Originally posted on readwrite.
When you enter the realm of digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) becomes immediately appealing. SEO is cheap, it’s relatively learnable, and it holds the promise of amazing long-term results with one of the highest ROIs of any online marketing strategy. That’s one reason why the SEO world is full of optimistic newcomers, all hoping to eventually come to dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs).
But, almost inevitably, many companies that enter the SEO game eventually quit. Sometimes, they quit after just a few months. Other times, they quit after a few years. Sometimes, they stop paying their own people to practice SEO to divert those assets to other campaigns. Other times, they bring their SEO agency contract to an end.
Whatever the case, these companies pull out of an otherwise promising, alluring strategy – so why do they do it?
There are many possible reasons.
The Modern SEO Landscape
Before we delve into the factors potentially responsible for these premature SEO campaign endings, let’s examine the modern SEO landscape.
In case you aren’t familiar, SEO is all about increasing the rankings of your website’s pages in SERPs. Through a combination of technical onsite optimization, onsite content writing, offsite content writing, and link building, you can boost your site’s reputation, improve your alignment with relevant keywords, and eventually rank higher for the terms your customers are searching for.
SEO is constantly changing. Google is continuously refining its algorithm, and new competitors are constantly entering the game. These days, the online world is overcrowded with entrepreneurs, marketers, and individuals all trying to get to the top of the SERPs, making it hard for people to enter, let alone find success.
With that in mind, why are so many companies ending their strategies early?
Timing and Impatience
For starters, many people leave simply due to impatience. After a month of investment and effort, they don’t see the results they were hoping for – so they bail out, rather than continuing to waste money on what they see as a failed experiment.
The reality is that limited initial results are typical and to be expected in the SEO world, and it takes time for Google’s index to update. In addition, you’re likely dealing with highly entrenched competitors, and it’s common for companies to wait several months, or even years before they see the results they want.
You can expect at least three months of effort before you start seeing progress and at least six months before you start making a sizable return on your investment.
Scams and Misleading Agencies
SEO participants also abandon their strategies because of scamming or misleading SEO agencies. While there are many qualified, reliable, and expert SEO agencies to choose from, there are also many low-quality and questionable vendors in the market.
Some agencies rely on “black hat” practices – in other words, tactics that are unethical or those that violate Google’s terms of service – to artificially boost results in the short-term, while setting up clients for long-term failure. Agencies that promise suspiciously fast results typically fall into this category. Instead, they write poor-quality content, spam links, and have little regard for the distant future.
Some agencies try to lock you into a long-term contract or force you into a specific SEO plan, regardless of whether it’s a good fit for you. These companies are excessively rigid, and they tend to provide you with a poor client experience.
If you have a bad experience with your agency, it’s only natural that you’d be soured on SEO in general.
The Learning Curve
Make no mistake – despite SEO’s reputation as being relatively beginner-friendly, link building and other SEO tactics are hard. There are numerous ways that your strategy can fail, and hundreds of little things to learn.
Broadly speaking, the goals and best practices of SEO are clear. You have to write good content, optimize for keywords relevant to your audience, and build links to your domain. That sounds simple, right?
But as you dive deeper into this topic, you’ll learn the importance of technically polishing your back-end code, building links that appear natural, scaling your efforts appropriately, and writing content of high enough quality to trounce your competitors. With more than 200 ranking factors to consider and hundreds of nuances of SEO to learn, most beginners quickly find themselves intimidated.
After practicing some early SEO tactics, when people find they’re still in over their head – or fall even deeper into these pits – they feel like their only real option is to leave.
Your high-level strategy will dictate your fate in SEO. One of your most important considerations will be choosing target keywords. If you manage to select high-volume, low-competition keywords, you can deftly avoid competitors while capitalizing on the most significant potential stream of organic visitors.
On the other hand, if you choose bad targets or don’t approach your keywords the correct way, your entire strategy may crumble. Once search marketers start to see poor results, they blame SEO itself – rather than identifying this root cause appropriately.
Competition is a common problem in many online marketing strategies; it’s not limited to SEO. But in the SEO world, it’s especially prevalent and apparent. If you’re trying to compete with a multibillion-dollar company that’s been investing in SEO for 15 years, you’re not going to have much luck overtaking them. Once marketers realize that it’s almost impossible to compete directly with some of these brands, they abandon their efforts entirely.
This, however, is a mistake. While direct competition can be financially and logistically draining, it’s not always impossible – and it’s never the only option. In the SEO world, you can find success by indirectly competing; for example, you can choose to target a different set of keywords, a different demographic, or even a different area of the country entirely.
Penalties and Other Setbacks
SEO can come with setbacks. And they’re never fun to deal with. If you’ve spent months or years pouring money and time into SEO, the last thing you want to see is a manual penalty delisting you from search results altogether. There are ways to overcome these challenges, but some marketers are too disheartened or intimidated to try and find the reasons, and it takes strategy to get past the penalities.
Unwillingness to Adapt
You can’t be successful in SEO unless you’re willing to adapt, changing your tactics as you learn more about your competition and as you research new Google algorithm changes. Unfortunately, some companies are simply unwilling to learn these new parameters — so they quit the SEO game entirely.
Other Favorable Strategies
In some cases, companies pull money or resources out of SEO strategies to invest the money or resources in other strategies that seem more favorable to them.
For example, if a company sees 400 percent ROI from their social media marketing strategy, but their SEO strategy is offering a measly 120 percent return, they may divert their SEO spending to social media. However ever, these companies usually don’t understand that SEO is driving social too.
The Synergistic Power of SEO
This is often logical and intuitive on the surface, but the marketers who do this often neglect the synergistic power of SEO. While SEO may have a lower direct return on investment than some of your other online marketing strategies, SEO has a powerful indirect effect on your other tactics; higher visibility in search engines and more organic traffic can support your online brand strategy in countless ways.
SEO isn’t the best strategy for every business or every competitive context.
Because of this, some companies are totally justified in ending their campaigns – and some should have never started SEO, to begin with. But if you’ve done your research and you know SEO to be a valuable, reasonable strategy for your business, be careful not to withdraw too soon or for the wrong reasons.
On the other hand, if you stick with it and are willing to adapt, it could pay for itself in time.