Posted by randfish
Working to ingrain SEO best practices in a company can take several months, and can involve a lengthy period of diminishing returns that we sometimes call the “SEO slog.” To make things worse, our clients and colleagues often expect a consistent improvement. The difference between those expectations and the reality is what Rand tackles in today’s Whiteboard Friday, offering you four ways to minimize what he calls the “delta of dissatisfaction.” Credit to Scott Clark at BuzzMaven for the concept (see his original post here).
Surviving the SEO Slog – Whiteboard Friday
For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!
I also made a graphic version of the SEO Slog below (feel free to re-use):
Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today I’m going to talk a little bit about the SEO slog. This is that really tough experience that many, many SEOs go through where, essentially, you’re putting a lot of effort into improving your rankings, improving your content, improving your keyword targeting, earning those links and mentions and social signals, user and usage data things, all the things that are going to help you perform on search engines, but you’re not seeing results. Virtually everyone who’s in the field has experienced this over the course of their career.
It happens because, a lot of the time, Google has got many, many triggers in their ranking systems to kind of check whether effort is worthy enough, or signals are organic and ongoing enough, to earn the site continued rankings, or whether there should be some sort of consideration and then evaluation and delay between when the effort is put in and things are improved and when results actually happen.
This is insidiously frustrating for lots of folks in the field. By the way, Google isn’t the only one responsible. Many times what happens is that SEOs make recommendations for organizations or inside their own organizations. They work with their marketing and their engineering teams to try and get things done, and it just takes a long time. It takes a long time to see the results of those.
So I actually really appreciated Scott Clark from BuzzMaven in Lexington. You can follow him on Twitter on @scottclark. Scott described this very eloquently. I like the graphic that he put together about the SEO slog. His blog post, by the way, was called “Thriving In the SEO Slog,” and he talked to a number of industry leaders, particularly those from consulting firms, about this process. He had a chart very similar to the one that I’m going to show you here.
Essentially, we have on the side here, effort. So a little bit of effort down on the bottom. Lots of effort and then a ton of effort right up on the top. Then, sort of month one through six, as you’re starting those SEO efforts and campaigns. This can happen on an entire website level, but this can also happen on a particular subsection of a website, or a new group of keywords, or a new set of content that you’re targeting.
What frequently happens is you see what’s needed to see return on investment, to see those improvements over time, versus what the expectations are, which I’ve got in purple versus orange, kind of diverge. So at the start, what’s needed, a lot of the time at the very start of an SEO campaign, especially if previous best practices haven’t been employed, it’s actually really minimal to start seeing a positive return on investment. But, over time, that effort ramps up a ton. You’ve got to do an incredible amount just to see a continued return on investment over those first few months, and there’s a delay between the effort that you put in here and when you’re seeing results towards the latter few months of a campaign.
Unfortunately, expectations are the opposite. A lot of clients, managers, teams, the people in your startup with you, the other folks that are in your consulting group, your client, all of these folks are expecting to see that effort is a little bit higher at the start, and then you kind of get the ball rolling and it goes down. That actually is true. The problem is it takes a long time to get that ball rolling. So what I usually see, what most of us in the industry see is that that effort ramps up tremendously in those first few months, and then over time it does go down a little bit. Maintaining those ongoing best practices is a little bit easier.
But this, right here, the difference between expectations and reality, that’s what I call the delta of dissatisfaction. People just get really frustrated around this.
There are a few good mitigation strategies, and some of these were mentioned, actually, by the experts that Scott Clark talked to in his post. The first one, the one that nearly every consultant mentioned, and I think is very smart, is to create the right expectations.
If you go into a client meeting, or you sit down with your marketing team, or you’re talking to your CEO about what you can and can’t accomplish, if you create the expectation that SEO is going to be this not necessarily silver bullet, but that you will make these investments and because things are done so badly today and the company you used to work for or the other websites that you’ve worked on had such success when you implemented these best practices, that you feel confident you can increase their rankings and their traffic and the acquisition of customers dramatically.
The problem gets created right then and there, because in the SEO world, for the last decade, for some reason people have held these two beliefs about SEO. Number one, that it’s a one-time activity, which is just dead wrong as all of you who are watching know. Number two is that once you optimize for the search engines, you are now optimal, and that means you don’t require additional ongoing effort, and the search engines will reward your efforts once they see them. Since Google’s crawling us so fast, well, we must get that benefit immediately.
Neither of these are the case. So creating the right expectations up front can work wonders. In fact, if you want to go ahead and make this chart and put it right in your presentations, as you’re showing the team, here’s what needs to be fixed. Here’s what we need to do. Here’s what I think we can accomplish. But, by the way, you’re going to think this can happen a lot faster than it can happen. If you tell them that up front, you’re creating those right expectations.
Number two, when things are going well, that’s a dangerous time, a very dangerous time. I urge folks not to just sort of celebrate and then create new projections, like, “Hey, well, we accomplished X. Y is certainly going to happen, and Y is going to be 2X, and 3X and 4X in six months and seven months and eight months.” Always create both a contingency plan, in case that traffic increase is temporary, and a conservative budget.
So I actually really like making budgets around traffic, around performance here at Moz, and in general that contain a best-case scenario and also a “and here’s what we’ll spend before we know whether this is the truth.” If you don’t, you can end up very, very sad.
Number three, make sure SEO isn’t your only inbound traffic channel, and it’s not the only inbound marketing effort that you’re working on. If you’re doing social media marketing and content marketing, you’re building an email list, and you’re doing branding and PR and outreach and connecting with your industry, you’re speaking at events, you’re doing paid forms of advertising as well, great. Now you’ve got some mitigation. Now you aren’t solely relying on SEO to provide all of the returns, and, thus, you can handle being off budget. If Google is 70% of your traffic and you miss by 10%, that’s huge. If Google is 20% of your traffic and you miss by 10%, oh, it’s not so bad. It’s only 2% off budget.
Number four, the last thing I’ll recommend here is that you measure and report leading indicators. By leading indicators, I mean not just the pages that are receiving traffic, but also things like link signals, rankings for long-tail stuff, looking at social shares, these leading indicators, these things that tend to, over time, correlate as rankings catch up to how your performance is going. By reporting on that kind of stuff, higher engagement on pages, those leading indicators will give you a sense of how things might be going two, three, four, five, six months from now with your search traffic and your rankings. That can be extremely helpful.
All right, everyone. Hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday,and we’ll see you again next week. Take care.
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