[This article was originally published on LinkedIn (7-28-14) in slightly different form.]
Karl “Web Genius” Steinmann here. I’ve been doing traditional SEO/SEM/social media marketing for a long time. I've ranked pages, videos and even whole sites to page one, number one on Google. I've spent years in the trenches doing all the dirty jobs, from content creation to backlink generation. Recently, I've spent a lot of time on social media, which, as many will agree, is an additional huge and largely worthless time suck. I've even dominated the entire first page of Google, controlling ten out of ten slots! Few SEO firms can deliver anything like that. The upshot is, I know of what I speak.
So here's the thing: In my considered opinion (and I know this is going to be controversial) professionals and small businesses operators have been thoroughly deceived by the industry about SEO/SEM/social media marketing. In fact, I have come to the rather radical conclusion that for most, online marketing is a more or less complete and utter waste of time and money!
Unless you're doing paid search the right way, that is! But more on that below.I know! I know! I can hear it now. What? Anathema! Heresy! Blasphemy! Burn him at the stake! He's crazy! He's wrong! He's evil!
While the reasons for my belief on this matter are many and varied, rest assured they derive from years of participation in and observation of the SEO/SEM/social media marketing industry. It would take far too long to go into all of them, but the main ones are as follows:
#1: Google Plays Favorites
Unless you've been in the game right along with them, odds are your collective competition has locked up page one of the important search results, and maybe even page two, three, etc.. In some cases. you’ll be going up against a decade’s worth of backlinking, social proof and citations. Google loves all that stuff, and places a lot of faith in site age, too. Once it finds sites it thinks are the most relevant for a search term, cybernetic inertia sets in. It’s particularly hard to dislodge established sites because you have to overcome Google’s long-term reliance on them.
So while your competitors are trusted by Google, you’re not. In fact, Google’s default assessment, until proven otherwise, is that you’re a lowly, untrustworthy scammer. Basically, you have to convince Google – through activity at your site, high-quality shares, backlinks and more – that your content is not just as good as, but considerably better than, the other guy’s. It’s a very tall order.
As for your established competitors, they’re like entrenched and fortified enemies atop very steep hills. It’s a long, brutal, protracted war you're going to have to fight to even have a prayer of “taking the hill,” much less holding it. And that's assuming you go on a total war footing, and “the enemy” stands pat. Odds are that while you're trying to fight that uphill battle, they're going to be doing considerably more than thumbing their noses at you! In SEO/social media, as in warfare, the enemy can do lots of things to reinforce his positions even as you’re trying to push him back. It can get really, really ugly.
Oh, and just to make your prospects even cheerier, keep this in mind: Negative SEO is a heck of a lot cheaper, faster and easier to do than what you need to do. For instance, your competition can send ten thousand “craplinks” (crappy backlinks) to your site for what it costs you to build ten good ones, and sink your site.
#2: Google Can’t Be Trusted
SEO/SEM/Social Media Marketing takes time and/or money. Lots of it. Long gone are the days when you could launch a quickie website, link it to Facebook and Twitter, throw a few backlinks at it and expect to dominate page one. On top of this, your Tweets, Facebook posts and Pinterest pins are competing against millions of others for eyeballs and attention spans (however brief).
These days, in order to achieve good results in SEO and social, by yourself, you’ll need to dedicate enormous amounts of time and energy to it. Why? Because you’ll need to create a ton of content, publish it, bookmark it, backlink it and rank it. Having done my fair share of it, I get exhausted just thinking about it. Don’t you?
The foregoing assumes you have the highly technical knowledge required to begin with. Even if you do, is all that unpleasant, boring grunt work the best use of your time? And at the end of the day – even with the most up-to-date knowledge and the best understanding of what makes Google “like” your content – you still have no idea of how well you're going to do, how long it's going to take, or what you'll have to do to keep your rankings once you've gotten them.
In short, you're trusting the search engines – which don't care about you, and which will throw you under the bus without notice – to keep your phone ringing for you.
The prestigious Search Engine Journal feels pretty much the same way about Google as I do. See what it had to say about Google's endless changes and seeming war on SEO.
Realistically, if you want to do anything other than SEO/SEM/Social Media Marketing – like actually run your business, for instance – you'll be forced to hire help. You’ll pay through the nose for a good team. And at the end of the day, you've still got the same big problem of uncertainty (“Will we rank at all? How long will it take?”) and impermanence (“We just dropped off page one again!”).
Google can and will change it’s search engine algorithm (by which it rates and ranks sites) regularly. So will the others (Bing, Yahoo, Ask, etc.). Such changes have driven more than one professional SEO over the edge. In short, the foundation upon which you'll be building your online business is less than stable. Quicksand would more aptly describe it.
#3: Google Hates You
To be clear, Google doesn't actually hate you. It just often feels that way. In truth, Google is entirely indifferent to you, your site and your traffic/ranking/SEO efforts. It doesn’t care. It couldn’t care less. But when you've just taken a “Google slap” in the face for the fourth or fifth time in as many years, you may understandably think Google is totally out to get you.
See, Google loves it's advertisers. It favors them. Profoundly. It cares not a whit about those who don't pay. It has no vested interest in helping you or anybody else achieve success in organic rankings. In fact, it actually has a strong interest in making your life difficult, because that increases the chances you'll throw up your hands and start using Adwords.
Google has designed it’s search results so that approximately 85% of the viewable page is taken up by paid ads. Until recently (when Google began putting a little yellow “AD” graphic on it’s paid listings*), most people didn’t even distinguish between paid and organic listings. Marketing research has shown that two-thirds of web searchers simply click on the first three results. In competitive markets, these are paid ads.
As if the above isn’t bad enough for those doing SEO/SEM/Social Media Marketing, it gets worse. About a third of the people who do click on the organic results click on the first one. For those of you keeping track, that’s approximately a third of a third chance, meaning that even a page one, number one listing only gets you small percentage of the total clicks (it’s actually about 12%). Other organic results get decreasing amounts of the remaining 21% or so, roughly in order of ranking.
Could you come up with a more self-defeating method of marketing than this if you tried? I mean, you can literally spend thousands of dollars and months worth of time and effort on SEO/social media, just to have a hope (but not a guarantee) of getting on page one. And then, assuming you make it (big assumption), you’ll be fighting over table scraps! Does this really seem like the best use of your resources, or any way to market/build a business? Call me crazy, but it seems like utter lunacy to me.
To sum up, Google has carefully designed (i.e. rigged) it’s search engine results to favor paid ads, over those attempting to get there with organic or “free” listings. Unfortunately for the latter, the “free” organic listings are not free any more – if they ever really were. It’s not a nice situation for those doing SEO/social media, but it is the way it is.
#4: Google Loves You (When You Use Adwords)
If you’ve got any kind of marketing budget at all, or you have a business with a high initial and/or lifetime customer value, then you really have no excuse for not using Adwords and/or other forms of paid search marketing.
Sure, clicks can seem costly in competitive markets. But again, what is your time worth? What about opportunity costs while you’re waiting for your content to (maybe) rank? What about business instability, because you can never know with any degree of certainty what results to expect, or count on a steady supply of good leads with SEO/SEM/Social Media Marketing, at least not long term.
Adwords solves all these problems, and opens up incredible new worlds of opportunity. Not only will you get the best possible kind of leads (they’re looking for what you have right now), you’ll get them in real time, and they’re exclusively yours. Unlike leads bought from lead brokers, these are not shared, rehashed leads. And unlike leads from organic SEO results and even social shares, the proportion of those looking to buy, versus those looking to look, is much higher. Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything else in the world like an Adwords lead. If you’re not getting them, you’re doing your business a great disservice.
I suggest you work with a professional marketer who also understands PPC. Be advised that most PPC Managers probably can’t and won’t give you the best possible results. They’re trained to be great technicians, but few know about modern marketing methods or how to implement them. Your ads need to be strong and your lead funnel effective. Unless all the elements are in place, you’ll pay a lot more than you probably should.
NOTE: if you haven't had great results with Google Adwords/paid search in the past, nine times out of ten it's the offer and/or the lead funnel that's the problem, not the platform itself.
Admonitions aside, in my experience (and I’ve taken over more than a few Adwords accounts recently), even mediocre results from PPC marketing are generally a lot more cost effective and a heck of a lot less trouble than the typical ongoing aggravations of organic SEO/SEM/Social Media Marketing!
It really comes down to this: Stay with “free” traffic generation methods, and pull your hair out. Go with paid (Google Adwords PPC), and enjoy stress-free growth and profits.
The choice is yours.
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*It remains to be seen how this new scheme will effect clicks. But one thing is certain. If clicks to ads are heavily impacted, Google will do something to fix it – to the benefit of advertisers, and the detriment of those doing SEO/social media.
To learn more about SEO/SEM and social media marketing vs. PPC, I suggest you take a look at this extremely informative infographic, which lays it all out in devastating detail. Most of the marketing statistics used in this article were pulled from that research.
Also, see my free ebook on doing paid search and using Adwords the right way. It was written specifically for legal eagles, but is applicable to nearly any business or profession. Check it out here: The Google Adwords Verdict.