SEO is one of the most powerful tools in marketers’ arsenals, offering high ROI and allowing for efficient reuse of content. However, it isn’t without its drawbacks. It has a longer startup time than many other marketing channels and requires a team that can create expert-level content on a consistent basis.
In this article, we’ll explore each of these advantages and disadvantages in detail so that you can understand how to make the best use of SEO in your marketing strategy.
The Advantages of SEO
SEO has 4 main advantages over other digital marketing channels:
- SEO produces the highest long-term ROI of any digital channel
- Organic searchers trust the results of their own research, leading to warmer leads and shorter sales cycles
- Content created for SEO can be repurposed for other channels, leading to more efficient budget allocation
- Google’s search results prioritize content quality, allowing marketer skill to substitute for marketing spend
SEO has the highest ROI of any digital marketing channel, with our data showing an average ROI of 748%. The below chart compares SEO’s ROI against 8 other common digital marketing channels:
Digital Marketing Channel ROI, Compared
SEO’s high ROI is a tradeoff: if you can (a) assemble a motivated, creative team to produce content and (b) wait 2 years, your website is nearly certain to become an organic lead generator. And unlike with PPC, paid social, or influencer marketing where you pay for clicks or leads, the cost of SEO stays constant and does not scale with your success.
SEO is an inbound marketing channel, drawing in visitors from Google search and converting them into leads through engaging content. Because this journey is self-directed, leads feel more confident when their research leads them to reach out to a company compared to those who clicked on an ad. This effect results in shorter sales cycles, lowering customer acquisition costs.
Building trust in this way is not guaranteed, however, and average-quality content will fail to make a significant connection with searchers—even provided that it ranks in the first place. Only companies that commit to creating truly excellent content that responds to search intent will see this advantage.
Enables Content Repurposing
When you create exceptional content for SEO, your content can then be repurposed for other channels. A blog post that offers original, in-depth analysis can be used as the basis for an email or expanded into a webinar. Original research may be analyzed in greater depth in a white paper, and infographics created for a blog can be shared on social media. Repurposing content in this way reduces the cost of utilizing additional marketing channels, drawing in more leads without a commensurate increase in marketing spend, lowering your overall cost per lead.
Each piece of content that you repurpose must be tailored to the new audience and channel. Social media and email both lend themselves to shorter form content, with an audience less willing to engage with in-depth explorations than readers on your blog. Email lists, in particular, may be segmented by industry, position, or other demographics, allowing you to tailor language and content to be most relevant to each recipient. The below table shows examples of how one piece of content may be adjusted to best fit three new channels.
Content Repurposing By Channel
|Original SEO Content
|A standalone article that presents original insights and discusses a topic in-depth. The article uses an infographic to help illustrate its points. The article includes multiple CTAs, giving readers an opportunity to reach out to the sales team, or sign up for an email newsletter.
|A 1-2 sentence personal anecdote that relates to the key points discussed in the blog article, accompanied by the blog article’s infographic. The CTA encourages readers to click through to read the full article.
|~300 words that highlight one key point presented in the original blog article that includes actionable advice for readers. Each email includes personalization for its recipient, and links to the original blog post, 1-2 additional pieces of content, and a sales page.
|A 1-hour live presentation where a speaker expands upon the key insights from the original piece. This is followed by a workshop during which each attendee receives personalized advice for applying those insights.
Emphasizes Skill Over Spend
Google’s search results are a meritocracy, with the top results for a given keyword awarded to the pages that provide the best possible answer to that keyword’s search intent. SEO, therefore, is a primarily skill-based marketing channel, standing in contrast to paid channels like PPC or social media advertising which larger companies can dominate through sheer spend. Smaller companies are able to use careful keyword selection and original thought leadership content to drive more traffic than they would be able to afford were they to rely on paid channels.
The utility of SEO for smaller businesses is true even when many of their direct competitors have high domain ratings because of the high clickthrough rates of organic search results. Our research finds that ranking at the bottom of the first page leads to an average CTR of 2.2%—slightly higher than even the top ad position’s average CTR of 2.1%.
The Disadvantages of SEO
SEO is a powerful tool, but using it effectively requires understanding its drawbacks. They are:
- SEO is relatively slow to start, taking 4-6 months before beginning to show results
- Expert audience knowledge is required to select the right keywords to target, and mistakes are costly and time consuming to remedy
- Many companies find that the 2x weekly minimum publishing schedule is difficult to maintain
- Planning and executing a campaign requires a dedicated team of specialists, each with their own skill set
While SEO is a widely accessible marketing channel, it requires a great deal of effort and consistency to do correctly. Even assuming you do everything right, your expected rate of growth will likely be slower than you are hoping for. Google makes you earn its trust slowly, rewarding sites that invest in genuine, expert content after ~6 months.
The graph below shows growth in a website’s ability to rank on Google – measured using ahref’s “Domain Rating” – over a 3 year period.
Domain Rating Over Time
The growth rate depicted above assumes SEO best practices have been carried out correctly and that content is being published at least 8x / month. Under those conditions, by the middle of the third year, most sites will be able to rank in the top 5 search results on Google for the majority of keywords in their industry.
Requires Expert Audience Knowledge
At its core, SEO aims to satisfy searchers on a psychological level. Using the wrong tone or jargon can alienate readers. Hard-selling rather than educating can do the same (as can educating rather than selling if the search intent is transactional.) You’ll want to peg your audience correctly from the start, understanding their needs, problems, and the type of content they like to consume. If you don’t, SEO is a slow marketing channel to turn around.
To ensure your team understands its target audience, build personas based on your existing customers. Interview representative customers, noting demographics, industry, and job title, and ask them:
- What type of content do you engage with when researching new vendors?
- What made your company stand out from your competitors?
- What kind of CTAs/Introductions are you more likely to respond to?
- Are you more likely to respond to a conversational tone or an authoritative tone?
- Do you prefer quantitative or qualitative information?
- What metrics are most important to you when choosing a new vendor?
This information can then be organized into a short summary of what drives each customer, as seen below.
|Todd is a floor supervisor at a call center in dire need of internal communications software. He is constantly on the move between the office and the call floor addressing employee questions about various client accounts, but his movement often results in him missing requests from other employees and upper management. Todd is hoping to find a communications app that is optimized for phones or tablets — an internal communications solution he can carry around with him that integrates with the center’s existing Amazon-based call service and makes it easier for employees to message him.
Each piece of SEO content you create should target a specific persona (memorialized in your editorial calendar), allowing your writers to tailor their language to the exact type of customer you’re seeking.
Demands Consistent Publication
The most important factor in Google’s algorithm is the consistent publication of high quality content, and according to our research, SEO requires that you publish a minimum of 2 new pages each week in order to produce ROI.
Many companies find that producing high-quality content at this rate is challenging, particularly when their top experts are needed for their regular business operations. The simplest way to address this challenge is to work with an outside agency that specializes in creating SEO-driven thought leadership.
Requires Specialist Skills to Rank
Successful SEO campaigns leverage the skillsets of several highly experienced specialists. We’ve found that the most efficient team setup includes the following roles:
SEO Specialists By Type
|Responsible for creating written content (articles, landing pages, white papers, etc). As the SME on the account, they must possess deep subject-specific knowledge.
|Responsible for creating target audience personas and aligning content with target audience goals and client brand perspective.
|Responsible for tracking and monitoring team progress and assessing campaign progress according to KPIs. Serves as the main POC if working with an external client.
|Responsible for keyword research & vetting practices, topic creation, and the overall strategic direction of the campaign.
|Responsible for the creation and implementation of visual elements within the written content, as well as technical updates such as website redesigns.
Whether strategically optimized content ranks will ultimately depend on its quality and publication consistency. While a company does not need vast resources to properly execute SEO, a skilled team is a prerequisite.
Where Does SEO Fit Into Your Marketing Strategy?
To help you determine how you should incorporate SEO into your marketing strategy, the table below matches common company types with SEO-based strategies.
SEO Marketing Approach by Company Type
|Best Marketing Approach
|A company (e.g. venture-backed fintech startup) with < $1 million in revenue seeking to establish itself as an expert in its field and drive traffic to its website.
|Combined SEO with PPC to drive awareness and build strong long-term lead generation systems
|A business (e.g. early stage biotech company) seeking to become an authority figure in a niche industry by introducing new concepts, clarifying opaque ones, and leading industry conversations.
|SEO-driven thought leadership to establish themselves as an authority in their industry
|Large-scale companies seeking to continue their established pattern of growth and increase brand awareness to gain market share.
|Thought leadership-style SEO content, white papers, webinars, and social media posting to build incremental awareness
|Companies Preparing to Sell
|Mature businesses with >$1M in EBITDA that are ready to engage in an M&A process.
|SEO to generate low-CAC leads, boost revenue, and achieve a higher valuation multiple
|Companies Needing Immediate Lead Generation
|SEO is less likely to be effective, as SEO campaigns take time to grow organically. Common examples include companies launching new products and consumer ecommerce companies.
|PPC for immediate lead generation, with investment into SEO to increase long-term ROI
|Companies Targeting Small, Valuable Audiences
|A company that relies on a few large sales each a calendar year, particularly those in industries with a traditional culture (e.g. semiconductor, and oil & gas).
|ABM, backed by targeted SEO content
Getting Started on an SEO Marketing Campaign
The challenges associated with SEO make it difficult for companies to determine if SEO marketing is the right choice. SEO campaigns take time to grow, even when everything is done correctly. Moreover, following best practices requires a talented team of industry experts, which most companies do not have available in-house.
As a result, many companies opt to outsource the heavy lifting of their campaigns to an experienced SEO company. Our agency helps clients across various industries navigate the challenges of growing an SEO campaign, identifying target audiences, creating content, and measuring performance. Contact us to discuss a future partnership.