For all the things that have changed in my time in search engine optimization, there remains one constant when it comes to engaging in discussions with a prospect for SEO services.
Most prospects are very keen to know the answer to this one, very basic (but not “simple”) question: “How long until I’ll see results”?
As with most things in SEO, the question begs another question: how do you measure “results”? As well, the answer has to have the added “it depends” followed by a number of follow-up questions.
Often, prospects are saying things like, “I want to be the top result for X keyword.” And, as I’ve mentioned many times, good SEO doesn't revolve around any “one” ranking for any “one” keyword. If it does, you’re probably doing things that you shouldn’t be doing, such as overly-aggressive link building tactics against “money” keywords.
But, these same prospects are typically getting quick answers to this – actually very complicated – question.
More often than not, SEO agencies are saying things like “probably 3-6 months,” without so much as determining what success/results really are, what the competitive landscape is like, what capabilities the company may have in content development, site structure/redesign, etc. Too many people are providing false hope to these prospects without giving them adequate counsel on determining what “real” success is or how to measure ROI.
As you may know, Google has been (since their Vince update, and the following Panda/Penguin stuff) trying to rank higher quality (“brand”) websites. It’s no secret Google favors brands, which is in part due to the fact that Google tries to reflect the real world in its search results by ranking established brands on searches where users would expect to find them.
Additionally, most of these brand websites have a lot of quality websites linking to them. Lots of people are already searching for their brand name. Their social presence is typically strong. They have built a brand over many years. This is very difficult to fake (which is the big reason why Google likes brands) and takes an incredible amount of time and effort to build.
Take a moment and read my ClickZ column from April 2010. Here, I detail some advice that took me “no time” to provide to some top retail (“big brand”) websites.
I haven't followed up on this (chances are, with Google’s updates, they are seeing better results today than they did back then, even if they didn’t change anything). But, if they did actually make some changes, they could see results very quickly – perhaps a matter of weeks. “ROI” would be quick, let there be no doubt.
The awkward issue is that these big brands are also the ones that have the largest budgets. They should be spending $10,000-$20,000 per month (or perhaps more) on a full-fledged, holistic SEO effort. And, I’m satisfied that the SEO firms will earn every penny.
However, big brands don’t have to spend as much as smaller businesses who are trying to establish themselves in today's Google results. Smaller businesses are, without question, at a disadvantage.
*Note: All of this is subjective to the competitive nature of the program, and how “success” or “ROI” is ultimately measured.
The Ranking Challenge for Smaller Businesses
Smaller businesses are going to have to work hard on building up those “big brand” signals in order to rank higher in Google's search results. But they are also the ones that probably don’t have $10,000 per month to put into a full-fledged SEO initiative.
I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily by design, but Google had to make it more challenging to rank so that they could clean up their search results and maintain their user base/people using Google for search.
But the side benefit to Google is that smaller businesses may have to turn their attention to PPC marketing (paid search, specifically) to ensure a presence in Google.
Larger businesses will, most likely, continue to fund their PPC efforts, as well.
For many smaller businesses, they will have to invest in SEO services, possibly for several months (years?) to build the signals to do well in search. Larger businesses could make a few tweaks and hit a home run in weeks.
That’s the truth.
No Easy Answer
Again, this is very dependent upon how “success” is determined and how “ROI” is defined. It’s not a simple question. And it doesn’t have a simple answer.