Is SEO worth the investment in 2021?
A lot of businesses and entrepreneurs have dabbled at SEO (Search Engine Optimization) only to realize it’s an uphill task and not a checklist of actions you can tick and be done with. If you’ve tried harder and still failed at it, you might even ask - does SEO work at all in the first place with Google making it harder by changing its algorithms every now and then? A lot of us are in the same boat. Let’s find out.
A lot of digital agencies continue to sell SEO services with the no guarantees disclaimer mentioned somewhere in the terms and conditions and for good reason. It’s hard, takes time and if the business looks at it as a quick-fix solution or doesn’t give it the nurturing it requires, chances are – no agency will be able to deliver the results especially if it’s outsourced on a shoe-string budget.
But, that’s only one side of the story. Think like a search engine for a second. People come to you because they have a query and they want to get the best search results in the shortest time possible. If you don’t rank properly – people will have to spend a considerable amount of time just to get their desired information. Now think you’re Google - the Big Daddy of Search Engines. Google doesn’t want to send traffic to other websites. They keep tweaking their algorithm to keep traffic inside their business sites.
With the goal-post consistently changing, it’s actually a legitimate question - is it worth to invest in SEO when Google is changing its algorithm so frequently and the zero-click through results are on the rise?
Mind you, it’s not just you. Many SEO practitioners, digital agencies and business owners themselves have the same question.
The answer? (Imagine a drumroll beating in the background just before a highly anticipated reveal!)
Yes!!!!! With as many as 5 exclamation marks. SEO is still the gold standard and is worth as much as ever, if not more than ever before and you should definitely take it seriously and give it the time and resources it deserves.
Let me explain. But first, I’ll empathetically agree with you.
SEO is becoming challenging. More challenging than ever before. The pandemic has either made you multiple times richer like the 0.01% people have or has sucked your marketing budget to nil like it has for 99.99%. If you belong to the latter half then guess what? During and after the Pandemic is exactly when your investment in SEO would have paid rich dividends. To add to that, Google has changed its algorithm many times over and made a lot of SEO tactics obsolete and powerless. Imagine 3-5 years of experience going down the drain in just a couple months.
SEO doesn’t work like before. There’s no running away from that.
You cannot optimize your pages, build a link or two here and there and hope to see your rankings get better.
Most link building tactics aren’t working either. Some of them even produce negative effects on the rankings, particularly if you’re trying to manipulate the search engine into thinking that the quality on your website is top-notch and highly valuable.
Nor is it good enough to write a 1000-word blog post to rank. You need to work a lot harder than that. You have to quite literally, produce the best content out there on the respective topic to reach the coveted top position in the search results.
But regardless of all the challenges and how big and uphill task it might be, SEO is still the most powerful channel that drives the highest quality traffic to your website.
I’ll tell you why.
1. The Ad Costs are not getting cheaper.
With the organic reach on Facebook and Instagram almost dead, simultaneously Facebook ad costs have literally more than doubled in the last 4-5 years. (LinkedIn is more of an exception in this regard though.) The cost of lead acquisition through Facebook and Google Ads overtime has increased considerably.
2. You’re no longer getting high quality leads like before.
With lead acquisition getting expensive each year, you’d expect to get quality leads or at least have a higher conversion ratio – which might offset the increase in ad-spent. But sadly, that’s not the case either.
Quite frankly, I’m personally seeing a decrease in the quality of leads I get from Facebook or Instagram Ads.
This could be because your target audience has saturated and is now seeing tons of ads and are also potentially, filling up forms for your competitors as well.
You could also have quite possibly exhausted your target audience or your expanded audiences aren’t performing as good as your original target audience.
3. The average 28 or 34 or even 47-year-old is getting smarter
They aren’t clicking ads or filling the lead forms as they might have before. They are using multiple adblockers to block the ads. Let’s face it, nobody likes ads unless they’re packaged with amazing story-telling. People are also worried about their privacy. Privacy in-fact is probably the hottest debate of 2021 and will potentially remain one in the post-pandemic era.
Moreover, lots of ads have tall and baseless claims that are hard to believe which is changing people’s perception towards the ads, making it harder for the average joe to trust the ads.
4. You are Doing it Wrong
The biggest of all ad problems is that you’re approaching the exercise in the wrong way. You perceive your PPC campaigns as your sales/conversion’s driver.
Many small businesses or individuals run ad campaigns focusing on converting their cold or first-time audience into leads or customers. I’m sure if you’re reading this article you’ve done it at some or the other point as well.
And what happened with those campaigns? You most likely got a cold response and mute results because let’s face it, you cannot convert someone who knows almost nothing or a just a tad bit about your product or service into an actual customer or even a hot prospect by just one single ad.
It’d be too good to be true if conversions were to happen like that. Sadly, they don’t. It happens in stages.
“First, they should know their problem, then people need to know you, your solution, how your solution can solve their problem, how it benefits them and why should they buy it from you instead of all other competitors out there”.
There’s a lot that happens between the moment when one realizes that they have a problem on their hands and decide to purchase your solution to fix their problem. That’s why we call it a buyer’s journey. The funnel in the figure above gives a macro overview of the buyer's journey of a parent of a toddler.
If you're running an early-childhood centre you know that parent of a toddler looking for an admission in a nearby preschool will not just look at an ad, share his details, pay the admission fee and be done with. That would be an ideal case scenario but that's exactly why it couldn't be any further from the truth.
You cannot transform the audience’s perception of your product or service with just one ad, can you?
Let’s assume you are running a paid ads campaign.
If your ad and landing page is good, you might get 1% or 2% of such direct conversions.
It means 98% of those who clicked your ads left without taking any action.
The wise thing then would be to retarget them with another ad campaign and nudge your conversions by another 2 or 3%. That still leaves 95% of your visitors.
You might argue those are very conservative numbers. To cut you some slack, let’s say you create the best ad copy and a highly persuasive sales pitch, you could get 10% of your audiences to buy you product or service.
That still essentially leaves 90% of your audience leaking through the funnel and that’s where most of your campaigns come to an end.
You could arguably pump in more money into ads but you can still not use regular ad campaigns to reach the audience that has leaked through your funnel again and again until they convert.
To do so, you need to set up and run a complex multistage campaign and spend a lot of money to nurture your audience through getting them aware about your brand to then start considering it to eventually end up transacting with you.
To accomplish this is the hard and grinding part wherein first, you need to create relevant content for different stages of the funnel and manage a series of ads that pushes the content to a specific set of audience in the right sequence so that it nudges your audience through various stages of their buyer journey and to make the desired purchase decision.
Essentially, you need to create a lot of campaigns with a lot of ads promoting a lot of content to different audiences in different stages of their purchase journey.
If you’re like me, you’d definitely want to avoid taking that up-hill journey where the odds of success are stacked up against you. But how else do we best reach our target audience and convert them as well?
A bit of an anti-climax? Yes, but SEO can definitely solve this problem.
To begin with, you have to work and create a lot of great content. But that’s more or less a one-time effort.
Once you have great content, you need to take care of the distribution and get every bit of organic traffic that you can get from various social platforms and your blog pages.
Eventually, when you have content for all the stages of the buyer’s journey, people who are at a particular stage and are looking for a solution to their problem, can, and most likely will, find the content through search engines, visit your content, consume it, probably become your lead as well.
And if you’ve not taken shortcuts along the way and genuinely created top-notch quality content, they can and surely will come back for more content or check out your product or service offerings, and eventually become paid customers.
You’ll get the traffic without you doing anything. No multi-stage ad campaigns or segmentation or retargeting campaigns from your end.
Since the audience finds your content via search engines, they trust it more because the search engine will present it as the closest content to their particular search query and every search engine would rank content in the order of perceived quality vis-à-vis businesses pushing their content via ads which could or could not be of the highest quality.
This makes the average joe finding your content organically a high-quality lead who’ll most likely convert than the one whom you’re interrupting with the ads. He’ll also purchase quicker than he would if he’d come via ads because all the actions here are organically taken by the audience without any external push or pressure to close the sale.
And the cherry on the cake is that you’ll keep getting visitors over and over again unless a couple of business outrank you for those “n” number of keywords for which you rank very high.
That’s why SEO is very much alive, is arguably still the most powerful lead generation channel and more valuable than ever in times when the pandemic has forced all of us to switch our marketing efforts to the digital platform with the ad costs increasing while the trust on ads is decreasing simultaneously.
So, what was your question?
Is SEO alive?
Hope this settles the debate, not just for now for the near future as well.