing blog posts for non-competitive terms).
- You are willing to invest at least $1,000 and your manhours to create content.
- SEO can be a lot of fun should you be a full-stack developer. You can enhance your content, programmatically generate data reports and insights and get into the weeds of programmatic backlink building.
What steps do you have to take for SEO?
You need to develop an SEO strategy to increase your website traffic. The higher your pages rank in the organic search results, the more website traffic you will receive. There are different ways how to increase your organic traffic and there are experts for all of the following areas. In the following, we assume you are running an e-commerce store for toothbrushes with the website (toothbrush.com).
Keyword research and keyword clusters
You need to decide what keywords you want to rank for. For example, do you want to try to rank for short-tail, commercial keywords (such as ‘buy toothbrush’) or do you want to pursue a long-tail informational keyword strategy? For the latter, you aim to rank for keywords such as ‘which toothbrush is best for young children’.
Short-tail or long-tail keyword strategy?
In a perfect world, you rank position 1 for ‘buy toothbrush’ with your page toothbrush.com/buy-a-toothbrush/ (people refer to this as your money site). It’s likely that it is an extremely competitive keyword though and there are websites who have started to rank for it 10 years ago. It’s unlikely that you will rank for this keyword in the first year(s).
For competitive niches, people sometimes follow a long-tail, informational keyword strategy (i.e. they write articles about ‘which toothbrush is best for young children’). These keywords are much easier to rank for because they are less competitive however, the user who searches for this term might not be ready to buy your product just yet. I use lowfruits.io to find keywords which have low competition.
How to optimise your content
When writing articles, you need to make sure they are SEO-optimised. Ideally, the article covers all important topics, has the right structure (H1, H2, etc.), and has the main keywords. For starters, you can check out surferseo.com. You can enter your main keyword and surferseo will help you to optimise your article. You should roughly angle for a score of 80.
How to build internal links?
You can build an e-mail capture to send them your offer and you build a link from the page toothbrush.com/which-toothbrush-is-best-for-young-children/ to toothbrush.com/buy-a-toothbrush/. Internal link-building is an often-overlooked strategy to boost the ranking of your money side (i.e. toothbrush.com/buy-a-toothbrush/). To identify internal linking opportunities, you can use linkwhsiperer.io
For the lack of a better word, The SEO community invented the term ‘link juice’. Link juice describes how much power/authority a link will send to your page. For example, if a high authority website (e.g. BBC.com) links to your website, that’s a lot of link juice. Building internal links is a ‘cheap’ way to build links and send link juice (of course the link juice is not nearly as strong as from BBC.com).
Technical SEO for on-page optimization
Technical search engine optimisation is about removing technical issues and improving your core web vitals. Typical problems are:
- Wrong URL format
- bad: toothbrush.com/product1
- good: toothbrush.com/buy-a-toothbrush
- Broken internal links
- Missing canonicals
- Core Web Vitals
Image SEO is about making sure your images are loading fast, they have proper names and alt tags so that they can possibly be indexed by Google. On many websites, images are too big (e.g. using a 4000×3200 pixel image for an icon) and in the wrong format (i.e. *.png instead of *.webp). This drastically slows down the website and makes the user experience poor. Using proper names for your images (e.g. yellow-toothbrush-for-children.webp compared to image129292.webp) can make your image appear in image search engine results and thus bring you more traffic.
Link building to establish domain and page authority
When you are just starting out, building links should not be your main priority. You need to have good content first. To build links, there are different approaches. You can do PR, hire internal backlink builders who do link-building outreach, engage a link-building agency or do 301 expired domain redirects. Read our guide on link building here.
Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO strategies try to manipulate search rankings with strategies which are discouraged by the search engine. For example, on Fiverr there are numerous offerings which promise you 10,000 links in 24 hours for $50. This spammy backlink building is discouraged by search engines. Search engines from time to time publish reports explaining that all link building is forbidden. In practice, almost everyone in the SEO industry is doing link building and there’s nothing wrong with natural link building (i.e. you build links to help users to fulfil their search intent).
Click-through manipulation is another black hat strategy. Basically, you are paying people to google a certain term (e.g. ‘buy toothbrush’) and click on your website in the search results. Search engines are interested in showing relevant search results to their users. A high click-through rate is a signal to the search engine that your website is highly relevant.
Do it yourself or engage paid SEO services?
The SEO industry is huge and there are many SEO agencies. There are SEO services on Fiverr starting from $10 and SEO agencies cost $25,000 per month. It is very easy to buy a service that is harmful to your website or waste a lot of money on an SEO agency that doesn’t work.
As a new website owner, it is best if you start to do a keyword search yourself first and write the first 20-30 articles yourself. For link building, you can start to hire a part-time link builder (for example on onlinejobs.ph) to test the waters with link building. To learn SEO and develop SEO expertise, it is best to get your hands dirty. This will help you to better judge all the services that are out there.
How to measure if it works?
To understand if SEO is worth it for you, you can use google search console and google analytics. Google search console will show you if your SEO campaign works and if your pages show up in the search results. You should measure your SEO efforts and SEO costs every month. Read more about how to measure your SEO efforts here.
SEO is not a good fit for you if your need fast results (within a month). Also, if you are not willing to put in the hours to learn it over an extended period of time, you will likely fail. When done right over a long time, SEO can bring you a lot of traffic and leads (and most important revenue). Projects I worked on in the past, had thousands of free clicks per day and this led to stable revenue. To be successful, it is advantageous if you are a good keyword researcher and content writer or if you have a technical background and you are deeply interested in SEO.