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How SEO is Losing its ROI

How I found that SEO is failing businesses even with content pros, who are actually producing good, tactical, and helpful content.

I have been an extremist in terms of SEO – just like every other SEO out there. I found it laughable that a brand is not focusing on building its market with SEO – by publishing article after article around their niche and building their topical and domain authority to help the landing pages rank better and target commercial keywords easily.

But my perspective has changed in the past few months heavily. I have been working with some pretty dope brands and products in the past few years, as a full-time employee, as a mentor, and as a consultant. And I found that SEO is failing these businesses. These are content pros, who are actually producing good, tactical, and helpful content. Yet, their products are not growing through organic means.

Why? I started doing an analysis of how Google is evolving search and how many websites have lost traffic to those updates. The more I saw, the more I could see the monarchist rule of Google and their plans of evolving search from the user’s perspective.

Let’s break it down.

Google focuses on fast answers

We have all heard this one, give your visitor the answer to their question, as fast as possible. This is the equivalent of someone asking a question while driving past a billboard, and that billboard should have the right answer to that question. People will literally spend seconds on a page before deciding if it is worth their time or not.

This gives you a very short time to:

  1. Convince the user to read more (which is exactly what they want to avoid)
  2. Take some sort of action to get the answer (somebody else is highly likely to be competing with you to give that answer without the action)
  3. Sell yourself or your product as the answer and hope that they convert then and there (this, at best, manages to convert impulsive buyers)

So, what do you do? A popular argument against this is that blogs are supposed to be this way, and blogs are just a foundation that helps you build the right authority, so that your landing pages, which are focused on commercial queries, can rank better.

It doesn’t work that way.

What you rank for, is who you are

We did an experiment at a company I worked for, we wanted to find out how Google ranks us for different topics. As to say, we needed to understand which category our website falls in, as far as Google’s algorithm is concerned.

This website had some serious organic traffic, a leader among its industry. The user experience was not awesome, but good enough. We posted two new articles, one of which was very closely tied to the product that they were selling and talked about how to solve a specific problem with their software.

The other blog focused on giving information on a topic related to their niche, and did not focus on converting the user at all (besides the CTAs in the header and footer of the website).

The informative blog started ranking in 3 weeks and the other blog took 3 months to rank on the first page. Both the keywords had an almost equal amount of keyword difficulty and search volume and mostly had the same competitors ranking for it.

The conclusion – if you start scaling your organic traffic too fast, you can be considered an informative blog website and you won’t get the recognition you need to rank what you actually want to sell, your product.

I know I am going to get a lot of ‘nays’ for this, but this is the reality for many businesses out there. The SEO spend has risen for the past few years and if you think about it, it costs way more than paid search marketing now. You cannot scale SEO beyond a certain point without heavily sacrificing your ROI.

Publishing massive amounts of content is bad for the industry

The perfect example of this is Zapier and monday.com – they post so much content that they have their weekly newsletters full of new content. Their strategy revolves around ranking for anything and everything in their niche. And while their content is awesome, you will find that they are indirectly using the same philosophy as Google, crushing the competition.

You cannot even think about competing with these two giants on organic channels. They have shit ton of more money than you, and their organic marketing channels are way stronger than you can ever be. A lot of new brands focus on organic marketing in the start because it is cheaper and they really strive to highlight the innovative new idea that they are bringing to the market. Only to find out that they need to target the same topics as their competitors do, with 20 times more money than them, it is impossible to beat them.

Google has always been vague about what makes a piece of content ‘good’, but even if they told us, these giants would easily capitalize on that to squash the innovative newcomers in seconds.

Google does not want you to rank for commercial queries

Let’s assume that all of the points I made above are utter superstition and false. Google rewards good content and you can change the destiny of your newly founded SaaS company by writing dope content.

How will they make money? They cannot.

Searching on Google is free, ranking on Google is free, and there is no layer in between the search done by the customer and eventually purchasing your product that benefits Google.

Now, let’s assume that Google does care about both factors and they want you to do the best by trying to rank for a commercial query, but you can also leverage their paid marketing features if you have less time or resources to work on SEO.

In that case, organic search results should be visible higher up than ads. Not the case, the advertisers, no matter how shitty their product or page is, are displayed above the organic search results, it is a clear preference.

And of course, Google is not the evil here, after all, they are profit-making company that needs revenue, one way or the other. I just think it is hypocritical of them to promote and glorify the ‘organic way’ when it is clear that it always has second dibs.

All your hard work writing 100s of blogs and establish topical authority goes down the drain against $10 that a shitty product company with loads of cash pays to Google for an ad for that keyword. What’s the point?

Start by calculating the man hours put to get a website to a reasonable DA, all of the content that needed to be produced to reach there, the failed experiments, the overpaid agencies, the freeloading employees, and then add up the costs of retargeting the people who land on that blog with email marketing, other blogs and whatnot, along with the cost of everything that was involved in helping convert that customer e.g. a kickass website design, that video above the fold, all the plugins you paid for to achieve high website speed for better rankings and whatnot.

Now compare that cost with setting up a landing page and working on some nicely written copy to target the same keyword with paid search. When done at scale, you will find that many of these keywords would have a much better ROI when compared to exclusively-organic marketing.

Most of us fail to understand the cost of SEO. Sure, there are masters out there that are able to get a better ROI than you, and there are many SEO agencies that do the job very well.

But mostly, it is a bargain. The average Joe cannot afford good SEO when building a startup. They also have no way to forecast if it will work or not. While PPC almost always has a clear ROI, SEO is vague and you cannot plan on it effectively.

Does this mean we stop doing SEO?

No, SEO would continue to remain at the center of your marketing strategy but it is no longer an independent channel. SEO can only be a starting point for a user’s journey till they convert with you. Because of how Google works, you can only be the bearer of quick answers for your visitors. But that also gives you the ability to target the same users with ads on social media and on other websites.

That said, all startups, big or small, should consider moving the better part of their investment in PPC. PPC helps you establish the base ROI for your product or service and it will give you perspective about your numbers, what you can achieve, how quickly you can achieve, and what will be the cost of it.

A good marketing strategy involves refining your PPC campaigns with the help of SEO, and not vice versa. It will be the most predictable, and it will be the most sustainable, regardless of competition.

Last words

I always caution people against it, and always give the advice that these channels are not perfect for business, and they will never be. At the end of the day, Google is a profit-making enterprise that will sacrifice what you get as a business to earn some extra cash, any day of the week.

Always have a strong marketing communications strategy that is able to adopt to any channel on any platform. Search engines are just one way of doing things, there are lots of other ways you can market your brand.

If you are curious on how sites that are not optimize for Google work, here is breath of fresh air with the awesome people at Fibery – the website is a work of art and reminds us how good copy should always come first. Check it out here: https://fibery.io

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