As an SEO consultant my main objective is to make money for my clients with traffic from search engines. However, after doing that for 14 years I’ve ironically also learned how to waste a lot of money as well. No, it’s not because of mistakes I’ve made or failed SEO strategies, instead I’ve learned all sorts of different ways to waste money with SEO by watching businesses engage in practices that are sure to ruin their return on investment and kill any chances at making a profit with organic traffic.
Because of this I thought it might be fun to do something a little different and teach you all some of the quickest ways to fail at SEO. Hopefully after reading this article you can learn what not to do and mitigate the biggest pitfalls that are most likely to occur.
Investment with no execution.
One of my primary consulting products is an all-inclusive technical SEO audit that covers every aspect of a website’s optimization for SEO. If executed correctly almost every client that gets the audit is guaranteed to see some form of improved performance as a result. Which is one reason I am always surprised when a business will hire me to develop this type of report and then not follow through with execution of any of the recommendations found inside. Sometimes a business might find it difficult to execute some of the elements of an audit and that’s completely understandable but to ignore the entire document is a complete waste of money. Ideally I like to see my clients execute on every recommendation within my audits however implementing at least only the high priority items can still provide value. Failing to execute everything will only guarantee that your company loses money in the short term and on the cost of the audit that you ignored; and in the long term on the opportunity loss of not optimizing your site.
Investment with no strategy.
Every business should be implementing SEO within the framework of a strategy that is well aligned with their business goals. Failing to do this increases the likelihood that increases in performance will be misaligned with other business and marketing KPIs. For example after investing in SEO for about 6 months you might notice a dramatic increase in organic traffic from your blog section. That sounds great except these pages might be your lowest converting pages, while your landing pages or product pages are not ranking at all for any useful terms. This is a typical problem that comes from implementing SEO without a strategic framework in the beginning. Now you are forced to funnel traffic from the blog to other parts of the site. Which might not work and can cost more money and time; which you could have saved by aligning the right strategy from the beginning.
Investment with the wrong expectations.
Throughout my career I’ve spoken to many different types of businesses interested in SEO. Some are very well established and others are just getting started. Oftentimes a business owner or in-house marketing executive may not be fully aware of the competitive nature of SEO. It’s oftentimes that these types of clients will have unreasonable expectations for success. Some clients are interested in ranking number one for highly competitive search terms while being completely unaware that many companies will invest millions over the course of years into that type of exposure. Other clients may have more modest expectations about ranking but assume that the turnaround for the SEO process should be almost instantaneous.
When I am faced with these types of misunderstandings I do my best to reset their expectations. In some cases I even discourage new businesses from pursuing SEO entirely if they are only fixed on the wrong expectations. However I often hear stories of businesses that dive headfirst into SEO with these types of unfair expectations applied. As a result they end up wasting almost all of their SEO budget within verticals that they cannot barely even make a dent in. They would have gotten better traction if they worked with a consultant that helped them develop a strategy to maximize exposure in a less competitive way, over time.
Investment with a small budget.
There is a very good reason that most SEO consultants and agencies have a required minimum budget to engage. This is simply to ensure that there are enough resources for success. The truth is, SEO can be resource intensive especially if you’re just starting out. Therefore if you’re not allocating enough money to your success with SEO, it’s likely that you’re just wasting money in the process. Even the assumption that every little bit helps, isn’t often the case with SEO. Small investments in SEO often are misguided and become ineffective over time because of the competitive nature of search results, and the often ever changing content and structure of a web site over time.
Investment while ignoring best practices.
One time I did a very large audit for a client that had a medium size site that was under performing for most of its target keywords. After the audit was done I reviewed it with the client and they said that they were surprised that a lot of the information in the audit was “basic SEO”. My response was that I was surprised they hadn’t tackled the “basic SEO” yet. For some reason this client, like many other business owners, assume that basic SEO best practices do not have as much value as advanced or theoretical SEO tactics. The truth is, SEO best practices are the most guaranteed way to increase your organic traffic performance.
Out of the potentially thousands of different things that a business owner can do to improve the SEO performance of their website, best practices are typically the only ones that we are certain will provide value. While there are many other tactics that SEOs understand to work well based on experience and testing, best practices are the known best things to do. This is why they are called best practices. Failing to implement best practices especially in the beginning of your SEO investment will increase the likelihood that you are wasting money on SEO because you’re not getting the full value out of that investment.
Investment in high risk tactics.
Over optimized content, buying backlinks, keyword stuffing, or pretty much anything else that violates Google’s guidelines can be considered high risk tactics for SEO. By implementing high risk tactics without any risk mitigation strategy in place you are likely to waste large investments in SEO, as the algorithms will detect this behavior and filter your site accordingly. Or even worse a search quality engineer will issue a manual penalty which can completely remove your site from the first five or six pages of results until you have corrected the problem and submitted a reconsideration request. All of which will require further investment to fix any issues and even then there’s no guarantee you will come out anywhere near where you used to be before the penalty.
Imagine going to an expensive restaurant and paying top dollar for a 6 course meal, only to come home and spend the next two days on the toilet with food poisoning. This expensive dinner made you sick as a dog, but you still had to pay for it! That is what paying for high risk SEO tactics is like. You can spend the same amount of money if not less on tactics and strategies that adhere to best practices and get better results in the process without the risk.
Investment in low quality.
I love eating sandwiches. One thing that I’ve learned over the years is that it doesn’t particularly matter what type of sandwich you get as much as it matters the quality of the ingredients. It’s possible for two delis to create the exact same sandwich with completely different results based on the quality of the ingredients used. I refuse to get my favorite sandwich at certain national franchises because of this.
This is of course the same for SEO. It’s possible to utilize the same strategy as others, stick to SEO best practices, and even follow all of Google’s quality guidelines, and despite all of this still see no traction within the results and not move the needle in any meaningful way. If this seems like something you’ve experienced, it’s likely because the quality of your work is subpar. In the past I’ve discussed how quality in the search engine’s perspective can be highly subjective. However there are indicators that you aren’t producing higher quality content and messaging.
If you’re not focused on quality as a factor in your SEO process in some way, it’s likely you will lose considerable portions of your SEO investment, not because of any inherent risk but moreover because you will not attract the right factors or align with the right semantic relevance.
Investment with little experience.
Imagine that you are an in-house digital marketing manager (or maybe you actually are). You might have read a lot of blog posts about SEO, follow a lot of popular SEOs on Twitter and Linkedin, maybe even attended an SEO conference or event. but when it comes to doing actual SEO you might feel inexperienced or not very prepared. This is typical for most marketing professionals who do not include SEO as their main function within their organization.
Despite this being commonplace it does not change the fact that you’ve been given a budget and tasked with spending this money in a way that gets the best results within the SERPs. In order to maximize your ROI on this investment you really should work alongside someone with the necessary experience to make the right decisions on how to spend your SEO budget.
Working with an experienced SEO brings with it a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which can be invaluable to an organization. These individuals have a proven track record of success in their field and are often capable of hitting the ground running with little to no training. They can provide valuable insights, contribute to efficient problem-solving, and act as mentors to less experienced team members. Additionally, experienced SEOs typically possess a strong professional network, which can be advantageous for business development and collaboration opportunities.
In conclusion, as an SEO consultant, I have seen both the triumphs and pitfalls of various SEO strategies. While my primary goal is to generate profits for clients through organic traffic, I also recognize the importance of learning from common mistakes. By sharing these insights on the quickest ways to fail at SEO, my hope is that you will avoid these mistakes and instead focus on effective strategies that yield positive results. Remember, knowledge is power – and understanding what not to do is just as crucial as knowing what to do.