Is SEO Worth the Investment?

Like any investment, time and effort spent on search engine optimization has risks — it might pay off, it might not. Read on to see how to make a safe bet on SEO.

Written by Eli Schwartz
Published on Mar. 22, 2023
Is SEO Worth the Investment?
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As someone who has been doing SEO for the last fifteen years, many potential clients are surprised when I tell them to ignore SEO. For some, this is because I think that the business will not currently generate a return on their SEO investment. For others, I think the timing is just wrong.

Search engine optimization is a marketing channel just like any other channel, and there is never a reason to invest in every channel all at the same time. I have never met a CMO who thinks it’s a great idea to run a print media brand campaign “just because,” but somehow SEO has become something that can never be neglected.


What Should Businesses Expect From SEO?

There is a fundamental misunderstanding as to exactly what is expected from SEO, and its opaque qualities, promoted by marketing agencies, make this channel seem almost magical. SEO is not a slot machine where you drop in your change and expect to land on triple 7s with the first pull of the lever. It is an investment in which, from the outset, the company should have a reasonable sense of whether it will work to drive increased business or not. 

This means that investing in SEO requires a strategic approach to attract users. Churning out blog posts to capture keywords might achieve some search engine visibility, but it won’t guarantee profitability. 

There should always be a KPI goal attached to an SEO investment — even if that goal is not financial, but something simple like user awareness. Along those lines, making a website perfectly compliant with SEO best practices also does not guarantee a result, and making technical investments to achieve this outcome might not be the wisest use of resources. Improving website infrastructure for best practices is an investment in time and resources that could be used elsewhere, so this investment should, of course, be justified by the anticipated outcomes. 

2 Key Takeaways for Successful SEO

  • Know your user, what they want, and how they’d search for it.
  • Build for your user and show how you’re unique.


Know Your User, What They Want, and How They’d Search for It

As a first step for determining whether an SEO investment makes financial or business sense, a marketing leader must first understand the desired user persona and whether this persona is even viable. There are many genres, for example long-sales-cycle B2B products, that will simply never have a persona seeking them out on search. While B2B tools are incredibly useful in the workplace, the problem they solve might not be important enough to have the potential buyer using a search engine to find a solution.

Understanding who this searcher might be requires placing yourself in the shoes of the buyer and thinking through how they might find you. Armed with the knowledge that there are users likely to be looking for your product and service on search engines and not finding you, you can then brainstorm ideas on how to be visible for those users. 

Read More on SEO on BuiltIn.comIt’s Time SEO Marketers Start Focusing on Voice Search


Build for Your User and Show How You’re Unique

There are many approaches for building an entire product offering around prospective users, but this isn’t a one-size-fits all solution. The right tactic will be contingent on the business category, user persona, and most importantly, what the users might be seeking on a search engine. 

The best SEO efforts I have ever seen go to market with the same messaging approach that works for every other channel. That is, if there is something that makes your product unique, this should be a key part of the SEO effort. There is no reason to have different personas and performance metrics than from any other marketing channel.

Your users’ search requirements could be addressed with a handful of blog posts, a photo library, a video series, or long-form content. All users and all businesses are different. Even if you think an approach works for a competitor, there is no guarantee that it will work for you. Don’t judge yourself by competition, your only metric is the goals you set at the outset. In many cases, a competitor might be highly visible on search due to the investments they have made, but it may be only driving eyeballs, not sales. 

All of your efforts should be focused on user experience and not a search engine’s requirements. Search algorithms can change overnight, but your buyers and users will not typically be as fickle, so long as you have put the research in to understand them. Business impact should be paramount and should drive all of your decision making. Don’t worry about slow growth, day-to-day search engine rankings, or the latest search engine algorithm update. 

SEO is not a requirement for a successful marketing strategy and should only be undertaken if it adds value and marginal impact to your user acquisition efforts. If you have determined it doesn’t, there’s no need to do SEO. However, if there is a fit for SEO, it could be one of the most valuable acquisition channels you will have. 

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