SEO isn’t always an exact science. Sometimes, finding the right approach demands a significant amount of trial and error, making calculating Return on Investment (ROI) feel a bit like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Add in the complexity of constant changes from Google and it’s easy to see why some webmasters and SEO agencies struggle with campaigns and results that just don’t seem to pay off.
In this post, I’ll teach you to identify why your SEO campaigns aren’t working. Then, you’ll discover important and actionable steps you can use to fix the problem and preserve success long-term.
You Expect Too Much, Too Soon
Good SEO takes time, effort, skill and expertise. That’s why the average SEO campaign doesn’t produce measurable results until the four to six-month mark, after significant research and many, many adjustments.
To help explain this phenomenon, I’d like to highlight Forbes writer Josh Steimle’s standard SEO timeline. While he’s quick to point out that every campaign is unique, and thus, “standard” is a bit of a misnomer, he also lays out a path for how the average campaign might flow:
- Month one: Research and discovery
- Month two: Technical SEO work
- Month three: Content creation
- Month four: Optimization and link profiling
- Month five: Social media integration and campaigning
Significant, rank-impacting change doesn’t even start happening until well into month two; even then, it takes time for Google to factor in those changes. Reindexing alone, especially on a brand-new website, can take as long as a week or two.
It isn’t until month six, when the most significant adjustments are already in place and Google has a chance to register them, that Steimle recommends attempting to measure for success or failure. Any measurements before then represent a partial picture at best – and may even be completely inaccurate.
How to Fix: Unrealistic Turnaround Times
Stop expecting miracles when you’re barely out of the gate. Whether you’re big or small, sprawling global corporation or freelancer, you need to be patient enough to wait for rank to grow organically. Resist the temptation to invest in rapid result providers that put your company at risk by using black hat strategies.
Instead, change the way you think about progress, especially in the first three to six months of your campaign. Skip the ROI until month four; instead, measure “success” by outlining consistent effort and progress. Identify what your SEO provider is doing, when they’re doing it, how it relates to your eventual success. Then, stick it out for a little while to see if those efforts actually translate out into success.
By month six, you (or your provider) should be able to identify at least some movement in ranking, conversions, or sales. If you still can’t see any evidence that your efforts are paying off, or worse, your efforts seem to be worsening your rank, something isn’t right. It may be time for a new provider.
You Aren’t Allocating Enough Funds
It isn’t easy to determine an accurate SEO budget, especially if you’re just starting out. Like anything else, you get what you pay for; the more you invest, the more likely you are to see significant results by month six and beyond.
Here’s the problem; SEO costs money because it takes time, effort, expertise, and often, access to premium tools of the trade. If you hire an SEO and pay them $20 an hour, they’re barely paying themselves for the hours invested, let alone putting money into your campaign with advanced strategies.
Skimping on SEO by taking the cheapest plan you can find or leaving out critical elements of your campaign will hold you back. This is true whether you’re handling your own SEO or hiring an agency to help. At best, it results in sub-par results; at worst, it could even land you in hot water when a “discount” agency turns to black hat strategies to achieve the results you demand.
How to Fix: Low SEO Budgets
Good SEO costs money. If your marketing budget is razor-thin, take some time to reassess if your investment is reasonable – or at least determine whether it’s in line with your expectations.
While there are no magic budgeting numbers that work for every business, it is possible to gain a ballpark idea by looking at industry statistics. For example, this study by Moz breaks down how much businesses spend per month:
- Just 9.76 percent spend less than $500
- 83 percent spend between $501 and $1000
- 27 percent spend between $1,000 and $2,500
- 63 percent spend between $5,0001 to $10,000
It is important to note that a significant number of businesses taking the study skipped this question. It’s possible that more people spend more than $10,000 per month or that some of these brackets may be larger than anticipated. But we can still infer that nearly all businesses spend an average of $500 or more each month, a $200 or $300 budget just isn’t high enough.
Increase your budget while monitoring for changes over, say, three to six months. Or, if you’re budget capped, realign your expectations or piecemeal your strategies as you can afford them. Focusing solely on content generation, for example, is more effective as a solo investment than spreading yourself out too thin.
Your Competition is More Competitive
Here’s the thing about SEO and your competition: you’re both striving for the same goal, and ultimately, there can only be one. Sometimes, despite investing enough and putting enough effort in, your competition just manages to do it better – leaving you in the dust wondering why your efforts aren’t paying off.
To be clear, this is more of a misinterpretation than anything. Your competition may pull ahead from time to time – or even for a significantly long period of time – but it doesn’t necessarily mean your efforts aren’t paying off.
In fact, good SEO efforts are usually what keeps you from sliding even further back or completely out of the picture when your competition has a significant growth spurt. If your SEO efforts weren’t paying off, you’d be in much worse shape!
How to Fix: Losing to Your Competition
If your competition suddenly seems to be beating you in rank, wait a hot minute and see if their rank improvement holds out. Chances are you’ll see those numbers shift again because SEO is a constant “King of the Castle” game. Some volatility and fluctuation is a given, especially early on in your campaign.
Instead, think of SEO as a marathon, not a 100-metre-dash. Your goal is constant, steady growth, but even holding steady in the face of a competitive onslaught is still a sign that you’re succeeding. There will always be brief blips; proper competitive analysis can reveal whether or not those valleys and peaks mean anything.
Here’s how to get competitive analysis right: start by investigating your competition’s website. Dive deep and investigate their website. Figure out:
- How they optimize their website
- What keywords they’re targeting
- How they structure their meta tags
- Which internal linking strategy they use
- What kind of content they’re sharing
- Their average content length
- How many outbound links they use
- How they optimize layout and design
- Their external SEO strategies, e.g., SEM, GMB
- What their backlinking profile looks like
Once you have all this information on hand, compare it to your own SEO campaign. Figure out what it is they’re doing that you are not doing; then, tweak what you can. Use their link profile to find linking opportunities.
If you’re targeting the same keywords, diversify your keyword profile and find long-tail alternates or new keyword opportunities. Analyze their content and figure out what’s getting the most attention; then, work similar content into your own strategy, but always keep it unique.
It also pays to stay realistic about your competition. If you’re a small startup in a heavily saturated industry full of multinational corporations, it isn’t realistic for you to compete against that corporation. Coming in a close second or third, however, is completely realistic and should be considered a win.