It’s tough at the top
Getting to the top of Google can be a long hard slog. Of course some markets are tougher than others and you have to manage your expectations and budget accordingly. It’s great news if your site is selling ‘novelty eggcups’, but not so great if you’re selling ‘car insurance’. The more competitive the online market; the more effort and expense will be needed to make it to the top.
To establish a realistic picture of what you can get out of an SEO campaign you first need to look at the competition. Have a good look at the companies occupying the search space you want to enter and weigh up the strength of their. If the SERPs are populated by strong sites slugging it out for the top spot then you’ll really have your work cut out.
However, if you are confident that you can get a number of high value keywords onto page one of Google then get going. For the best return you should aim for a top five position. The top spot enjoys a much higher click through rate (CTR) than the others, with positions two to five sharing similar volumes of traffic. By the time you get to position six and below the CTR drops off significantly and visitors seldom make it to the second results page.
So you need to aim high, but most importantly be realistic. If you don’t think you can make it to the first page of Google you will need to tailor your SEO campaign accordingly.
Commitment is key
Most SEO consultants will tell you that there’s no such thing as a quick fix, and they are right. SEO is time consuming, it’s ongoing and it’s continually evolving. Getting SEO right in the long term takes real commitment. And if you’re operating in a competitive market this can mean substantial investments of time and money.
Whether you own a 10 page website advertising your business, or are a large retailer with 1000s of pages, it’s likely that your site will need plenty of initial SEO work to get it kick started. Once this is done you can scale things back but don’t assume your site will just look after itself. Good SEO requires ongoing maintenance and development. New pages will need to be added, inbound links built and you’ll have to keep up with Google’s algorithmic changes. In short, you need to be in it for the long haul.
Counting SEO costs
One of the questions we get asked most often is ‘how much does SEO cost?’ unfortunately we haven’t found a better answer than the rhetorical ‘how long is a piece of string?’
SEO costs depend on a variety of factors, the most obvious one being the size of the project. However, in the world of search other factors can be equally important, such as: your existing linking network, the age of your domain and the market you’re competing in
If you have the technical know-how you can implement a successful SEO campaign with very little hard cash, but it will still cost significantly in time. Whether you choose to undertake you optimisation in-house or outsource specialist; SEO doesn’t come cheap. But get it right and the returns will far outweigh any investment.
SEO requires a broad skill set, encompassing everything from: copy writing, design skills and technical insight to the development of multimedia content. Know your limitations, it’s unlikely that you will be able to competently handle all aspects of SEO and it can make sense to get some third party help on-board.
SEO is a fast paced game and it’s important to understand that you aren’t just playing against the visible online competition, you’re also playing Google. And just look at what a team they have got!
You are up against hundreds of PhDs trained in the Googleplex with a turnover that rivals the GDP of most developing countries. Even the mighty Bill Gates has failed to beat Google in search. The point is that Google is one tough opponent and you may well need a helping hand (see post on choosing a SEO provider).
How long before I see results?
Google is an understandably cautious creature. In the pioneering days of optimisation it was easy to make a quick buck by exploiting loopholes in the search engines’ algorithms. Once you had spotted an algorithmic weak spot, all you had to do was: throw up a website overnight, get it ranking and squeeze as much cash out of it as possible. If the site got banned, just start again.
As a more and more webmasters cottoned on to this lucrative trade the SERPs began to groan under the weight of spam. One of the ways Google decided to fight spam was to take its time ranking new websites. The theory was that spam came and went quickly, and if you didn’t know whether your particular spamming technique was working for 6, 12 or even 18 months, you would eventually give-up. Google tweaked its algorithm to stop newly registered domains ranking (often referred to as ‘the Google sandbox’)… and it worked!
Today Google’s algorithm is much more sophisticated, but the same underlying principle of trustworthiness still applies. Hence if you are already ranking well (and Google trusts you) any new content you add to your site could appear overnight. On the flipside, if you are launching a new site (which is untried and untested) you will first have to earn Google’s trust.
The bottom line is that nobody knows how long it’s going to take, and anybody who says they do is bending the truth. What we can do is take an educated guess.
At the time of writing Google is placing weight on the age of a domain and the age of any inbound links. So if you have an established domain, which has had links pointing to it for a couple of years, you could realistically hope to see the benefits of a SEO campaign within a month or two. New sites have a much tougher time and you can expect to wait anywhere between six and 12 months.
If you are starting a new business you may well be put-off investing in a SEO package which is unlikely to bring any return for six months. However, if you don’t take action you’re simply pushing the same six month wait further down the line.
One way around this is to act now, don’t wait until your business is up and running, but use the lead time to get a website live and make sure it has some links pointing to it. By the time you business is ready for launch, your website will have already earned a little trust.
A well planned SEO campaign will aim for sustainable long-term success, rather than overnight boom…and bust. Tread gently and you’ll stay on your feet a lot longer. Push too hard and the whole campaign is likely to fall flat on its face.
Written by: Nick Maynard
Nick Maynard is a director and co-founder of The Web Project Ltd, a company specializing in digital and search marketing. You can find him on Google+