Why SEO is a Bottomless Money Pit (and what to do about it)
January 1, 2017
We've seen firms spend tens of thousands of dollars for a handful of keywords to rank. You may see a temporary boost in page rank, but unless your content is truly relevant, it won't last.
- Reverse engineering Google is, in our opinion, "voodoo" and while this voodoo can be effective in the short term, SEO tricks can easily backfire
- Once Google figures out a "Trick", it will change the page ranking algorithm to remove that trick and your site can drop in page ranking overnight -- wiping out the money you've spent on SEO
- It's much better to focus on one primary subject and employ a web platform that automates those parts of SEO that are best practices set by Google
Everyone Wants to Be Ranked #1
There are 1.1275 billion websites, many vying for the same audience. That's the competition and everyone wants to be ranked #1.
Not being ranked toward the top means that you're basically invisible online. Data is a little sketchy, but the vast majority of information indicates that if you're not on the first page, click through rates drop quickly. Even on the first page, the difference between the #1 and #2 positions is dramatic as illustrated below.
"Build it and they will come" is the mantra of certain death online, so ranking well on Google is often critical to the health of a business. SEO companies generally promise that they'll analyze your site, its content, the traffic coming to your site and give you recommendations for how to make the site rank higher over time. For this service, you get to fork over your first born child or the equivalent pile of cash.
Google Doesn't Care
Google couldn't care less about you, your website and how it ranks. They just don't. In the eyes of Google, you're not special, your boss isn't special, your company isn't special -- and I'm not special either. The sooner everyone realizes this simple fact, the better we'll all be when it comes to this sort of stuff.
Google is in the business of providing relevant searches so people continue to use their search engine. Google makes the vast majority of their money selling ad space. More time on Google (and the Internet in general) = more advertising sold = more money made.
It's really that simple.
But Google Still Needs You
In the same breath, Google needs content to search and index so there is something to return when someone searches. They WANT to find your content and publish best practices on how to construct websites so they are easily indexed and provide free tools and SEO advice to webmasters and publishers because, in a very real sense, your website is part of Google's inventory.
It is in Google's best interest and your best interest to follow their free advice.
But wait, if Google wants to find you and gives you free tools and advice, why do companies to pay someone else to do SEO?
We've been asking ourselves that for years.
The only good reason we've ever been able to come up with is that someone simply doesn't have the time to do it themselves. ALL of the information to be successful is readily available and much of it can be automated (more on that later).
SEO is Voodoo
The problem arises when you want to rank high for something but your offering is not unique or compelling. How many law firms do the same thing? How many finance firms? How many companies that do very similar work are out there. Remember, everyone wants to be #1, but none of us are special snowflakes.
Because of this lack of differentiation, an SEO firm or a webmaster might try certain "tricks" to try to get the website or page to artificially rank better (vs. having good relevant content in the first place). Some of these tricks and techniques may be effective for a while, but SEO is an arms race similar to bacteria vs. antibiotics or online security vs. hackers. As one gets better, the other catches up quickly.
Since Google does not publish their exact search algorithm or what it's hundreds of signals (or search parameters) are, SEO firms are left to reverse engineer by trial and error what works and what doesn't. Some things, like relevant title tags and proper syntax, are simply known because Google publishes best practices, but the rest is pretty much an educated guess. By applying these reverse-engineered techniques, an SEO firm can likely artificially boost your page rank for a period of time.
Back to the arms race: when enough pages are artificially ranked, Google catches on. Remember, they have the biggest collection of website data, past search results, one of the most sophisticated artificial intelligence systems and almost unimaginable computing power -- and their sole job is to provide relevancy. Once Google determines that something is messing with their page ranking system, they learn and evolve (literally). Any money you spent on SEO vanishes overnight. Poof! Gone.
We've seen firms spend tens of thousands of dollars for just a handful of keywords to rank -- and then it vanishes overnight. That's why we think paying for SEO is like throwing money into a hole or lighting it on fire. You may see artificial page rank for a while, but unless you're ranking for true content relevancy, it won't last.
Does paying for SEO ever make sense?
Yes. If you make money from your website and the number of people coming to it directly impacts your bottom line. if there is a direct correlation between visitors and dollars, this cost may be worth it. Spending $10K a month on SEO and making $20K a month off the increased traffic SEO is kind of a no-brainer.
But if you're a professional services firm that uses their website primarily to reinforce credibility after a warm contact or referral, you should probably think twice about spending that kind of bank.
This is a really good graphic.
The stuff in red is a bad idea. Don't do it. Just don't.
- Content that provides value to your visitor
(this is actually key. It's in the top left, the most important position)
- Relevant terms used within the content. Terms that someone might search for (the elusive and often misunderstood "keywords")
- Good structuring of the website
- How the HTML is formatted
- How the URL is formatted
- Meta elements like the Title tag
- Links from trusted sources to your page
- Your online reputation
- How long your site has been in existence
Of all the things that are known and published by Google, 80%+ can be automated. That's where your website platform and expertise of your web development team comes in.
For instance, Animus Rex automates everything that can be automated. Page structures are created in a way that Google can easily traverse the site and index the content. Internal links are clear and meaningful. URLs are human readable and based on page titles and other searchable keywords. The title tag is automated. Content keywords are counted and automatically added to meta tags. The Description meta tag is automated. The Sitemap.xml file that automatically pushes to Google is updated and reranked every time content is added or updated. And for those who want to tweak, all key automated variables can be easily overridden at the page level. There are many more things that we automate as well -- but that's OUR special sauce. :)
The great thing about automation is that SEO becomes a non-issue or at minimum, less of an issue. That leaves only the 15-20% that's not automatable or completely out of your control to focus on. Things like writing good content (most important), authoritative sites linking to the page, how long you've had the site, social links, where someone is searching from, etc.
Most of our clients don't spend anything additional on SEO because they don't need to. The 80% that we automate + their focus on writing good, relevant content is more than enough to help them rank high in Google. We advise all of our clients NOT to spend any money on SEO until they've seen if the automation works. For the vast majority of our clients, they never have to do anything extra which saves them an incredible amount of time and money.
The question to ask is: What does your website platform do for you?
What about Pay per Click?
Pay Per Click (part of the larger area of search engine marketing or SEM) is a beautiful thing if used correctly. Because organic SEO can take time for your page to rank, if you really want or need to push a page to the top of the Google search results, consider purchasing page rank through Adwords.
The listings in a different color at the top of search results are paid for. You can set a daily cap on spend and tailor every aspect of how and when your paid link (or advertisement) comes up. Over time organic SEO may take the place of paid search results so you can then reduce your spend accordingly.
PPC campaigns are relatively easy to set up and there are lots of tutorials on those as well. But again, you need to assess if your firm makes money as a direct correlation of increased web traffic. If it does, then PPC may be worth it. If not, then simply make sure your website platform is working for you so you can focus on what's important: writing good content.
What about Social Media Marketing?
Glad you asked. See our series on social media marketing for your site. It's an in-depth look into the subject.
Animus Rex builds beautiful websites. We provide no-nonsense, well-considered advice like this to all our clients. Want to know more, or have a question? Please reach out. We're happy to help.
Thanks and be well,
If you have any comments or questions, or just want to say hi, please email me at email@example.com.