5 Reasons We Stopped Doing SEO for Clients

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5 Reasons We Stopped Doing SEO for Clients

SmartClick doesn’t do Search Engine Optimization anymore. We haven’t done it for years. Instead we focus on paid online advertising—and that’s how we made our clients, in aggregate, an incremental $25 million in revenue last year. In the marketing department at PepsiCo years ago, we were always encouraged to work on the right “big things”. You can waste a ton of time working on things that either have a small upside potential or little chance of success. Or you can focus on the “Big Things” that are going to make a real difference. Here’s the 5 reasons we stopped doing SEO projects for clients:

1. Google wants advertisers to buy ads.
Years ago, Google’s mission was simply to gain trial, adoption and dominance of the online search category. They provided the killer app for web search results. Now, Google is a publicly traded company. Shareholders demand profit growth. Google’s mission has shifted to driving revenue. More than 89% of Google’s revenue comes from ad sales. If Google wants to please shareholders, selling more ads is a sure way to provide the rate of return that shareholders demand. In a way, Google is not all that different from the corner drug dealer who gives out drugs for free to get users hooked, and then jacks up prices once they’ve experienced the high. Google is doing what any public company would do—they’re driving revenue growth.

2. To sell more advertising, Google continuously adds more paid ads, pushing organic results way down on search result pages.
Google has added right column ads, 3 ads at the top of the page, Google Shopping results, and often Google local results. These ads push organic results down towards the bottom of the page on SERPs. In some cases only 4 or 5 organic results remain on a page. We know from Jakob Nielsen’s ground-breaking eye movement research studies that consumers look at web pages in an F-Shaped pattern. Google is smart. They’ve positioned ads strategically to take advantage of consumer’s F-Shaped eye movement scans on the page, and by doing so have moved organic search results out of the F, reducing their visibility even more.

3. Organic search results drive far fewer clicks than they used to.
More ads on the page and the prominent positioning of those ads means that click rates on organic search results have plummeted over the years. Studies done 5 years ago showed that a number one organic result on a search engine page may have attracted 40% of total clicks on that page. Today we wouldn’t be surprised to see a number one organic result attracting less than 5% of users on a search engine result page. Take a look at the page below for a category and keyword search we’re keenly interested in these days: men’s yoga tops. There are 3 paid ads at the top, Google shopping results taking up the entire upper right-hand corner, and 2 more ads below. In fact, there’s just 2 and a half organic results left visible on the page. Less than 15% of the surface area of the page contains organic search results, the rest are paid.


4. The marginal Cost/Acquisition for Organic SEO is now far higher than it is for paid search.
Not only are there fewer clicks arriving on websites from organic results, the marginal cost to acquire a customer via organic search has skyrocketed. The single most important factor we’ve found to drive massive improvements in search results on high-traffic, competitive keywords are links from high Google Page Rank bloggers (a score of 3+) back to our clients’ websites. Years ago, it used to be that we could contact hundreds of high-quality bloggers with a sample of product in exchange for a review, or even just a piece of content to share, and that would generate enough links that we could drive hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales. Now, high Page Rank bloggers charge anywhere from $300-$1,000/post, and that simply makes the math untenable. As a result, we can actually drive far more sales, at lower cost/acquisition with paid search ads than with organic SEO programs.

5. You can’t control what Google might do next with the algorithm refresh. SEO is inherently risky. Paid Search just isn’t.
This means the results of all the work you’ve done over the years could be wiped out in an instant by a simple algorithm change. There’s firms out there who’ve devised some pretty amazing schemes that still work quite nicely to increase their clients’ rankings on high-traffic keywords. For example, some firms go to extraordinary lengths to create nearly untraceable “link wheels” by creating websites, hosting them on different servers, and linking just enough at a big enough scale to fool Google into thinking that the sites are relevant, high-quality sites. The problem is that, effective as techniques like this are, at some point, Google is going to find out. And then the algorithms will change again. Not only will all that hard work and money go down the drain, you’re taking the risk of being penalized forever. We think it’s irresponsible to expose our clients to this kind of risk.

Of course, there’s categories out there where SEO projects may make sense. We’ve been contacted lately by a number of large national law firms looking for alternatives to paying more than $50 per click for highly competitive keywords like “mesothelioma” with low conversion rates. In the case of an extremely competitive category with a high cost per click, it can make sense to find any way possible to get an edge in organic search. We’re just not the agency to do it for them.

One of the great things about online advertising is that it’s constantly evolving. Advertisers have to continually innovate. Because we can measure the performance we’re getting from all online campaigns, we always know where we can get the best return on investment for clients. It’s been clear for a long time that for us and for our clients who want to drive a high return on investment, it just doesn’t make sense to try to game the system with SEO, but it makes all the sense in the world to do paid advertising. If you’re interested in taking your online marketing to the next level, give SmartClick a call at (303) 641-7201.

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