What Did You Expect? Setting Realistic Expectations Around Modern SEO

SEO expectations - Jenny MunnThis past weekend I was at a conference and struck up a conversation with a fellow attendee, a small business owner, about a website redesign she was currently in the midst of. She was perplexed (read “annoyed”) that she was spending a ton of money on a new site that did not come with SEO in place. She wanted to know why that was, and why when it said it was “SEO friendly” that didn’t mean “SEO optimized.”

This is a common frustration I hear from business owners. (note: I was just happy she knew about it going into the redesign and did not have expectations around SEO post-launch.)

I also hear from my web design colleagues who vent their frustration about clients and their unrealistic expectations of the traffic and results they’ll get from a redesign.

One of the most challenging parts of SEO is managing expectations. With:

  • Web designers and their clients
  • Me and my SEO mentoring clients
  • SEO agencies and their clients

Over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that most of my clients are not like the woman I spoke about above. They in fact do “get” that SEO is no longer a one hit wonder.

However, I know there are still a lot of unmet expectations and disappointments out there from redesigns and SEO campaigns and starter initiatives, so I wanted to address them now.

SEO: No Longer a Set of One-Time Activities

SEO used to be a one-time set of activities, but it is NOT any longer. The “ongoing” and “keeping up” pieces are what change the most about SEO.

And let me point out that it’s not like the rules, the foundation, of SEO change all the time.

It’s that you have to stay on top of the trends, opportunities and pitfalls, as you would with any digital marketing channel.

And —learn to grasp the difference between tactics that are “too good to be true” versus the ones that make good-common-marketing-101-sense. (The rule of thumb you ask yourself: if I do this activity for SEO, will it have a helpful impact for my target prospect or is it stupid and I’m doing it just for SEO?)

Now: Let’s Manage Some SEO Expectations

Here are some things you have to wrap your mind around to get SEO success, or push your SEO to the next level:

  • Knowing only a few pages or posts on your site might ever rank well. I found this post, “What They Don’t Tell You About SEO,” very refreshing. Here are a few juicy gems worth passing along:
    • “the importance of backlinks can’t be stressed enough”
    • “focus as much of your time as possible on the promotion of your content,”
    • “it’s common for a large proportion of your overall organic search traffic to come from a very small proportion of your overall content.”
    • “Without doubt, the biggest cause of failure with SEO campaigns is the assumption that simply creating great content will get you results.”
  • Failing to adjust. Once upon a time, your first shot at SEO may have yielded solid results. Now, making a serious and strategic attempt at SEO is the starting point. I see this situation frequently, for example: if you’re not ranking for that perfect keyword yet, go after a new one. Don’t lose sight of those great keywords, but don’t sit around thinking your site will magically start ranking for it if it hasn’t yet. You have to pursue, in the meanwhile, related additional longer-tail, less competitive phrases, which help you gain ground in tackling higher trafficked terms.
  • SEO is more than just plugging holes: I got an e-newsletter the other day from an SEO copywriter that said this: “Typically, clients come to me with decent websites, but on-page SEO tasks have not been implemented. Usually, once I plug the holes, their rankings significantly improve.” Sigh. If it only it were so easy as “plugging the holes.” For a few clients, sure, they may simply need hole plugging—if they are established with solid backlinks and established authority. But in most situations I have this simply not to be the case. SEO just takes more things coming together. You have to identify, and work the opportunities, as much as you have to plug holes.
  • The magic is in the maintenance. It is rarely the one-time work that will meet your goals and expectations. When you lay the SEO foundation on your website—selecting keywords, undergoing the rigorous, yet important minutiae of on-page optimization, redirecting and site speed and other technical obstacles—that used to be all it took. Today, it is the starting point.
  • Reality checking your budget: do you have the time and money to invest? It will require a mix of both. And when I say “both” I mean “both.” You cannot get results by throwing money at the problem. SEO, especially initially, requires an investment of dollars and a mix of people of strategists, tactical doers, and purse-string holders. Here are some questions to ponder from one of my business mentors:

Here come the reality check questions – do you have the time and money to invest?  Do you have the people on your team necessary to carry out these tasks? Are you willing to invest the time and money to reach your goal? If you don’t have the time, money or resources to immediately carry out this plan, are you willing to problem-solve and do what it takes to get yourself to a place where you DO have the time, money and resources to carry out your plan?  If your results aren’t reaching the level you expected from the investment – what are you willing to do to correct this?

To wrap this puppy up, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite analogies on SEO from SEMrush.

SEO is not a chemical reaction; it is a ranking. It is sport. If twenty website owners take the same actions, Google will still show only ten of them (at most) in their top ten results.

(Photo Credit: gamespot.com)

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Jenny Munn

Jenny is an independent Digital Marketer and SEO Consultant with more than 10 years of experience helping companies and content creators generate brand awareness, traffic, and conversions with SEO. She is a frequent speaker and is on the faculty for the AMA (American Marketing Association) and has taught SEO to thousands of marketers over the past 10 years.

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