SEO Marketing Doesn’t Happen Overnight 

SEO marketing doesn’t happen overnight, but management wants a return on investment and needs to know the hurdle rate.

This is the most common question business owners ask before investing in SEO. Unlike other marketing investments, SEO is a long term investment that may take months to deliver any results. 

With PPC, whether it is an e-commerce campaign or a lead generation campaign, you optimize your landing page for conversion, bid on selected keywords, and start monitoring results from day one. The same goes for social media ads, and other paid marketing campaigns. 

However, with SEO, you do not get immediate results. In most cases, after a few months of working with a freelancer or an agency, most business owners decide to either quit on SEO altogether or switch their service provider. 

If you google ‘how long does it take for SEO to work’ you will get a snippet from an article on Forbes that says “3 to 6 months”. At least that’s what I got before I started writing this article. 

However, there are ways you can start tracking the effectiveness of your SEO campaign from day one. First, you have to define success, i.e., you have to define the tasks that need to be performed and the KPIs that need improvement. But before we jump into that, let’s quickly cover the basics. 

What are the benefits of doing SEO? 

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With the help of SEO, you can get free traffic (more exposure, more conversions) from search engines such as Google, Bing, and YouTube. The higher you rank for high volume keywords, the more traffic you can get. In most cases, organic leads cost less and convert better. 

So if you are an ecommerce business and/or want to collect leads from your website, not doing SEO is not an option for you in the long run. 

How most business owners handle SEO Marketing. 

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Most business owners start with a freelancer or an agency, and wait for the results which may or may not come. Some try multiple SEO service providers before finding the right fit, and some even hire in-house SEO professionals. 

It is the SEO professional’s job to keep the business owner’s expectations realistic and keep them well informed. It is the business owner’s job to do their research before hiring someone to do SEO for them. The most important thing to do for both parties is to come to a mutual agreement about the action plan and the KPIs that need to be monitored. 

Agreeing on SEO KPIs and tasks/action items is essential.

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Some of the primary variables and KPIs that both parties need to agree on are as follows: 

Top keywords before anything else, the freelancer or digital marketing agency you have hired needs to do keyword research and provide you with a specific list of keywords they are going after. This needs to be a mix of short-tail and long-tail keywords and should have a decent search volume. 

If the keywords you are going after have meager search volume (0-10 or 10-100 per month), your service provider will have a lovely time ranking for it, but you as a business owner will not get anything out of it. 

You can use Google’s keyword planner to get search volume data for the keywords. No SEO campaign can be or should be started before both parties agree on a list of top keywords that you want to rank for, so make sure that’s the first thing you get from your SEO service provider. 

Pages mapped to top target keywords 

Once the keywords have been agreed upon, you need to decide which group of target keywords belongs on which page. Another way to look at this would be to ask yourself, which page you want to show up on the SERP when people search for a specific keyword. 

Mapping the right keywords to the right pages is essential if you want your SEO campaign successful. Different keywords indicate different search intent, and if your page matches the user’s intent, you are more likely to get the results you want. 

List of On-Page SEO Activities with a clear ETA

On-Page SEO activities range from content and image optimization on the page to fixing page load time, mobile optimization, and more. The good thing about all of these activities is that they are in the SEO service provider’s hands, i.e., they don’t have to wait for anyone to get these things done. 

To create this list, your SEO service provider will first have to do a thorough audit of your website and see where the issues are. Your job is to make sure you agree on a reasonable ETA when everything will be optimized and make sure the timeline is being followed. 

Depending on your website’s size and the number of pre-existing issues, it may take anywhere between a week and a month to get the necessary on-page SEO out of the way and move on to link-building. 

Off-Page SEO/Link-Building Activities

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When it comes to link building, you need to have clearly defined guidelines about the quality of links to be built as well as some minimum links that can be built every month. 

The website, domain authority of the website, the type of organic traffic the website gets are all good indicators for whether or not you should get a link from a website. Whether you are working with an agency or a freelancer, they should agree to build X amount of links per month, and you should hold them accountable for that. 

How do you know that your SEO marketing strategy is working?

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As we discussed earlier, it may take months for your SEO investment to start paying off. However, in the meantime, there are variables you can use as key performance indicators to see whether or not your SEO strategy is working.

8 Tips for Designing Your First Startup Website.

The following are some of those variables: 

Keyword Rankings and SEO Marketing

 Rank tracking is one of the most tried and tested methods SEOs use to measure performance. Remember the list of keywords you agreed on with your SEO team? You can upload that on a keyword rank tracker and get a weekly update on how your website selects keywords. 

If your ranks seem to be steadily improving, your SEO strategy is working and vice versa. However, things are not usually that straightforward, and some keywords will go up, and some will go down. You will need to keep a close eye on some of your high priority keywords and your average rankings to see whether things are looking good. 

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Organic Traffic

One thing that should be continually improving for your SEO campaign is regularly and keeping track of it weekly. As your rankings improve, your traffic should improve. Keep a close eye on new users, sessions, and average session duration. You can get this data from Google analytics. 

Business KPIs and SEO Marketing

There are very few SEO agencies and freelancers who would agree to use business KPIs to measure success. However, all of the on-page and off-page activities should result in business success for you. For some, business success means increased revenue through e-commerce activities, and for some, it means an increased number of leads through organic traffic. 

While your SEO marketing agency or freelancer may not agree to use business KPIs, you should keep an eye on variables such as increased revenue through e-commerce transactions, increased volume of organic leads, increased chats, inbound calls, and more. It is your SEO team/person’s job to bring relevant traffic to your website, and it is your job to monitor said traffic and optimize the website for better conversion. 

What to do if your SEO marketing strategy doesn’t seem to be working? 

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So you have hired an SEO marketing agency (or a freelancer), they have been doing SEO for you for six months, and everything is going according to the roadmap. However, your SEO marketing strategy doesn’t seem to be working, and at this point, you are wondering why you are bothering with the $1000 per month on SEO marketing. 

If that sounds familiar, and you are thinking about switching agencies or giving up on SEO altogether, do this first:

  1. Go to google analytics and start looking at your data from six months ago. Go into search console and look at metrics such as impressions, click-through rates, and top keywords.
  2. Look at this data month by month and see if there’s an upward trend or a downwards trend over the last six months.
  3. If there’s an upwards trend, I would recommend you stick with your service provider. This may be a bit of simple advice, and your situation may vary depending on the duration of the SEO campaign and the amount of money you are spending. 
  4. If there’s a downwards trend, give your SEO service provider a two-month notice. 

This will depend on the kind of contract you have with them. A two-month notice is advisable in case there were some positives in the six-month data you reviewed. 

This gives the agency/freelancer enough time to do a thorough review of what’s working and what’s not and take steps to improve their performance. If there are no positives in the six-month data, it is good to start looking for an alternative. 

Learn bout a guide to digital marketing for startups.

What happens if you switch SEO agencies too often? 

Think of it as changing the route to your destination multiple times during a road trip. If you change your route once or twice, that may help you avoid heavy traffic, but you may end up going around in circles if you do it too often. 

When you end your contract with your old SEO agency and hire a new one, they start the whole process from scratch. They will do their keyword research, backlink analysis, and on-page audit, and they will come up with their SEO plan. 

This is not exactly a bad thing, as you will get to keep the links built by the previous service provider, and the new analysis may uncover some areas of opportunities. 

That being said, there is a chance that a lot of progress made by the previous service provider will be lost as the new agency may decide to focus their energies in a new area. 

When switching agencies, make sure you are on the same page about top keywords, and all the other variables discussed earlier in this article. 

More often than not, the new agency will treat your website as a new website and your current rankings as the baseline they want to improve on. It is your responsibility to communicate your expectations to them and make sure any previous agency’s progress is not lost. 

When you switch an agency, make sure you give them a few months while keeping a close eye on their performance and your organic traffic. 

While there is such a thing as changing agencies too often, it might take you, multiple service providers, until you land with someone who’s the right fit for your organization. 

What happens if you stop SEO marketing activities too soon?

Having read the article so far, you may have already guessed the answer to the question. 

There are business owners out there that tried SEO marketing for a few months, did not see any return on their investment, and stopped their SEO campaign altogether. However, you will rarely hear of a successful online business that does not do any SEO. 

One of the most effective alternatives to SEO is PPC. PPC also brings you immediate ROI if your campaign is optimized, and your landing page has a reasonable conversion rate. When given a choice between SEO and PPC, business owners with limited resources are more inclined to do PPC. 

However, PPC is not as scalable as you’d think. As you continue to bid on keywords, the price per keyword, and the price per conversion keep going up. You also have to outbid the competition to stay on top, so your costs keep going higher and higher. 

Meanwhile, if we assume that your conversion rate remains constant, your returns will remain constant. This means you will be spending more and getting the same returns. 

When it comes to big businesses, I always recommend hiring in-house SEO resources. For small and medium-sized organizations, it is better to hire SEO agencies and freelancers. And for businesses that have minimal resources, I recommend taking a PPC-first and then SEO route. 

The idea is to get some revenue going through your PPC campaign and then set aside some SEO resources. In short, not doing SEO marketing, or giving up on SEO is not an option, because you cannot survive on paid advertisement alone. 

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Some ground realities of SEO 

Before you start investing in SEO, you should prepare yourself for the following: 

  1. You will most probably go through a few agencies and freelancers before you find the right fit.
  2. There are many SEO agencies out there making unrealistic promises (dominate the SERPs, guaranteed rankings, etc.), so stay away from those who make promises that are too good to be true. SEO marketing takes time, science and research.
  3. Google will continuously keep on rolling out algorithms that will make your SEO journey a turbulent one. Be prepared to lose traffic and rankings from time to time. 
  4. Your SEO service provider may resort to black hat tactics to meet their goals. So keep an eye out for PBNs, spammy links, low-quality backlinks, and plagiarized content. 
  5. Once SEO starts paying off, it will outperform every other channel, but that kind of performance takes years of dedicated hard work. 

How to make sure your investment pays off 

Throughout this article, we have discussed multiple variables that you need to track to ensure your SEO strategy is working and that you are on the right track. That being said, as a business owner with limited resources, you have to invest some time in learning the basics of SEO. 

For example, I have told you to keep track of your link profile, but if you do not know what a link profile is, you will not have productive discussions with your SEO service provider. So it may be worth looking into some free SEO courses online and making sure you know the basics. 

After that, you need a rank tracking tool, a backlink tracking tool, and necessary google analytics skills to monitor your SEO campaign’s performance. 

We hope this article was helpful to you. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or feedback. We would love to hear from you. 

Andrew Wilson is an SEO analyst at Rank Genie. He loves to watch movies, listen to podcasts, and plan about launching his podcast. He has helped the Rank Genie team shape their rank tracker and make it one of the most easy-to-use and SEO friendly trackers out there. You can find his blogs on www.RankGenie.com. 

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General FAQs

What is SEO?

What Is SEO? Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of getting targeted traffic to a website from a search engine’s organic rankings.


What is off-page SEO?

Offpage SEO” (also called “offsite SEO“) refers to actions taken outside of your website to impact your rankings within search engine results pages (SERPs).


What is on-page SEO?

On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual web pages to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines. On-page refers to both the content and HTML source code of a page that can be optimized instead of off-page SEO, which refers to links and other external signals.

Why is SEO important?

The strength of SEO and driving organic traffic is evident. Organic search usage and share are outpacing growth in other channels. Organic and paid dominated web traffic in 2020. Optimizing your web pages for SEO will be even more critical in 2021 as the organic search continues to rise above other search traffic.

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