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SEO Retainers are a Waste of Money, Do This Instead

June 26, 2017
Rick Iorio

Don’t pay for SEO as a standalone service. There’s a better way to generate web traffic from search engines.

Now, let’s get one thing clear: no matter how you feel or what you’ve heard about SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as a digital marketing strategy — it used to work.

By that same token, so did Blockbuster Video.

Let me explain

I still watch as many movies as I did growing up, but it’s a lot easier now thanks in part to any number of streaming services on my phone, computer, or TV.

All that relevant video content, without the drive (or the late fees).

The entertainment industry had to evolve and find new ways to get awesome content in front of more people, faster. And just like streaming services pushed video stores like Blockbuster into obsolescence, the natural evolution of search engines like Google eliminated the need to pay a marketing agency exclusively to manage your SEO every month.

What is a Search Engine?

A web search engine is a piece of software that scans the internet for content corresponding to the keywords you type in. This software uses complicated algorithms to assemble what it considers the most relevant web pages, articles, and images in an ordered list on a Search Engine Results Page, or SERP.

In the heyday of SEO, agencies could employ labor-intensive tricks to bend major search engines’ rules, effectively helping your website look more enticing to their algorithms — even if your website wasn’t the best result for an SERP.

That was before search engines like Google got smart, and evolved. So, yes …

  • At one point, you could pay a marketing agency to structure your website in a manner that helped you rank for words and phrases that might not correspond with your actual web content. Those days are over.
  • At one point, you could pay marketers to build backlinks to your website, which search engines interpreted as a sign of trustworthiness. Those days are over.
  • At one point, SEO wizards could help even small businesses outrank Fortune 500 companies for identical keywords (usually just long enough to siphon off a serious chunk of revenue). Alas, those days are also over.

Today, if you want to rank on the first page of Google for specific keywords, you need a comprehensive digital marketing strategy. SEO alone won’t cut it.

These days …

  • You need to focus on creating helpful, shareable content on topics relevant to your industry.
  • You need to make sure your website is well designed, mobile-responsive, and optimized for search engines, which isn’t something you’d ever need a monthly retainer for.
  • You need to optimize your business listings on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and any other relevant local search engines, because Google isn’t the only one that matters.
  • You may even need to consider paid strategies to get your products and services in front of the right people.

Search engines put the relevance of SEO-specific marketing agencies to bed a long time ago by showing preference to relevant websites that produce helpful content and punishing those that try to skirt the rules.

Paying for SEO as a marketing service is a waste of money, and that isn’t changing anytime soon.

So, just as Blockbuster Video has faded into our cultural memory, so too has the need for your expensive SEO retainer.

Why Does It Suck to Work with an SEO Agency?

Three pain points consistently come up when I talk to business owners about their current (or former)SEO agencies:

  1. Lack of Transparency – You’re never sure what you’re paying for.
  2. Lack of Accountability – You don’t know if anything is working, and rarely see reporting.
  3. One-Sided Relationships – You get locked into mandatory 6 or 12-month retainers.

The truth is, SEO-centric agencies are artifacts of a bygone age of digital marketing.

Even as early as 2010, the writing was already on the wall for SEO. Inbound Marketing was still in its formative years, but Google was already shifting towards favoring content and context over SEO tricks and wizardry.

And, for almost a decade now, search engines have expressly favored websites that provide real value and positive experiences for their users.

The digital agencies that continue to sell SEO as a standalone marketing service ‘to propel your business towards long-term success’ are selling snake oil.

Plain and simple.

So …

Sound familiar?

Why Do So Many Businesses Still Pay for SEO?

I blame marketers.

From the start, the marketing community pushed SEO services on business owners so vigorously that even today SEO is ubiquitous with ‘digital marketing’. And while most marketers moved on and adapted to the digital marketing landscape, a handful have continued to capitalize on the misinformation surrounding SEO as a service — continuing to sell it in name alone.

Plus, regardless of how complicated as old school Search Engine Optimization actually was, the phrase ‘SEO’ is really easy to remember — just three little letters that were once synonymous with digital marketing success.

But to succeed today, you’ll need to put in the legwork. There are no more shortcuts.

So, to reiterate …

What Should You Pay For Instead of SEO?

Getting your website found today requires a holistic approach to everything digital. To successfully rank in Google, you’ll need to invest time, money and talent into optimizing your entire web presence.

That means …

  1. Enhance Your Website — Unless your website has thousands of pages, there’s no reason to pay a retainer for SEO services, month-over-month. Brush up on on-page SEO best practices, and make sure your website is both responsive and quick to load. Focus on cultivating a positive user experience with your website; because the easier it is to use and navigate, the higher your site will rank.
  2. Start Creating Your Own Content — Either develop (or hire a team with) the expertise to identify relevant industry keywords, trends, and topics. Then start creating! You can produce blogs, videos, webinars — whatever makes sense! It’s just important to consistently get your voice out there with relevant content that’s been optimized for the things your prospects are searching for.
  3. Optimize Your Digital ListingsOptimizing your local SEO is especially crucial if your business relies on foot traffic. The more consistent your digital business listings are across the web, the more trustworthy you look to Google and any other search engine. It also makes finding your physical location a lot easier. (Bonus SEO-points if you can encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)

Granted, there’s a lot that goes into each point above, but you get the picture: SEO-as-a-service won’t save your business. You’ll need a lot more than that in 2017 and beyond.

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