There are a lot of posts out there attempting to give search engine optimization (SEO) a bad rap. Posts that declare SEO is dead, that it’s a scam or that it’s made up of equal parts black magic and bad intentions. If you read them, these posts typically have one thing in common – they’re written by people who know absolutely nothing about SEO or what goes into properly optimizing a Web site. They may be a DIYer, someone who was recently scammed or worse, a blogger with enough information just to be dangerous. And while I’m sympathetic, sometimes when things aren’t going as planned, you have to ask yourself – is it user error? Often you’ll find that it is.
If you’ve made the investment into SEO and you’re not seeing a return, here are some possible reasons why.
You’re writing a check your brand can’t cash
Being an SEO is a bit like being an athlete. As excited as you may be, you’re not going to magically wake up tomorrow with the strength to overtake a Kenyan in the New York Marathon. But if you train for it, sculpt your body correctly, and build that foundation in your legs and muscles, then you might have a fighting chance…to come in directly after the Kenyans (let’s not be ridiculous). SEO works in a very similar way.
The brand new site you launch tomorrow probably isn’t going to rank for highly competitive terms right out of the gate. You need to find your legs first. You need to go after that low-hanging fruit, build your foundation, and earn your authority in your space. Once you do, you’ll find yourself gaining more power and the chance to overtake the bigger players and search terms in your industry. Dreaming of that top five ranking for a super competitive term is fine, but be sure to inject your plan with a bit of reality. Determine what terms you can realistically expect to rank for and go after those first. It’s a long road to the Olympics.
Your SEO budget < Your Latte Bill
When we talk to clients about starting an SEO campaign, we often use the term that they’re ‘investing in SEO’. Because that’s how we look at it – it’s an investment into your company and the development of your brand. And there’s a cost associated with that. While your SEO budget will be determined by your internal resources, your goals, and the competitiveness of your market, if you’re not willing to dedicate more to SEO than you do to your weekly coffee bill, chances are you’re not going to see a great return. Investing in SEO now will save you money later by giving you the traction you’ll need to build from in the future.
You chase unicorn tactics
Two years ago you couldn’t enter an SEO conference without smacking into a conversation about Page Rank sculpting (or, “siloing” if you were SEO-raised by Bruce Clay). It was the latest craze and it was all people wanted to talk about. Unfortunately, they were obsessing over it much to the detriment of the rest of the Web site, completely forgetting about everything else they should be doing to their Web site. Things far more important (and basic) than cutting the juice off to your Contact Us page. And we see that a lot. SEOs and site owners focusing on the shiniest technique of the moment without first making sure they’re getting the basics right. It doesn’t matter how well you sculpt your Page Rank if you’re screwing up your own internal linking or not hitting the SEO basics. Take care of that stuff first before you try chasing unicorns for that remaining magic. In the time it took people to play with their Page Rank, they could have been creating content people like or moving important pages closer to the root so they’d naturally get more juice. Don’t climb the tree until you’ve double-checked you’ve collected everything on the ground.
You’ve optimized your site for the wrong keywords
One of the most epic ways to bomb your site’s SEO is to go after the wrong keywords, as noted in our post SEO Mistakes That Just Make You Look Dumb. We’ll see this happen in a couple of different ways:
- The site owner does no research: Because someone is an expert on their topic, they presume that they know exactly what terms a searcher would use to find a site like theirs. What they forget, is that searchers are NOT experts. Their language, habits and way of speaking are completely different. Father doesn’t always know best. Instead of guessing and being WRONG, why not just take advantage of the many keyword research tools that are out there to give you qualitative data you can trust.
- The site owner is blinded by research: And then you have the site owners who only see search volumes and ignore how well a term may (or may not) convert. They’ll optimize their site around terms that have the potential to bring a lot of eye balls, but then get frustrated when none of those eyeballs do anything. Remember, it’s the conversions you’re going for, not blind traffic.
You suck at link development
Listen, link building is hard. If your SEO efforts aren’t going as smoothly as you had hoped, crappy link development may be the reason why. When you’re not an SEO, it can be difficult to come up with a marketing plan to help your site attract varied, high authority links. Hell, it’s not a bed a roses even when you are an SEO. To rank for competitive terms you’re going to need more than just branded byline links and directory submissions. This may be an area where you want to bring in a professional to help you with Link development to ensure you’re building a well-rounded link profile that will benefit your site and not set off any red flags. If you have no idea how to attract a healthy link, consult with someone who does.
You hired a bad SEO
Everyone’s always poking at the sheer volume of “social media experts” that exist on the Web, but the situation isn’t much better when it comes to the self-proclaimed “expert SEOs”, no matter how old school or in with Matt Cutts they claim to be. If the SEO you’re working with isn’t helping your site see results and can’t justify what they’re doing, it may be time to move elsewhere. The Internet has made it far too easy for people to claim they have skills they really don’t possess. If you’re in that situation, Hugo Guzman has a great post on how to hire an SEO when you don’t know anything about SEO that may of service.
If your search engine optimization efforts are starting to feel as rewarding as banging your head against the wall, it’s time to ask yourself why. If you’re not sure where to start and need an SEO audit, we’ll leave the light on for you.
About the Author
Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.