Studies show that approximately 51% of marketers struggle to keep up with changes in SEO (source: Net Imperative). Anecdotally, we also know that a significant number of B2B CMOs struggle to properly understand the value SEO can add to brand and business growth campaigns – as SEO experts, that's something we're keen to correct.
After all, research published by Search Engine Journal also shows that SEO has the best ROI of any digital marketing channel (source: Stratabeat). So why is SEO so misunderstood, and why do so many marketers struggle to stay abreast of the latest developments?
There's A Lot To Misunderstand
Truth be told, nobody working in the SEO industry really knows how Google - or any other major search engine - decides to rank content. We have resources like Google's Search Essentials and official developer blog (Search Central) that keep us abreast of major changes to ranking algorithms – and key updates to Google's overall intentions.
But a lot of the deep or technical knowledge about search optimisation has to be developed via constant experimentation with our own content or gleaned from research conducted by reputable 3rd parties like SEMRush or Moz.
People - marketers especially - like hard and fast rules that are backed up by plentiful data, but a lot of SEO is still guesswork and whenever someone does decide they've 'cracked the code' and found a foolproof way to improve the rank-ability of a web page, the wider industry invariably discovers a whole host of exceptions that render the tactic useless on all-but a small handful of niche-specific websites.
20+ years after people first started talking about SEO, industry professionals are still debating the true value of nofollow backlinks, arguing about whether social signals like shares or retweets really have an impact on rankings, or squabbling about whether duplicate content penalties really exist. (They don't, but we won't get into that here).
The rapidly-changing landscape, defined by constant re-invention and competitive experimentation, puts off a lot of marketing managers. Assuming that you're responsible for marketing a growing brand in the B2B space, you'll already be stretched across multiple paid and social channels, struggling to get to grips with video marketing or investigating smart ways to automate your email outreach.
Unless you're a real enthusiast, there simply isn't time to delve into the deeply-technical, domain-specific research required to truly understand the subject – so it's really no surprise to hear that the majority of marketers think they might misunderstand SEO.
SEO Guidelines Are Always Changing
It's not just the industry itself that's in flux either: The search engines themselves are constantly updating their best-practice guidelines to improve the general quality of the sites they're ranking and make sure their results pages are packed with informative content. You've probably heard of major updates like Penguin and Panda, but few people know that Google actually update their core search algorithm approximately 3,000 times a year (source: Moz).
Most of these updates are fairly minor, but some do make substantial changes to the way Google 's crawl bot evaluates web content and will - invariably - force adjustments to your SEO strategy.
You'll also find in-depth and regularly-updated change-logs on 3rd party websites like Moz or Search Engine Journal. But in all honesty, keeping up with every change made to Google's ranking algorithm is a full-time job in and of itself. We will also say that it's very easy to get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to search engine updates too.
There's often a distinct difference between what Google (and other search engines) say is changing, and what actually happens to the results on a given search engine results page (or SERP).
The Helpful Content update is a prime example. Here Google said they were making broad and sweeping changes to the way content was ranked – so that AI-generated content was removed from most SERPs and genuinely useful content got a ranking boost.
But the first iteration of the update didn't change the landscape much at all, and some outlets actually reported that their AI-generated got a bit of a ranking boost in the short-term (source: Surfer SEO).
Reading between the lines, and figuring out what's actually changing is an art form in its own right, which is yet another reason that seo is often misunderstood by people who don't have the time and resources needed to stay abreast of the industry.
The SEO Industry Is Full Of Cowboys
We try not to be too critical of other agencies here, but it'd be dishonest to the point of absurdity to publish an article about the misunderstood nature of SEO without mentioning the elephant in the room.Simply put, there are a lot of bad actors out there, spreading misinformation that fuels confusion about what SEO is, how it works and what it's capable of achieving. You can find most of them by typing SEO followed by a city name into a search engine. We provide UK-based SEO services and we have lots of conversations with businesses who have had bad experiences when buying SEO services.
The most obvious culprits are the scammers. You don't need any qualifications to offer SEO services, there's no meaningful regulation and no trustworthy authority to provide reliable accreditation which means it's relatively easy to invest time and money in an agency that promise the earth, but don't actually know how to deliver.
We're an SEO agency ourselves, and we still get several emails every day offering to get us on page one of Google for a bunch of highly competitive search terms – so it's easy to see how people get duped.
But it's not just the outright scammers that create confusion: A lot of well-meaning but incapable agencies also publish blog posts and 'informational content' that misunderstands some of the more complex or technical aspects of 21st century SEO which is why you'll still find a tonne of dangerously incorrect articles on the importance of core web vitals, or the best way to demonstrate topical authority.
Simply put, SEO is relatively straight-forward. People are out there, asking Google questions that relate to the products or services you offer – and the job of every good SEO campaign is to:
- Find the search terms they're using
- Create or optimise content that ranks for those terms
- Work to improve your website's overall rankability
But the actual "how" is incredibly important, and it's easy to mess up the fine-detail, which is why a lot of marketers who've worked with bad agencies in the past think that SEO doesn't work – or can't be trusted to drive growth.
SEO Doesn't Drive Instant Results
According to research published by SEMRush, the average SEO campaign takes between 6 and 12 months to yield measurable results (source: SEMRush).Because it takes time for any changes to the content on your website to have an effect on your position in the search engines, it's hard to know whether what you're doing is driving results or wasting your budget.
You have to take a long-term view and measure everything to ensure that you have a clear picture of what's working, and you always have to be adept at unpicking contradictory results.
Case in point: We recently published a blog post about HubSpot (a marketing platform we work with) and it rocketed straight to the top spot for a competitive keyword. A week later, we published a new blog post that used the same structure to target a related (but slightly different) keyword and it's still languishing on page three for the target search term.
Working out why a strategy worked in the first instance but not the second requires a forensic approach, and a sound knowledge of SEO best-practices. Absent these essential elements, it's all-but impossible to drive consistent results and you will be left with the (incorrect) impression that SEO is a waste of time.
What's The Answer To This Conundrum?
It'd be easy to cheap out here, and tell you to invest in the services of reliable SEO specialists like Red Evolution. But we'll refrain for two key reasons: Firstly, because we appreciate that a lot of B2B marketing managers are on a shoe-string budget and can't afford to hire a dedicated agency.And secondly, because we believe that everybody should have access to the information required to run a successful SEO campaign. This stuff isn't black magic, and we'd rather people understood the work involved in growing a brand via organic traffic.
For starters, we'd recommend keeping abreast of a few key resources. Our blog is a goldmine, as is Search Engine Journal, the SEMRush blog, the Moz blog and Search Engine Roundtable. These are all impartial sources at the top of their game, and they invest a lot of time and money in publishing reliably informative SEO content.
You should also focus on getting the basics right. If you create content for your ideal customers and try to provide genuinely useful, authoritative and trustworthy content, that's at least half the battle. Here are some other tips:
- Don't try to game Google's algorithm. You will get caught sooner or later.
- Focus on understanding your audiance's search behaviour
- Create the content your potential customers are actually looking for
- Keep adding new, original, useful content on relevant topics
- Remember to link back to your most important pages if it makes sense
There's obviously a lot more to it than this: You should also be double-checking that your content is indexed properly via Google Search Console, keeping on top of any crawl issues and ensuring that your site's properly optimised according to the latest best-practice guidelines.
It's also important to keep working on your overall domain authority and the user-experience you provide for new visitors. But if you can handle everything mentioned in the bullet points above, you'll be streets ahead of most brands – and a good way towards the goal of understanding the basics of SEO.
Who Can You Trust?
This is another tricky one. Generally speaking, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Look out for wildly optimistic promises and don't believe them. Instead, focus on finding people who practise what they preach and produce content that ranks for competitive keywords. People who don't offer quick fixes. People who start by understanding what you do and what you want to achieve before dishing out answers.People who genuinely care about what they do and would rather give you the best advice than just take your money. Take your time, get to know them, ask questions and make sure you are comfortable before you make any decisions.
SEO might be misunderstood, but it's not hugely technical or difficult to explain. Any SEO agency worth its salt will be willing to walk you through the ins and outs of what they do – or show you how the sausage is made.
To that end, we thought we'd end by pointing you to a more detailed resource designed to provide more insight into our own SEO process.