Is SEO worth it and how do I do it?

If you hate to read and don’t want to put much effort into this then read this section:

Top five things you should do to get your SEO right:

  1. Use a Content Management System (CMS) like Drupal, Wordpress, or Joomla.  There are hundreds of them and none are any better than these three.  I prefer Drupal because it is easy to add functionality to, but beginners may be more comfortable with Wordpress or Joomla.  They make your site technically correct and that goes a long way with search engines.
  2. Have lots of good content that links internally on your site.  People and search engines like references where they can verify the content, and navigate around.  Dead end pages are boring and often people just hit the back button
  3. Have a relevant URL for your site.  If your key words are in your URL, you get a bump. beats out and for the keywords “credit cards”.
  4. Be relevant in your industry.  If you are a small player with very little news, very little market share, no stock listing, no references from educational or governmental institutions or even industry associations, you are going to have a hard time getting up in the rankings.  Get involved in your industry community and with known legitimate entities like local municipalities and user groups.
  5. Pay only what SEO is worth to your business.  If you are a small business and your marketing budget is under 100k a year you may find that spending that money on a professional SEO consultation just isn’t worth it.  Take that money and spend it on local advertising.  Your return on your investment will probably be a lot higher than spending 20k on an SEO consultant.

A little more insight:

Do I need to do SEO and what are the benefits?

The short answer is yes, you need to do it.  Even if you are a sole proprietary and you only want people to find you when they search for your business name, you should make sure you are number one.  You don’t want some other business or company stealing customers who are looking specifically for you!  Even if you don’t hire a professional, you should at least use a content management system and fill out as much information about or site as the system will allow.

Given that most optimization projects can take twenty thousand dollars or more for legitimate research and report, it is a big investment for a small company, but a cheap and worthwhile one for a 20 million in revenue plus company.  If you aren’t doing it, your competition is and they will likely take those top spots and the potential customers that come with it.

What Can I do before I even get started?

Figure out what search terms are important to your business.  These should at a minimum be: Your company name, nicknames, product names and their nicknames.  You will find that for a medium sized company, getting those will be difficult to get the top spots on without branching off into the more obscure or general industry terms.  i.e. beer, construction software, CAD, BPS, etc.

Some of these terms can get suggested through an ad campaign, i.e. drinkability, but others fall into a long tail search category that may convert perfectly for your business into a sale.  Such as, “st. Louis landscaping perfection, reliability, integrity, service,” That gives you a very specific company that focuses on those items and is easier to attain than “St. Louis Landscaping” since that applies to over a thousand companies. 

Size Matters

The size of your company and its ability to generate newsworthy items and content is often out of a small companies control.  If you are small and only have a few employees it can be hard to make the news, have article written about you, do press releases and generally just get links back to your site from other sources. 

The more prestigious the sites linking to you are, the better the bump in Google’s rankings will be.  Government and educational institutions are best, forums and random niche websites are less helpful.  Industry associations are usually the best way to get links back to your site and the more prominently they are featured, the better it is for your site.  So, links from the front page of the “North America Builders Association” would be worth more than a link from an article that is nine months old.  A link from the front page of Rolling Stone would be huge for a band, but a link from Dave’s music blog won’t help much unless Dave gets a lot of traffic.

The things out of your control that you can influence are your product reviews, your user base, and your participation in outside communities.  Have something that other people care about and want to talk about!  Get out into the community and talk to people about what you have and why they should care.  Get them to blog, write and talk about your products without you around.  This is easier said than done and is an age-old marketing problem. 

It’s easier to generate interest in an entertainment product like a musician or a fun toy that consumers get to use and experience.  It’s a lot more difficult with a business-to-business product like fasteners or rivets.  People like a good hammer, but nobody talks about hammers.  People like talking about beer, payroll options, not so much.

The things within your control that you should definitely do: 

Get a domain name that is relevant to your target keywords and your business. beats out visa and mastercard for the keyword “Credit Cards” even though none of us has any idea what they do and their site is horrible looking.


Update your content regularly with relevant articles and products.  If you have anything to talk about get an article out there.

Make sure your site is technically correct.  No errors, no malformed code.  How do I do this?  Use a Content Management System like drupal, wordpress, or joomla.  They take care of all that nasty code writing for you.  Then make sure you use w3’s site html validator

Using a CMS to manage your content makes it very easy to modify the invisible tags on your site.  What invisible tags?  Meta-data and meta-description are in your html code and allow you to key in what keywords you think you should be first on Google for.  Google also uses your meta-description on its short description on the list and if you don’t have one filled in, it will try to piece one together for you.

How do I determine what SEO is worth to me and how much to spend on it?

It’s a fairly simple formula with a lot of problems:

(number of searches on a keyword) * (Number of clicks per ranking in Google) * (Conversion rate of those hits) * (profit of those conversions) = (Value of google ranking)

If the value of the Google ranking is greater than cost of the search engine optimization, then you should do it.



Lets say we are searching “jiu-jitsu gi” You will see that there are the “Pay-per click” advertisers at the top and right, then the “organic search results” in the middle.  When you do search engine optimization, you are trying to improve your organic search results.  Most people click on the first link.  Since this is an example lets say 90% of people click the first link 5% the second 4% the third, and 1% any of the other links (how to actually find these numbers is a whole other article).  Lets say for simplicity sake that ten thousand people search every year on this item.  You know from looking at your site data, that if they come to your site, they buy the gi 50% of the time and that the profit for that gi is 10$.

So with our formula we get this:

Being Number one for this keyword is worth:

(searches) * (value of position) * (Conversion Rate) * (product Profit)  = (value)

10,000        *              .9                *            .5                   *           $10           = $45000 

Being Number two for this keyword is worth:

(searches) * (value of position) * (Conversion Rate) * (product Profit)  = (value)

10,000        *              .05              *                .5               *               $10       = $2500

So if you optimize your site for twenty thousand dollars and you only get second place you just wasted a lot of money!  Of course if you have a lot of different products then you can make up that difference by not being number one, but you will find the math difficult to justify most of the time.

The most important question to ask before any others is, would my time and money be better spent on something else?  For a small local business this is often the case.  You need to look at how many customers you are going to get as a result of “optimizing” your site.  If you probably won’t be able to get into the top 3 in the search results for the terms you are optimizing for, it probably won’t get you any new customers.

The problem with SEO is that it is very difficult for many businesses to quantify what a visit to their site is actually worth.  If your sales process is well defined and you are able to break down the success rate of a prospect at each stage and their value, you may find that this is worth it. 

Most small and medium sized businesses (100M or less in revenue ) don’t have the time or resources to do this and it is easier to just throw 20-100k at a professional to do it for them over a six month project.  It isn’t an easy road, and will require the content owners of that company to make a lot of changes.  This also brings a set of costs that is often not included in the project plan presented by some marketing companies.

On a final note, beware the “SEO report” companies.  They do virtually nothing for your site, give you canned responses (use more kewords on your site), and don’t actually improve your ranking much.  Given the very industry specific and company specific goals that should be laid out before undertaking any SEO project, these automated reports are often costly and ineffective at actually improving anything.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me through the site, or any of the 100 ways I have available to you!

The Oatmeal SEO

Some useful tools for calculating and determining your SEO rating and functionality:

Last but not least, read what google has to say about it: