Is SEO a rip off or a channel worth investing in?

SEO, noun, short for Search Engine Optimisation
“the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.”

SEO is one branch of marketing that is shrouded in mystery. SEO professionals are a curious bunch and seemingly have their own language. They can be defensive when asked to show their work and can be protective of their processes.
To add to the mystery, not all SEO professionals are created equal. It might be difficult to tell if the agency or freelancer you hired to optimise your site is any good. After all, an SEO report can be difficult to understand and steeped in dense technical language. Another common issue is that SEO is often mis-sold or tacked on to a wider marketing package without the in-house expertise to actually implement the work.
From the other side of the table, SEO professionals have an understandably difficult time explaining the work they do to people who don’t have the time or inclination to sit through SEO 101. White hat SEO (using good practices) is something that can take years to master, and it doesn’t help that the playing field is always shifting. Tactics that may have worked five years ago are near useless today.
This is why we’re here, playing devil’s advocate and asking if SEO is a rip-off or a valuable branch of digital marketing.
There’s no doubt that SEO done poorly is a complete waste of money. But this can be said of any kind of marketing activity. Running a paid social media campaign with poor visuals, messaging and targeting is just burning money. The reason SEO is so often unfairly singled out as being a waste of money could be down to a lack of understanding with the limits of SEO.
Understanding what SEO can and cannot do for your business is essential. Ultimately, we’re all slaves to Google, Bing and any other search engine you care to cater to. Your SEO agency or freelancer is just the middleman. How well they communicate your intention to Google is down to their skills and experience.
When done correctly, SEO can be a cost-effective and sustainable marketing activity. Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day and around 90% of those users will find the result they are looking for on the first page. If you want to increase organic traffic to your website, then playing the SEO game is often worthwhile.
SEO gets a bad reputation thanks to the black hat (dodgy, manipulative and definitely likely to get you a Google penalty) and grey hat (questionably dodgy and not recommended) techniques which became popular during the rise of search engines. Spammy techniques allowed unscrupulous SEO practitioners to manipulate the rankings in their favour which resulted in a poor experience for search users. Search engines responded by updating their algorithms to ignore these techniques and even punish sites for employing them.
Fast forward to today and things are no different. Search engines are still tinkering with their algorithms to help deliver the best possible results and SEO professionals and agencies are still trying to second guess their next move to manipulate the rankings.
At Auburn, we’ve always taken the same approach as Google. Putting your customer first, what their needs are and trying to solve their problems – and we’ve found this works well. This involves writing good content (that your customers find valuable), approaching other quality sites and authors and building good quality back links – but this is a time consuming  process.
As a small business, it’s hard to compete on big broad terms using SEO, however, when you stop going after the high search volume, high competition keywords and start looking at the hyper-niche keywords, you can tap into a sector of the market which will bring high intent traffic to your website, that’s when SEO can really pay off.

Tips for hiring an SEO agency

  • Go on recommendations or head to Google to find the companies that perform well in your area. If they can’t do it for themselves, it’s unlikely they’ll be able to help you.
  • Get a basic understanding of SEO before you meet with any agencies. There’s some great resources on MOZ
  • Do some research, ask your customers about which terms they would use to find you online, build a list of keywords that you feel are relevant.
  • Determine your main goals, whether it’s increased awareness, more conversions or increased engagement.
  • Ask for transparent reporting.  Agencies will often manipulate their reports to show the best performing keywords, so ask for consistency.
  • Get involved where you can. You don’t need to fully understand the process, but your insight can be useful in tasks such as selecting keywords to target.
  • Ask questions. If something is unclear, ask. If you are met with too much resistance, you might be with the wrong agency.