SEO Is Not a One-Time Task
I sometimes meet small business owners who believe SEO is a one-time task. Is SEO like a crockpot? Can you just "set it and forget it"?
Sorry friend, but SEO doesn't work that way.
You can think of SEO as similar to the stock market. It involves a complex environment with billions of participants and factors, and daily fluctuations. Competition is fierce. This is why SEO requires fastidious, regular action on your part.
Rankings are hard won, easily lost.
They're lost through neglect. And because you got outcompeted.
Yet a simple, SEO discipline can help you retain and improve your standing. Without such a discipline, losing "market share" to your competition is all but guaranteed.
To get a sense of the scope of SEO, let's take a brief flyover of the territory.
SEO starts with your choice of a domain name. If you're about to launch a business, you'll want to consider this before even choosing the business name.
Some factors that can impact the quality of a domain include:
Age of the domain
The most sought-after domains for most businesses are .coms with short names that are 20+ years old. These are also rare and expensive.
One thing that drives the value of these domains are the inbound links that they've acquired.
Why do people buy expensive domains?
I've had the privilege of working with a successful entrepreneur who plays the domain game well to his advantage. He once paid over $350k for a domain, spent years building the brand, and sold it — along with a selection of other web properties in his portfolio — at the start of the pandemic.
The entire venture was a resounding success because he understood the value he could extract from that web property and the investment and work that would be required to turn it at a profit.
Not all old domains are in this price range, of course. If you decide to explore paying 4, 5, or 6 figures for a domain, you'll want to confer with someone who's savvy in identifying and negotiating for quality domains.
And, like the CEO I mentioned, you'll want to be clear on the value proposition you're investing in.
Tip: Thinking of switching domains? Exercise caution before dumping your current domain name. It may have more SEO and monetary value than you are aware of. One organization I'm familiar with, changed their brand and dumped their valuable (and very old) 3-letter domain name only to have it snapped up immediately by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The domain now redirects to the Gates site.
Each domain has a related spam score. You can read more about spam scores here.
This score will tell you whether you need to dig deeper to ascertain the quality of the domain you're considering.
Shorter domain names are easier for people to remember than longer ones.
Content is still king
Your website is just a vehicle for delivering your content. Your content, along with your product and unique value proposition, will win or lose the day.
Quality is #1
What makes your content competitive, SEO-wise? Quality.
Over the years Google has gotten extraordinarily good at assessing the quality of content on a site and on an individual page. Many of the famous algorithm updates — that have surfaced hidden pages and buried others — were advances in identifying and rewarding quality content.
Conversely, it's very good at identifying content that was thrown together in a rush with little thought. So, if you flung that last blog post up, like a side of greasy hashbrowns at Waffle House, don't expect to win Google's equivalent of a Michelin 3-star rating.
Just how competitive is it out there?
- Consider that there are almost 2 billion websites online. There are hundreds of millions of blogs. And of active sites, all want to rank well and be on page #1 of Google for certain keywords.
Chart courtesy of Statista
- Before you start writing, do a Google Incognito search on your topic to see how many competing articles there are. That can provide a motivation for learning more about what makes for quality content.
The number and quality of inbound links (and referring domains) to your site is important for your ranking.
Conversely, inbound links that are from spurious websites may harm the ranking of your pages. Identifying whether you have such inbound links, and disavowing those links is an advanced topic. Executing the disavowals can be handled by an SEO professional. Realize though, that there are SEO software tools that include tutorials on how to do this yourself.
Never pay other site owners to link to you. It's against Google's guidelines and will sink your site.
Take care when citing and linking to other websites. These can influence how Google assesses the quality of your pages.
Always cite the most trustworthy, authoritative source available.
Local SEO includes getting listed in high-quality directories and creating and managing a Google My Business page.
These pair well with local SEO but can be used for any venture.
Google Ads are a shortcut to appearing on Page #1 of search results for a particular keyword.
How your website is organized and how it functions can be a ranking factor.
- Is it easy to find the contact page?
- Is it easy to find out who is the proprietor of the business or organization?
- If there's a checkout feature, is it easy to use?
- If you're selling products, is there a clear, easy-to-find return policy?
Don't let issues lie dormant. I've seen some cases where the only contact function on a website had been broken for years. No business with this level of neglect can survive.
How your image files are named can impact SEO.
Also beware of image file sizes. For example, if you are blogging regularly and adding images with large file sizes to each page, that can weigh down your speed. (See our tips for optimizing images.)
DIY SEO or hire a pro?
Every business can benefit from prioritizing SEO as a regular marketing activity. And every business that does not engage in any regular SEO activity is likely losing ranking and losing opportunities.
Know that digital marketing in general and SEO in particular is not cheap. Prices are rising each year. Here are some sample fees for SEO work from actual agencies I'm familiar with and from research published in 2019 by Search Engine Journal:
- $1,500 minimum: What one agency charges to handle the simplest SEO tasks, like adding meta-descriptions to your articles.
- $1,500 minimum: for one article, written with modern SEO practices.
- $1,779/month: the average monthly amount that agencies and freelancers are paid per client.
- $500-$699: average minimum retainer fee for agencies and for freelancers
- $125/hr: the average SEO freelancer hourly rate. Rates go up to $175/hour+.
- $600 per link: what one agency charges for obtaining a single link from a low-ranking website to yours.
- $1,500/month: a common flat rate for managing Google Ads. (Doesn't include ad spend.)
The good news is the internet is filled with quality free tutorials to provide you with the SEO basics a small business owner needs to know. You can choose to handle your own SEO without hiring a professional. This is an attractive idea for solopreneurs, or businesses with few employees.
You needn't try to do everything, or everything at once. Following quality standards for content, and best practices when posting, can go far.
In many cases, such as scaling a business with a traffic-based revenue model, it may make more sense to hire a professional. But even then, the knowledge you gain from learning about SEO, will be invaluable. And building in-house, specialized capacity may be more economically viable.
If you've been under the impression that SEO is something you pay for once and it lasts forever, I hope this article has been enlightening.
We've provided a basic overview of common areas of SEO activity and provided you with some options for going forward.