Some say SEO is a science. Others will tell you it’s an art. Personally, I like to think of it as black magic. However you view it, one thing is indisputable: SEO is the key to attracting organic traffic to your website, and organic traffic is the key to successful marketing.
This is true even if you use paid approaches like PPC.
If you take an interest in marketing practices and the ways in which you can improve your business’ profitability, odds are you’ve already spoken to an SEO expert or two. At the very least you will have read a few articles on the benefits of blogging, how SEO will boost your business, and whether or not you need to use local seo.
You’ll find both agencies and experts have a great deal to say on what you should be doing to optimise your site for search. They’ll tell you all about their packages and services, and go into endless detail about precisely what they will be doing for you.
Despite this, there are a lot of things that you’ll never hear SEO experts say, either when you’re talking to them as a prospect, or once you’ve signed up as a client.
There are a few reasons for this. One main one is that, like me, they like to view SEO as a kind of voodoo magic. When they present it as such, it carries a high value and, they fear, the more people actually understand about it, the less mystical and powerful it seems and, consequently, the less valuable it will hold in their eyes.
The flip side of this is when you’re already working with an expert and they’re eager for you to see the results they have achieved in the most positive light possible.
In other words, there are certain things that SEO experts tell you, either to make you view their work as more valuable, or to present their results as more effective.
There are also a fair few things they don’t tell you for that very reason. Here are a few things SEO experts never say, and how to get them to confess the truth!
It Takes At Least 6 Months To Start Seeing Results…
There may be some improvement prior to this – you should see things start to pick up relatively quickly. As your website is audited, existing on-site issues are resolved, and steps are taken to improve the optimisation of your existing content, you should see things start to trend in a generally positive direction.
It will, however, take 6-12 months of consistent, concerted effort before you start seeing the MASSIVE benefits kick in like:
- A BIG increase in traffic.
- Ranking on page 1 for your core search terms.
- Organic enquiries, bookings, and sales consistently coming in (as opposed to the odd one or two here and there).
- An improvement in your domain authority.
- The establishment of a comprehensive backlinking profile.
There are lots of things you can do to get you ranking quickly, but ‘quickly’ where SEO is concerned, is a highly relative concept.
Some things will see you rise in the ranks faster than others. Doing everything possible all at once will, naturally, return faster results than only doing on-site work, or only doing off-site work, or only blogging…but it’s still not going to be instant!
This is a reality that a lot of SEO agencies and experts just don’t want to admit to. Many business owners are put off by the notion of having to commit to six to twelve months of investment before they can expect to see the return.
For a lot of people, that lack of return for the first year makes it seem like an unaffordable investment.
The truth is that SEO is the best investment you can make, in terms of marketing, as it’s evergreen – your content gains greater SEO value as time passes, and has a cumulative effect.
Yet it’s not easy to have an open and honest conversation with clients. To manage their expectations, ensure they have a realistic view of what SEO can achieve for them, how long it will take, and what they genuinely need to invest to get the results they want.
It’s a lot easier to reassure them they’ll start seeing results quickly, and then ensure they have something positive to present every month to prove those ‘instant’ results.
How To Make Them Confess…
When you’re scouting for a new SEO service, just be straightforward in your questioning. Ask directly how long it will take to see a return on your investment, and be sure to pin them down with a specific answer.
Yes, you might see ‘results’ in the first couple of months, but what will those results translate to in real terms?
When will the results reach a point that they can actually earn you money back?
This question is a really good barometer for whether a company is going to be genuine with you or not. Because the answer is, it will take 6-12 months before you start seeing a return.
If that’s not the answer you get, look elsewhere!
When It Comes To Rankings, There Are NO Guarantees…
Along a similar line, a lot of SEO services come with guarantees. Some are vague – they will get you ‘ranking’ or your money back. And some are very specific – they will get you ‘ranking on page one’ or even ‘ranking number one!’.
However they phrase it, there are NO guarantees when it comes to rankings, which means any company that guarantees anything in this regard is spouting an awful lot of bullshit.
Yes, they may get you ‘ranking’, but really all that means is that your website appears in the first 100 results for something.
Even if they’re specific and say they will get you ranking for 10 terms, 100 terms, however many terms, it still only means you will be in the top 100 results for those terms.
From your perspective, as a business owner, this is meaningless.
You may be on page 10 for 100 terms but nobody is ever going to see you there.
It’s also incredibly easy to fulfill this ‘guarantee’, meaning you are essentially being hoodwinked into signing up with the false sense of security provided by a ‘guarantee’ that seems good but is actually of no value.
If they’re promising to get you ‘ranking on page 1’ you again need to consider that page 1 has 10 results on it, and if you’re number 10, that’s good but still puts 9 people and a few ads ahead of you. Additionally – and this applies even more so to the guarantee to get you ‘ranking number 1’ – you need to question what they will get you ranking for.
It is absurdly easy to get a piece of content to rank number 1 for a longtail keyword with zero traffic and zero competition.
Again, a guarantee that is easily fulfilled and makes you feel secure, but in actuality doesn’t give you anything of value.
You may be #1 for that term, but since nobody ever searches for it, the amount of traffic you will receive as a result is zero.
The reason SEO agencies don’t offer valuable guarantees is because they can’t. The algorithms are constantly changing and evolving. Rankings are subject to the whims of the search engine gods.
There is nothing we can do about this.
So even if we put in all the work, do everything right, and get your website ranking #1 for your core search terms, those rankings are fluid.
You will drop down, go back up, get knocked about.
What the Google gods are currently looking for, who your competition is, how much they’re investing in ranking for the same key terms you are, and a thousand other things can affect your rankings.
There are no guarantees. Period.
How To Get A REAL Guarantee…
If you find yourself facing the argument that a service is ‘no risk’ because it ‘guarantees rankings’ ask for specifics. What terms will they get you ranking for? Where will you rank? How much traffic will you receive for those search terms?
Actual Numbers For Specific Items, Not A General Percentage…
When you’re researching SEO experts and looking at their case studies or examples of successful accounts, take a look at how they present the numbers. Likewise, if you’re already working with an SEO agency, have a look at how they report your progress each month.
Is it in the form of an actual number relating to a specific aspect of your SEO campaign – i.e. you were ranking #52 for your core search term, and are now ranking #49, an increase of 3.
Or, do they present everything as general % increases or decreases – i.e we’ve increased the number of search terms you rank for by 10,829%!
The problem with the general percentage data presentation is that it makes it look like they’ve achieved great things for you, without ever actually showing you the specifics.
Let’s say you rank for 10 search terms when you start working with an SEO expert. Just 10, and you’re looking to improve this. A month later, they come back to you and tell you that they’ve increased the number of terms you rank for by 200%. This sounds great, until you actually do the maths and realise this actually only means you’re ranking for 20 keywords, not 10.
If they get you ranking for 100 keywords, that % increase jumps to ridiculous 1,000%
Sounds great, right? All that in just a month.
But, really, all they’re saying is that you’re ranking in the top 100 results for 100 key terms. A good start, but in all honesty, not difficult to achieve!
How many of those keywords are you ranking for the top 10?
Because, let’s be honest, if it’s not top 10 it really isn’t going to do you any good.
The data you need to know is what position you rank for each specific keyword, and by how many places that position has improved.
If you’re on pages 9 and 10 for the majority of the new keywords you’ve started ranking for, it sounds great, that 1,000% increase, but it really isn’t doing you any good.
It’s the basics that start your campaign, not what you’re actually trying to achieve.
Getting you to rank for 100 more keywords each month and telling you they’ve improved your ranking by 1,000% month-on-month is super easy.
Getting you ranking on page 1 for all those search terms is going to take a lot of work.
How To Get Them To Fess Up…
So, when you’re looking at the data – either in their case studies, to judge if they’re any good, or in your own reports to decide if they’re delivering what was promised – don’t be afraid to ask for specifics.
Do not let them fob you off with a load of guff about how they’ve increased x, y, and z by eleventy million percent.
Factually, it’s probably true.
Practically, it doesn’t actually mean they’ve achieved anything meaningful for you!
Content Is (And Isn’t) Everything…
There are two types of SEO expert you’re going to run into:
- The ones that tell you content is everything, and you need weekly blog posts, regular website updates, video content etc. (which, conveniently, they’re happy to provide).
- The ones that tell you content isn’t everything, and all you need to rank is on-site work and a strong backlinking profile (which, conveniently, they’re happy to provide).
It’s not often you run into an expert or agency who tells you that both are simultaneously the case.
That’s because most people are either optimisation/backlinking experts, or content creators.
If an expert or agency doesn’t have shit-hot writers at their disposal, they will downplay the need for fresh, regular, rich content, because they aren’t in a position to deliver it. They want you to buy their optimisation packages, and they don’t want you to worry that they should be investing in content marketing instead.
Content creators and agencies don’t always have dedicated SEO experts on staff, and their writers’ skills tend to be limited to optimising the content they’re creating (as opposed to doing other, more technical SEO work). As a result, they downplay the on-site work that isn’t content-related, and all off-site work (unless writing more content for you to place on other sites).
In addition to that, content creation frequently comes at a premium rate, because of the time and creative skill of the writer. That means retainer amounts are higher on content-rich packages, while purely optimisation/backlinking packages generally come with a lower price tag.
In other words, what the experts tell you about content frequently depends on what they’re able to offer and what they most want you to pay for.
Here’s the truth:
Content is 100% king/queen. It is not, however, the full picture where SEO is concerned. Great content is always going to attract people to your website. As long as they’re interested in what you’re writing, you’re writing about something relevant to your business, and you’re writing to a high standard, regular content is a huge SEO boost.
But, there’s a but (isn’t there always): it only works if that content and the rest of your website are properly optimised, regularly updated, carry a reasonable level of authority, and if the whole shebang is properly promoted through outreach, social media, etc..
The inverse is also true: a website that is well promoted can be great for business, but only if it contains great content.
You Can DIY Your SEO (Sort Of)…
A lot of SEO experts and agencies will scoff at you if you tell them you intend to DIY your efforts. This is often the hook they use to get you: they invite you to look at the results you’re getting yourself, and give them a chance to prove they can do better.
As established, the ‘better’ they’re talking about is likely to be a general % increase that isn’t actually that hard to achieve.
What they want you to believe is that there is no way in hell you can rank for anything without their help. You should, therefore, spend oodles of cash with them in order to achieve results.
You can’t DIY SEO.
But the thing is, you really can. Sort of…
Spend a couple of hours Googling SEO and you’ll know what it is.
Spend a few hours a day, for a week or two, researching search engine optimisation, and you’ll learn the basics. Take a DIY course on the subject and you’ll learn a little more than the basics.
SEO is 100% a learnable skill that you can DIY to some extent.
If you put your mind to it, SEO is a learnable skill that you can get a handle on relatively easily. And yet, it’s a highly complex subject with so much subtlety and nuance that you cannot possibly hope to master it easily.
I’ve been learning SEO for over a decade now and even I wouldn’t claim to have complete knowledge of the subject. It’s a constantly evolving, changing, shifting beast that is not, and never will be, entirely knowable.
The best you can do is learn as much as you can, gain as much experience as you can, keep up-to-date with the myriad of updates and changes that happen on a monthly basis, and accept that fact that what works one month won’t work the next, and what has consistently worked for the last 10 years might suddenly not at the drop of a hat.
How To Get The Truth…
If you want to know exactly what an SEO expert or agency is going to achieve for you that you couldn’t do yourself, just ask them outright.
The answer is actually quite straightforward:
It’s entirely possible to learn and do the basics site optimisation and backlinking yourself, and to learn how to write and optimise all of your own content yourself. With enough time and dedication, you can become your own SEO expert.
The problem for you is the time and dedication. And SEO experts have already spent countless hours researching, learning, and practically gaining experience of SEO. That is what you’re paying for.
You’re not going to gain the decades of experience that SEO experts have at their disposal in a few days, weeks, months, or even after a few years of concerted effort.
You already have a full-time job, gaining that level of SEO expertise is a full-time job in its own right.
The trick is to understand what’s learnable, what’s doable, and what really should be done by an expert. Outsourcing everything that can’t be done/learned, and doing the rest yourself is a perfectly good marketing tactic and a great way of keeping your costs down.
Which brings us to…
You Can Do SEO On A Budget…
Here’s the thing about SEO: it relies on content. Lots and lots of fabulous, beautifully written, perfectly crafted content. The more content you have, the better it is optimised, and the more work is done on and off-site to improve the visibility of your content, the higher you will rank.
That’s just a fact.
Content, unfortunately, is incredibly expensive to produce.
That’s also a fact.
The best practice where blogging is concerned, from an SEO perspective is to create a weekly post of around 2,500 words in length. Rich, high quality, high value content which, ideally, also includes a video element. That usually means a video version of those 2,500 words of content.
To put a clear number on that, to get an SEO agency like Acrylic Digital to create that level of SEO strategy for you – a weekly article of 2,500 words with an accompanying video version – would cost you £5,505 on a monthly basis.
That’s our top-level package, the one that will give you the best results, because it involves the highest amount of content creation, multimedia formats, and a massive amount of additional work.
This is, quite obviously, not an affordable amount for many (if not most) businesses to allocate to their SEO.
Yet you don’t need to do this level of content creation and SEO work to achieve results.
You can get a long way with a weekly blog of only 500 words, no video content, and only a basic level of on-site and off-site SEO work. This is still a highly effective strategy, and it will only set you back £880 per month.
Much more reasonable, right?
And yet, still too expensive for a lot of businesses. Even those who can afford to spend that on SEO, many are reluctant to do so right out of the gate. They’re unsure it’s worth the investment. They’re not really clear on how SEO will practically benefit them. They don’t see how SEO will boost their bottom line and, consequently, can’t imagine getting any kind of ROI.
All of this is understandable.
Some companies operate on a shoestring marketing budget.
Others have a decent budget but are cautious before investing.
How To Get A Budget SEO Option…
Whatever your reason for wanting to keep costs down, the odds are you’ve spoken to an SEO agency or two who have told you there’s nothing they can do for less than £1k per month. That you need a budget of at least that to see any results.
But, if you take the highly costly side of things – regular content creation – out of the equation completely, and look solely at on-site and off-site SEO work, you can drastically reduce those costs.
Acrylic offers SEO Rockets for precisely this reason. You can get monthly, on-site only work done for just £299 per month, with no contractual commitment. Or, you can get a comprehensive on-site and off-site package for £449 per month.
With this option, you can choose to upgrade to a content rich package at a later date if you choose. You can learn how to create the content yourself (we offer training for that), and simply have us do the complicated parts that aren’t easily learnt and/or require expert skills you don’t have. Or you can ignore the content completely – if you have a comprehensive, well-built, well-optimised website this can be a viable choice if you don’t have the budget or time for content.
The thing is, SEO is a long game.
You can start small, wait until you see results and you’re certain that there will be a benefit, and then invest more.
We try very hard to make SEO accessible to everyone. That’s why we offer multiple packages to suit your business type, and the level of investment you’re able to make in your SEO.
Yes, you might be ready and able to go the full hog and start putting out influencer-level content in multiple formats every week. But equally, you might only have a couple of hundred pounds a month to spare, and want to invest it in getting the ball rolling.
SEO can absolutely be done on a shoestring budget, as long as you understand that the level of results you get is proportionate to the amount you invest (in money, time, or both). You cannot expect to see the same results as someone spending £5K + per month on content creation if you’re only spending £300 and doing zero content marketing yourself.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get results. It simply means the results you do get will focus on ensuring your website is properly optimised, that you have regular updates done to your site (i.e. a new video, a new section of text, or a new sub-page added to your existing main pages), any bugs or glitches are fixed, that you have a good backlinking profile lending your site authority.
How To Work With SEO Experts Who Won’t Bullshit You…
If you’re looking for a reliable, trustworthy, and results-driven SEO expert who will tell it like it is, and help you to create an SEO marketing strategy that fits your objectives and budget (even if it means we don’t make much money out of you!) you’re in the right place.
At Acrylic we’re firm believers that SEO should be accessible to everyone. Whatever your level or stage of business, no matter how much money you have to invest, and whether you want us to do it for you or simply want to learn how to do it yourself, we have a solution that will work for you.
And we won’t feed you a load of guff and nonsense in order to convince you to pay more for something else.
Book a free consultation today, and we’ll work together to find the perfect SEO strategy for your business…
Our Head of Marketing, Hazel Butler, is an award-winning author, copywriter, and editor. Part ghostwriter, part blogger, part videographer, and part strategist, when she’s not endlessly penning content for our clients Hazel’s happily concocting the perfect marketing plans to propel their businesses forward.
Get to know her...