Understanding SEO Investment: What You Should Expect When You Pay to Rank

A closeup of a person's hands holding a mobile phone and performing a web search

It’s no secret that Google is the undisputed leader in website traffic referrals. Research by SparkToro and Datos found that 63.41% of all US web traffic referrals from the top 170 websites were initiated on Google. For sites outside the top 170, Google was responsible for an even larger percentage of referrals — 72.48%.

This means that if you want your site to have good online visibility, it better rank high on Google. How do you do that? With search engine optimization (SEO)!

Any marketer will tell you that SEO is an essential digital marketing strategy. Yet, at least initially, many business owners hesitate to invest in it. Unlike tangible marketing pieces such as brochures or tradeshow displays, the value of SEO isn’t immediately apparent. Business owners can be skeptical and worry that they’re wasting cash without a physical object to point to or immediate evidence that they’ve gotten their money’s worth.

It’s important to understand that competition to rank on Google’s search engine result page (SERP) is fierce. It’s not easy to rank, and maintaining your ranking is just as difficult.

In this article, we will help you understand why SEO investment is necessary and give you an idea of what you can expect when you pay a marketing agency or SEO expert to get your web pages to rank.

What is SEO?

The SEO process involves making a website more easily located by search engines. This increased visibility results in more traffic.

Two kinds of tactics are utilized.

On-page SEO tactics

On-page SEO tactics are applied to a company’s web pages to influence their search engine ranking. They include optimizations to things such as:

  • Meta tags
  • URL structure
  • Content
  • User experience (UX)

Off-page SEO tactics

Off-page SEO tactics are applied away from a company’s web pages to help the site rank better. They include tasks such as:

  • Building backlinks (links back to your site) from websites with high domain authority
  • Building citations, which are mentions of your business name, address and phone number (abbreviated as NAP) on external websites, commonly directories
  • Establishing a social media presence on multiple platforms to build links on sites with high domain authority

It’s important to have at least a basic understanding of something before you invest in it. Now that you do, let’s move on and discuss why you need to open up your wallet when dealing with Google.

Why SEM & SEO Investment are Necessary for Your Business to Rank on Google

Google didn’t become the global giant it is by giving away its services and making it easy to rank. As you probably know, there are two ways for your web pages to appear in the SERP: organically or via paid ads.

Whichever method is selected (sometimes both), businesses ultimately pay to rank. Their search engine marketing (SEM) investment goes to Google to pay for ads or to a marketing agency/SEO expert to maximize organic results.

Pay-per-click (PPC)

In the pay-per-click (PPC) advertising model, the ad appears at the top of the SERP above the organic search results. The advertiser pays a fee each time the ad is clicked.

Google’s primary source of revenue is its PPC platform: Google Ads. When you utilize paid search, you go through this process:

  1. Determine your campaign goal
  2. Select the keywords for which you want to rank
  3. Create your ad
  4. Set your target audience and budget
  5. Finalize and launch the campaign

To learn more, check out Google’s overview of setting up a campaign.

Organic SEO

Organic SEO involves implementing the on-page and off-page tactics mentioned previously to make your web pages climb the SERP rankings and maintain their positions.

Google doesn’t want anyone to “win” at organic search because it doesn’t generate revenue for them. That’s why Google frequently makes algorithm updates. The algorithms are a complex system that pulls data from Google’s search index to provide the user with the most relevant results for their search query.

The algorithms and nuances of the 200+ ranking factors Google uses to identify high-quality, relevant content are constantly evolving. This ensures that users receive results that best match their search intent and prevents individuals or businesses from “cracking the code” of ranking.

If a formula was available that guaranteed improved ranking and increased organic traffic, there would be no incentive to pay for Google Ads. Google wants to make it challenging enough to achieve a high ranking that you’ll eventually give up and allocate funds in your marketing budget for PPC ads.

That’s not to say your entire SEO investment should be in paid search. You don’t want to be completely dependent on ads and should look to generate consistent organic traffic. Research by BrightEdge found that 53% of website traffic was organic.

However, many businesses don’t have in-house personnel with the knowledge and resources necessary to keep up with Google’s evolution and implement the appropriate optimizations. That’s where agencies come in. Their experts can keep up with the trends and respond accordingly with actions that will keep your organic traffic levels where you want them.

How Paying for SEO & Improving Your Digital Presence Translates to Sales

What is the correlation between SEO and sales? How do your SEO investments generate revenue for your business? It’s all about improving your digital presence!

Here’s the progression:

  1. Improved digital presence = Higher rank for the right search terms
  2. Higher rank = More visibility for your business
  3. More visibility = More clicks/calls
  4. More clicks/calls = More opportunities
  5. More opportunities = More business/$$$

The bigger your business’s digital presence, the bigger the yield will be every step along the way. With this in mind, wouldn’t you agree that it’s worth it to invest in SEO?

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Setting Expectations of When You Should Start Seeing a Return on Your SEO Investment

The natural next question is, when will I begin to see positive ROI on my SEO investment? It would be nice if there was a clear-cut answer, but unfortunately, there isn’t.

Many variables impact how quickly you can expect your SEO strategy to make inroads. Let’s take a quick look at some of the ranking factors.

Crawling & indexing

For Google to rank your web pages, it first needs to understand their content. It does this by utilizing automated bots called spiders that scan pages’ HTML code.

The information that is collected is then indexed. This means that it’s sorted and stored in a giant database where it can be retrieved and displayed in the SERP when it’s relevant to a user’s search query.

It can take Google time to crawl and index pages. Some technical SEO action steps can be taken to signal to Google that you want your site to be crawled and make it easier to complete. However, the timing of when the process is complete is ultimately outside of your control.

Page speed

Google wants its users to have a positive experience. Part of delivering on that promise is ensuring the page loads quickly, particularly on mobile devices. A fast-loading website has a better chance of ranking higher on the SERP than a slow-loading website.

A website speed test can indicate your site’s performance and provide a list of action steps to increase the speed. How quickly your site speed can be increased depends on its current performance and the quantity and complexity of the action steps.

Mobile-friendliness

Another factor influencing user experience and ranking is how mobile-friendly a website is. Because mobile accounts for 60% of website traffic as of March 2024, it’s crucial that your site displays and functions well on mobile devices.

As with page speed, a test can grade your site and provide recommendations for improving it for mobile users. The amount of work required will affect how quickly you’ll start seeing improved SEO performance.

Domain history

Your domain’s age also impacts how long it will take for SEO to work. Normally, an older domain will perform better than a younger one. Research by Ahrefs found that 60% of pages that rank in the top 10 are at least three years old.

Older domains are more established and have a longer history with Google crawling the pages. They are also more likely to have an extensive backlink profile. A newer domain needs time to establish its profile and build SEO momentum.

However, that doesn’t mean a new website won’t be able to compete with an older one. SEO strategies will just need to be applied in other key areas to compensate for the lack of age.

Keyword competition

The level of competition for keywords is a big factor in how difficult or easy it is to rank. If you target highly competitive keywords, it will be more challenging to rank high and maintain your ranking. It’s easier to rank for less competitive keywords, but this comes with the caveat that less competition usually means less search volume.

Think of it this way; the challenge is greater to rank for “Chicago restaurant” than for “digital marketing agency in Ottawa, Illinois.” There are many more restaurants in a major city like Chicago than there are digital marketing agencies in the small community of Ottawa.

The more competitive your market, the more time it will take to establish a foothold in the SERP.

Optimized content

You’ve probably heard it a lot: Content is king. The content on your site is critical to how quickly you’ll start to be ranked higher by Google and other search engines.

With content, quality is more important than quantity. It’s better to have a few high-quality, SEO-optimized pages than many low-quality, unoptimized pages. Google wants content to display experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

If your existing website content satisfies E-E-A-T, that’s to your benefit. But if it doesn’t, your team or someone outside your business will need to create content and the SEO team will need to spend time optimizing content. The amount of content creation and optimization needed will affect how soon you’ll see results.

Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to the on-page tactics we covered earlier in this article. The length and complexity of your site’s to-do list impact your timeline of when your SEO investments will begin to pay dividends.

Links

Links are another important ranking signal. There are three kinds of links to consider.

  1. Inbound links – Links to your site from other websites with high domain authority (also known as backlinks, as mentioned earlier when we discussed off-page SEO)
  2. Outbound links – Links from your site to other relevant and authoritative websites that demonstrate you are providing quality, valuable content
  3. Internal links – Links between the pages on your site that help your visitors find your other relevant, valuable content and share authority

Link building should be natural. Google penalizes “black hat” techniques like paying for backlinks or creating several links to content that isn’t high-quality or relevant. As such, it will take time to build your link profile to the degree where it improves SEO performance.

What’s the takeaway of all this?

The results of SEO efforts don’t appear overnight (or for weeks or even months). SEO is a long-term investment; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. However, a well-executed strategy will yield long-term benefits and establish a strong digital foundation for sustained business growth and profitability.

Organic Website Listing vs. Google Business Profile (GBP)/Local Search Grid: A Comparison

We already compared PPC and organic SEO. But did you know there are different ways results can be displayed on the search engine results page?

Depending on the nature of the search query, the user will either see organic or local results.

Organic website listing

An organic website listing can come in a variety of forms including text, images, videos and more. Organic listings appear below PPC and local results and are intended to share sites that provide relevant information to satisfy the search intent.

Several variables influence a business’s organic ranking. They include many of the things we touched upon earlier:

  • Competitors — national or within your service area
  • Keyword competition (which may or may not be businesses you identify as a competitor in your market)
  • Site content
  • Website authority
  • On-page optimization
Google organic search results for the query "veterinarian services"

Google Business Profile/local search grid

Local results have a geographical component. They are intended to help searchers find businesses in their current location or specified search area that provide the product or service they want to learn more about.

The top-ranking businesses will have their Google Business Profiles displayed, along with a Google Map with pins showing the business locations.

Local search/GBP ranking is impacted by:

  • Competition within your service area
  • Completeness of your GBP
  • Reviews — Star rating, quantity & recency
Google local search results for the query "veterinarian near me"

Can you rank for both organic and local results?

Your business can rank for both organic and local results, and it’s a good goal to have. The more opportunities you have to appear in the search results and get in front of potential customers, the better.

This is especially true if you want customers to visit your physical location. With the right SEO strategy and investment, you can increase both foot traffic and web traffic.

The Importance of Keyword-Rich Content to SEO

We touched on optimized content earlier and how it must demonstrate your company’s experience, expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). It’s also important that the content is rich in the right keywords.

To rank on Google, your content must contain the relevant keywords people use when they type a question or phrase into the search bar. Having keyword-rich content signals to Google that you can provide the answers and information the user is seeking.

Many keyword research tools can help you identify the best ones to target based on your industry, location, competitors, etc. Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) tools have become prevalent and valuable to many companies. AI can assist with keyword research and content creation, helping writers work more efficiently and effectively.

Whether you utilize only human workers, AI or a combination, it’s crucial that your SEO and content work in tandem.

What to Expect When You Pay an Agency for SEO Services

What happens when you hire an agency to help you with SEO? First, it’s important to know that good SEO services are not designed to be “one size fits all.” Your level of investment will be based on how competitive the market is in your area.

For example, at Adventure Marketing Solutions, our Local SEO packages are broken into three tiers:

  • Startup Package – For areas with low competition
  • Growth Package – For areas with moderate competition
  • Scale Package – For areas with high competition

Depending on other circumstances, including your SEO budget, we may also recommend an occasional boosted service in addition to our monthly packages.

The timeline of SEO efforts is roughly as follows:

Months 1-3

Goal: Complete prep of your website and Google Business Profile so the ensuing SEO tactics will have maximum impact.

  • Customer onboarding and collecting log-in credentials
  • Keyword selection
  • Keyword mapping
  • Website on-page optimization
  • Google Business Profile optimization
  • Reporting setup
  • XML sitemap and submission
  • Schema setup and submission

Months 4-12

Goal: Have 80% of your core keywords ranking in a top 10 organic position.

  • Analysis of existing directory listings and correcting incorrect/inconsistent information
  • Creation of additional directory listings
  • Building backlinks and GBP improvements
  • Advanced SEO tactics at intervals (non-startup customers)
  • Implementation of advanced AI tools and processes to boost you ahead of your competitors

Year 2+

Goal: Continual improvement!

  • Maintain or improve rankings of Year 1 keywords
  • Introduce a new pool of keywords for which to rank
  • Continue to apply SEO tactics to benefit all keywords

To learn more about how we help our customers attract more website visitors, generate more leads and increase sales, check out our marketing services for local service businesses.

The Unintended Benefits of SEO Investment

When a business owner decides to invest in SEO, it’s done with a specific goal in mind. As we mentioned earlier, you want to rank for the right keywords so that more people become aware of your business, turn into leads and convert into customers.

However, we like to say that rising tides raise all ships. With a healthy site and the right strategy, your SEO results can go beyond your core keywords. You can (and likely will) lift keywords and phrases you weren’t trying to rank for.

We’ve seen SEO efforts not only do what they were intended to do for the business’s 10 core keywords but also help them rank for hundreds or even thousands of other keywords. We refer to this as the “magnetic pull effect.”

SEO: An Investment Worth Making & (If Necessary) Waiting For

Is SEO worth investing in? The answer is a resounding yes, and we can prove it!

Here are a handful of case studies that demonstrate how our SEO efforts paid dividends for our customers:

In each case, we eventually achieved first-page rankings that resulted in more conversions. Every circumstance is different, and the amount of time it took varied.

But the bottom line is that SEO works. So why not make it work for your business?

Have questions about SEO investment or want to learn even more? Call us at 815.431.1000 or submit this form to contact us. You can also visit the SEO & SEM section of our blog.

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