Is SEO still worth it when you can buy a top spot on the search results page with Google Ads? Does it even make sense to invest in your website when everyone’s on social media these days? When you run a small business, you want to make sure everything you spend your money on is a worthwhile investment—and a lot of the small business owners we work with are on the fence about whether SEO is going to benefit them.
We know the internet has changed a lot in the past decade, and you might be wondering if it’s a good idea to invest in SEO or if you should just pay your 13-year-old neighbor to make viral TikTok content for your dental practice instead. (No matter what Mykynzie tells you, having your hygienists do the Iko Iko challenge is not a great way to promote dental implants.)
Here’s what you need to know about whether SEO is worth it in 2023.
What is SEO?
So, first thing’s first: what is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It’s the process of optimizing your website so search engines can find it more easily. More specifically, the goal of SEO is to make your website rank higher in the search results for certain important keywords. For a dentist, that might be, “dentist in Chicago” or “dental implants near me.” If you run an online retailer, it could be “buy candles online” or “best running shoes.”
Decades ago, when the internet and search engines first became a thing, SEO was easy. All you had to do was put “dentist in Chicago” or “buy candles online” on your website. Bingo, bango, bongo, you’ve rocketed to the top of Ask Jeeves and you’re raking in the big bucks.
Eventually, people realized that if they repeated keywords over and over, or even hid keywords in the content by making it the same color as the background or shoving tiny text at the bottom of the page, they could game the results and rank even better. This, naturally, made search engines evolve and come up with smarter ways of ranking websites.
This cycle of gaming-the-system and search engines evolving to keep up has landed us where we are today: SEO is a complex balance of on-page and off-page factors. It’s no longer just about keywords, although those do still matter. It’s also about the quality and quantity of links from other websites pointing to your website. It’s about your website’s overall quality, which includes the site speed, design, and the quality of your writing.
Basically, there’s so much involved in SEO, it’s become quite the undertaking. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it on your own—you definitely can and we’ve helped educate and empower thousands of small business owners to make SEO improvements in-house through our education and webinars. But it does mean that you need to choose to invest either your time or your money if you want to work on your SEO.
Which brings us to the question at the top of this post: is search engine optimization worth it?
Benefits of Investing in SEO
We’re a digital marketing firm that offers SEO services. Of course, we think search engine optimization is worth it. But don’t just take our word for it—ask around! We think you’d be hard-pressed to find any small business owners who think SEO isn’t worth investing in. Even if you have a thriving business without an active website, how much more income could you be bringing in if you were at the top of Google’s search results page for the keywords you’d like to target?
Here are the top advantages of investing in SEO:
Attracting Customers Who Are Ready to Buy
People who find your website via search are already looking for what you’re offering. SEO allows you to attract more targeted traffic from users who are actively looking for your product or service. When their search intent matches what you have to offer, magic happens.
Once You’re Ranking, the Incremental Traffic Is Free
Google Ads are fantastic—we love Google Ads! But the minute you stop paying for them, the traffic stops too. (Womp womp.) SEO doesn’t work that way, though. If you put in an initial investment and need to put things on pause for a bit during a slow season, that doesn’t mean traffic to your website also dries up. You’ll keep getting search traffic because the work is still done.
Now, that said, you do still need to put in ongoing work (or financial investment) to sustain your rankings over time to stay ahead of your competitors. But the drop-off in traffic is not as dire as it is when you stop paying for clicks with ads.
Good SEO Helps Conversions
When you rank well, it gives your business credibility—and when your potential customers see you as credible, it makes sales easier. Getting higher on the search engine results pages leads to more consumer trust and brand recognition, which is priceless for your brand.
Websites that are well-optimized help with conversions. What does this mean? It means your website is:
- Well-structured. It makes sense! You have clear categories and hierarchies, rather than a jumbled mess of pages. Users can easily navigate to any page on your website from any page on your website.
- Uncluttered. Minimalist web design has been on-trend for almost a decade for a reason: it makes websites more usable.
- Full of good content. Don’t create content just for the sake of creating content. Create excellent content that people will find useful, entertaining, and want to share.
When your website meets these criteria, it leads to a lower bounce rate, increased time spent on site, and more conversions. All of these things are good news for your business.
Potential ROI from SEO
Here’s a benefit of SEO that deserves its own deep-dive: its ROI. Now, like many digital marketing efforts, quantifying the ROI of SEO can be tricky. But you can evaluate your traffic and conversions, compare it to what you were making before investing in SEO, and get a good idea of whether it’s been a worthwhile investment.
How Much Does SEO Cost?
The cost of SEO varies a great deal depending on whether you’re embarking on a one-time project or ongoing services. It also depends on:
- How large is your website and how many pages need to be optimized?
- How much new content needs to be created?
- How many technical SEO issues need to be fixed?
- If you run a small business with brick-and-mortar locations, are there multiple locations requiring business profile listing setup or edits?
- How many backlinks does your website currently have? Are there any spammy backlinks that should be removed?
- How strong is your competition? Where do you currently rank compared to them?
- Are there aspects of the work that you and your team will be doing yourself?
Our monthly SEO fees range from $750 to more than $5,000 per month, with an average of around $1,000 a month. The higher budgets allow us to get more work done each month, which in turn helps us gain more momentum and generate more results, faster.
In calculating your ROI on search engine optimization, you’ll need to determine how much a new client or customer is worth to you. For example, an attorney might make several thousand dollars on a new case. So in that case, you may only need to gain one new client per month in order to make a $2,000/month SEO service pay for itself.
How Long Does SEO Take to Generate Results?
One of the most common questions our clients have about SEO is: how long until I see results?
Unlike Google Ads, you can’t get near-instant traffic and results from SEO. It’s a process—and that process takes time, which requires a lot of patience on your part. That can be difficult when you want to measure whether SEO is worth it for your business, but you really do need to give it a fair chance to work before you throw in the towel.
Ultimately, the amount of time needed to see results from SEO services depends on the strength of your competition and how far along you are in optimizing your overall web presence, both on-page and off-site.
For a new website just starting out with SEO, you can expect to invest anywhere from 6 to 12 months on optimization before you start to see significant improvement. We do see some exceptions where we’re able to generate strong results faster, such as in 3 months. That’s typically due to factors such as low competition.
In contrast, for an established website that has never been optimized for search, we often see that initial optimizations can produce results in a faster time frame—such as 3 to 6 months.
That said, we generally recommend that our clients are prepared to make an ongoing investment in SEO for at least 6 months—and really, the investment should be long-term to stay ahead of competitors. If you’re nervous about making a financial investment in SEO, consider investing your time instead and doing it yourself. We have educational resources (such as checklists and ebooks, and courses), as well as affordable consulting to help you get started.
Why Local SEO is a Great Opportunity
We recommend that small businesses really hone in on local SEO, which overlaps with broader SEO techniques but has some unique tactics like optimizing local business profiles and requesting customer reviews.
Local SEO pays because people have a higher buying intent when it comes to local search, so the traffic is more likely to convert to sales. Many local business services have relatively high average customer value as well, so it makes generating an ROI from SEO more likely.
In addition, there’s lower competition for local searches than there is for national searches, so you’re more likely to see results and improvements with local SEO. If you’re a web designer, you may have the ability to work virtually for clients anywhere in the world, but you could be losing valuable revenue if you don’t make an investment in local SEO.
Why Start Now vs. Later?
SEO really is a zero-sum game. There’s only one top spot on Google and if you want to make it yours, you need to act because SEO only gets more competitive with time.
Don’t let this put you off, though—it’s never too late to get started, either. It’s a little bit like investing. It would have been great to get in on the ground floor with Tesla stock, but buying stock last year is still better than not buying it at all, right? The sooner you start investing in SEO, the higher your return in the future.
The Bottom Line
If you didn’t have time to read this massive post and instead scrolled alllll the way to the bottom to find out if SEO is worth it in 2023, here’s what you need to know:
- Yes, SEO is worth it—in 2023, in the future, in the past, and always. As long as websites and search engines exist, SEO is necessary. SEO 10 years from now will likely be very different from SEO today, but you’ll always have to make sure your website is sending search engines the right signals so you can be found.
- That said, how long it takes to get a return on your investment depends on the strength of your competition and how far your website already is in the process of optimization.
- If you haven’t started working on your SEO yet, the time to start is now.
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