What you will learn: The expectations you should have — and should not have — for your next SEO campaign.
Who should read this article: Company and marketing leadership.
Why Companies Get Frustrated with SEO
A lot of companies we talk to are disenchanted with SEO. Typical comments we hear:
- Our SEO agency charged us a lot of money, but never got any results.
- We never quite knew what our SEO agency was doing.
- We invested a ton and got few, if any, leads.
- Our rankings never moved up.
After we dig into each situation, we usually find a common denominator:
A disconnect between what the client is expecting, and what the SEO agency is delivering.
Frequently, a big part of the problem is when a company sees SEO as some type of marketing magic bullet. Right off the bat, we need to understand that while SEO often performs better than other types of Internet marketing, expecting $600,000 in revenue from a $2,500 per month investment is not going to happen.
Important note: In this article, we are not talking about unscrupulous SEO agencies that take the money and run; instead, we are talking about well-intended, competent agencies, and their equally well-intended and competent clients.
The bottom line: When you have the right expectations for your next SEO campaign, you improve the likelihood of success by about 100 percent. When you have the wrong expectations, you’re putting yourself on a path for frustration, poor ROI and yet another false SEO start.
Key Points to Consider for Setting Expectations for SEO
1. Traffic vs. Conversions
Let’s start with some blunt talk: Expecting an SEO program to directly produce conversions is not a proper expectation. Expecting an SEO program to directly produce steadily increasing and relevant traffic is a proper expectation. Why?
First, many of the things that come into play for producing conversions are beyond the scope or control of SEO. Consider:
- The SEO campaign does not control how easy your website is to navigate.
- The SEO campaign does not control how easy it is for visitors to fill out inquiry forms on your website.
- Most important, the SEO campaign does not control how efficiently your internal lead follow-up system closes phone and form leads generated from the SEO campaign.
For the first two issues, a great SEO agency can provide recommendations, but whether they are implemented depends on you. For the third issue, even a great SEO agency won’t have the campaign scope, expertise or insight to solve systemic problems in your lead follow-up system.
Generating qualified traffic is the core of what an SEO campaign delivers. An SEO campaign matches keywords used by people searching for your products and services with content on your website. The better the campaign, a) the more relevant search engine users see your content in organic Google results, b) the more of them click through to your website, and c) the more of them phone in or submit a website form. The SEO agency is definitely responsible for a and b, but only partly responsible for c, as we just discussed.
2. Rankings vs. Keyword Research
If your SEO expectations are built around rankings, you’re on the wrong track:
- In the old days, organic search results used to be monolithic: every SERP (search engine results page) looked pretty much the same to every Google user everywhere.
- Today, every Google user sees a different SERP. How website content is ranked depends on a bunch of variables, including the user’s search engine history, geographic location, and type of search being conducted (e.g., Web, Images, News, Videos, Shopping).
- Ranking high (to the extent it can be determined) for a term that generates little or no relevant website traffic is a waste of effort.
Instead of zoning in on rankings, you’re far better off focusing on increases in relevant traffic and leads as campaign KPIs. How are these KPIs achieved? By hiring an SEO agency that selects a mix of keywords with a high likelihood of driving relevant traffic to your website. These keywords should form the core of your SEO campaign. They will be selected based on several criteria, including search volume, competitiveness of the term, your current performance on the term, and the user intent implied in the term.
The right combination of keywords results in a campaign that steadily makes you more effective in being visible for keywords that matter to your best prospects.
3. Collaboration vs. a Hands-Off Approach
If your expectation is to hand an SEO campaign to an agency and wait for the ROI to roll in, you’re sure to be disappointed. Today more than ever, SEO is a collaborative effort — and the good news is, if you collaborate with your agency, you’ll put yourself ahead of 90 percent of your competition. Let’s take a look at a few of the critical areas where collaboration makes the difference between no ROI and huge ROI.
- Strategy. The agency’s ability to select and optimize the right keywords hinges on your ability to communicate the key products and services you intend to promote, as well as your value proposition, key buying motivators, and key differentiators.
- Conversion Elements. If the SEO agency is successful in driving traffic to your website … then what? Smart clients collaborate with their SEO to develop strong calls to action — offers, persuasive supporting text, and user-friendly design. The better this is executed, the more leads will flow into your pipeline.
- Content. Writing strong on-site and off-site content is fundamental to almost every SEO campaign. No matter how skilled the agency’s copywriting team, it’s content will only ring true and lead to conversions when the client provides guidance on the right topics and angles to take. When content sounds credible and is useful and valuable to prospects, they take the next step.
4. Setting Expectations Now vs. Later
The appropriate time to set expectations may not be pre-launch or even after the first few months of a new campaign.
First, SEO takes time to produce meaningful results. Google does not react immediately to many types of SEO improvements, no matter how brilliantly they are executed. To expect a dramatic turnaround in traffic or lead production within a few months can happen, but it’s not the norm.
Second, as data rolls in from a campaign, the SEO agency will use it to make improvements, and thereby increase short-term and long-term effectiveness. As keyword performance and website traffic is evaluated, strong performing keywords will get greater emphasis, poor performing keywords will be de-emphasized, and page content and offers will be modified to improve lead generation.
In real life, an SEO campaign that appears to be sputtering in the first six to nine months often takes off like a rocket the following quarter.
Are You Prepared to Have SEO Expectations?
Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of arbitrary SEO expectations because you have not yet defined your needs. Before setting expectations, answer this question:
“Why do we need SEO?”
To really answer that question, you should be able to communicate a number of fundamentals to an SEO agency, including:
- What are your growth goals in terms of revenue?
- What are your growth goals in terms of new customer acquisition?
- What are your growth goals in terms of customer upselling?
- What are your growth goals in terms of customer cross-selling?
- How many quality leads is your website producing today?
- What is the value of leads being generated by your website today?
- What is your current conversion rate?
- What is your current close rate?
- What is the lifetime value of a customer?
- How effectively are your current lead generation activities working?
- What is the current ROI of your other lead generation activities?
Having a grasp of these data points enables you to have a meaningful discussion about expectations with an SEO agency. For example, knowing whether your campaign needs to produce 25 or 50 or 250 leads a month to be viable enables your prospective SEO agency to form a judgment about whether this can or can’t be done at a given budget. Just saying, “we need more leads” won’t help you or the SEO in the end, because the campaign will be shooting at an invisible target.
On the other hand, if you know what you need going in to an SEO campaign, communicate that to the agency, get the agency to buy in, and give the campaign enough time to succeed, you’ll be setting expectations like a pro. Instead of becoming frustrated or confused about your campaign’s performance, you’ll have a clear map that keeps you on the right path for years to come.