Is SEO bullshit? It can be

It might sound weird hearing this from someone that works in the industry for more than 9 years but hear me out.

Being a U$80 Billion industry is bound to attract all sorts of professionals, so it’s no surprise that Search Engine Optimization has its share of snake-oil salesmen.

SEO is arguably one of the most complex (and misunderstood) marketing activities today. One of the reasons for this is that, in my opinion, SEO is no longer “just” a marketing activity, which explains some of this complexity but it goes beyond this, too. Even Google is aware of this, they even have a new YouTube series called Search for Beginners to try and help people deal with all the misinformation out there.

And it’s not only novice or less-experienced people that have trouble navigating the SEO world: in a recent survey ran by SparkToro on Google Ranking Factors (answered by than 1,500+ SEO professionals) these are some of the factors that most of the respondents agree are important/relevant for SEO:

  • Relevance of content
  • Quality of backlinks
  • User Experience/Mobile-friendliness
  • Load speed

Nothing surprising, right? How about the factors that SEO professionals couldn’t agree if they are important or not:

  • Age of the website
  • Content accuracy
  • Amount of content
  • Outbound links

In order to better understand why SEO is so complicated, let’s break it down the “ranking factors” above by the by the area of work and/or skills necessary to execute them:

  • Content relevance, accuracy and amount >> Content Marketing, Copywriting, Blogging
  • Link building, quality of backlinks, use of outbound links >> Outreach, PR, Content Distribution
  • User Experience, Mobile-friendliness >> UX/Design, 
  • Load Speed, Performance >> R&D (both back-end and front-end)

And this is only for this handful of factors! If we take into account all the hundreds (but probably thousands) of actual rankings factors (most of which we can’t and will never know), yes, even SEO professionals can get overwhelmed.

Here’s an interesting list of some of the most common ranking factors – there are many lists like this one but most of them are ? because they don’t really mention the sources, they just rehash the same list over and over.

So the question we should ask is: SEO is bullshit or not?

SEO IS bullshit when…

  • It doesn’t take into consideration all the different areas of action we saw above – if an “SEO Professional” tells you that the only thing you need to focus on is <*INSERT RANKING FACTOR HERE*> he’s most likely full of ?
  • When people use catch-phrases, fear mongering and SEO myths to try to scare you into giving them money (done by most black hat “SEO experts”)
  • When the SEO “Professional” reaches out to you, probably by email, social media or LinkedIn – the good professionals don’t have time for this
  • When someone guarantees the #1 rankings or the 1st page – only a small number of the ranking factors are controlled by us, so it doesn’t work like that AT ALL
  • When you are not willing to invest in it (time or money) – you should either hire someone that has proven results to show or learn and do it by yourself; if you try to hire someone cheap to do it, most likely it won’t help you or worse, it will end up hurting you.

A NOTE ABOUT CHEAP SEO SERVICES:

SEO isn’t cheap (although what you need to focus isn’t on cost, but the return on investment) and if you are a small business owner looking for search engine optimization services, your options are:

  1. Learn how to do it yourself
  2. Hire a professional SEO consultant or agency: the industry averages for SEO services are:
    1. For hourly pricing, $100-$150/hour
    2. For monthly retainers, $501-$1,000/month
  3. Hire SEO providers using services such as Fiverr

Fiverr is a very tempting service, because you can find literally thousands of “professionals” offering all sorts of services for very little money (according to my own research, which I’ll publish it soon, the median cost for the top-rated SEO services on Fiverr is just U$55!)

The problem is: can you really trust these professionals? I’m not making an argument against Fiverr, their sellers in general or the whole gig economy – I use Fiverr regularly and even found great SEO professionals there but how can you separate the ? from the ??

Most SMBs can’t afford the cost of good SEO services but at the same time, if you want that sweet, beautiful organic traffic you WILL have to invest, either some of your money or some of your time, no other way about it.

My suggestion: learn how to do it yourself.

SEO ISN’T bullshit when…

  • When you educate yourself about what SEO is (and it isn’t) and what it can (and can’t) do it for you and your business
  • When you have realistic expectations (I created a Google Organic Traffic Estimator that can help you with that)
  • When the SEO professional tells you the truth and not what you want to hear – if you are looking for quick/cheap results and you pay someone to do this for you, if this doesn’t happen THAT’S ON YOU (see the point above – SEO is never quick and rarely cheap) 
  • When it doesn’t happen overnight – SEO is hard work and it takes time
  • When isn’t done by the SEO professional alone – you, as the website owner, have to be involved in all the steps (it’s not hand-off, you need to be part of it)
  • When is done thinking about people first, not tricking Google – they are not the devil, they just want you to do what’s best for their users
  • When it involves all the different teams inside the company (marketing, design, engineering, etc) – we saw how complex SEO is, without this integration you are swimming against the current

I wish you good luck, may your SEO be bullshit-free