Why Is SEO So Hard?

BrightonSEO Conference AuditoriumOn Friday 7th April, I headed to sunny Brighton and joined over 3,500 visitors to listen to professionals talk about Search Engine Optimisation at BrightonSEO. I listened to various speeches but I will mainly mention two of them:

  • Using search data to inform business strategy by Sophie Moule, Head of Marketing at PI Datametrics.
  • Tracking complex journeys: single strategy for multi sites by Hannah Gordon-Smith, Search & Analytics lead at Zurich.

This was my first time and I really enjoyed the variety of people and speeches. From inspirational to practical, the main lesson I learnt is that SEO is bloody hard and most companies don’t fully understand it. Now that’s not very encouraging, is it? Actually I think it is, because it sets a challenge for people like me to go out there and explain why SEO is so important and demonstrate what it can do for your business. So here it comes!

The difficulty of Search Engine Optimisation

SEO is hard because the rules are kind of secret, it takes time to see the results, and it’s difficult to accurately report on your ROI (Return on Investment). For some companies, SEO is more like a Search Engine Ordeal than Optimisation.

1. The mystery of SEO

SEO is a game where Google sets the rules without telling you what they are and you have to figure out how to play. Hannah Gordon-Smith from Zurich pointed out that as if this wasn’t difficult enough, Google love changing the rules – the almighty algorithm – 1.64 times a day on average. Now you can have fun playing and trying to figure it out like a digital Sherlock Holmes, but the fun usually stops when you do something wrong and lose all your organic traffic because you got penalised.

2. How long until I see the results?

Not knowing the rules means that you have to do a lot of research and work on a test and learn basis. It takes time and effort that you might not always have depending on the size of your business. Google’s algorithm is also getting more and more clever so trying to fool them with quick fixes no longer works.

3. Reporting on ROI

Now you might be quite good at the SEO game but when it comes to reporting to stakeholders or decision makers, it can get complicated. Sophie Moule from PI Datametrics explains that you’re usually competing with Paid & Social Channels who have been much better at reporting on their ROI. They use full path and cross device reports to show how well they’re doing when SEO teams confine to last click attribution models. PPC campaigns usually bring results more quickly than website optimisation so success is more visible on a short-term basis. That’s why decision makers say: “Why should we bother investing in SEO when it takes so long to see the results. I can just give all the budget to PPC and Social and I know exactly how much I’ll get back in a few days!”

Understanding SEO

All these brilliant people at BrightonSEO agree that the main problem is that most people don’t understand SEO. Before rejecting it or categorising it as magic voodoo, take the time to try and understand what Google, and other search result providers, are trying to achieve. Their aim is to show the best, most relevant results for each search query.

Don’t forget they are a business just like you so they want internet users to keep using their service instead of the competitor’s. That’s why Google keep tweaking their algorithm to include more and more parameters. They are trying to understand exactly what each user is looking for when they enter a query and provide them with the best answer. And they’re very good at it!

So, I just need to be the best and I’ll rank first? Sure, you need to be the best result for a specific query out of the millions of pages out there trying to rank for that same query. It sounds quite daunting but you just need to focus on what’s really important to you and your customers. Define your goals as a business and work from there to choose the keywords that are important to you. Then, be the best at providing users with what they’re looking for and Google will reward you.

Why is SEO so valuable?

This seems like hard work so is it really worth it? Well, organic search drives over 50% of global website traffic and there are 3.5 billion searches conducted on Google every day. Now that’s a lot of potential visitors for your site! On top of this, SEO is far cheaper than any other channel because you don’t have to actually pay to play the game. Of course, you need to pay your employees and maybe some tools to help you along the way but it’s nowhere near the cost of Paid channels.

How to make the most of SEO?

1. Report on profit rather than conversions

Sophie Moule advises to report on profit rather than just conversions. Factor in your orders and sales alongside your total spend for SEO to calculate your CPO (Cost per Order), total profit and ROI. In most cases, it will be much higher than the ROI for other channels.

2. Compare apples with apples

In her presentation, Sophie Moule also highlights that most people only report on last click attribution for SEO. However, they analyse the full path with a long cookie window for other channels such as PPC. Explore your Multi-Channel Funnels reports in Google Analytics to understand the role of each channel in your conversion paths. Check your Assisted Conversions report to see how each channel helps converting. View your Top Conversion Paths and see which channels bring traffic first. Finally, use your Model Comparison Tool under Attribution to compare different attribution models for each channel. You might find that a lot of users arrive on your website via organic traffic, then come back directly and finally click an ad to convert. With last click attribution, PPC gets all the credit when organic actually brought the first click and recruited a new customer for much cheaper.

3. Combine channels for more impact

Once you understand how your customers get to your site and convert, the idea is to combine your channels efficiently. Maybe you’ll find that recruiting new customers via organic traffic is very cheap and works best for you. Optimise your pages on strategic keywords and then use remarketing lists in AdWords to finalise the conversion process with people who are already interested.

What do I do now?

I hope you are now convinced that SEO is a key part of your digital strategy and shouldn’t be abandoned to the sole profit of paid channels. Once you understand how it works and you focus your efforts on what matters to you, it’s not that hard to see the results. You just need to keep investing some time and make sure you’re reporting appropriately to compare performance between channels. You can then decide how to combine your efforts in an efficient way to increase your profit.

If you’re not sure how to do it, or if you don’t have the resources to spend time on SEO, there’s no shame in asking for help. At Innovation Visual, we specialise in search marketing by combining our skills in SEO, paid search and social to increase profit. This allows us to complete your existing skills with ours so you can focus on other key parts of your business and achieve your goals. Check our full set of online marketing services and contact us today to see how we can help your business.

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