It’s hard to swallow.

The Cold, Hard Truth About SEO

The truth about SEO is hard to swallow for some business owners. SEO scams, false advertising and lies make things even more confusing. Especially for a new site owner. Here are a few things about search engine optimization that other web designers or digital marketers might not tell you.

I have been optimizing websites for over a decade. Although there are no real SEO experts, I’d like to think that I’m smarter than the average bear when it comes to this subject. But when speaking to anyone, I try to be up front and realistic about SEO goals and expectations.

Sadly, many people do not want to hear the truth about SEO. They want to hear what makes them feel good. They want false hope. They want pipe dreams. And they will happily empty their wallets for them. So I’ve written this post in an attempt to spread the truth, raise awareness and help small business owners avoid disappointment, confusion and wasted dollars.

1. Good SEO takes time.

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that you can build a website and by some kind of magical force, it will be found at the top of the search engines immediately. This is not how search engines work. 

First, there is the process of getting indexed. Just because you build it, doesn’t mean that search engines know that it exists. You can submit sitemaps to Google, but it doesn’t mean that it will get crawled and indexed any sooner. Getting indexed doesn’t take nearly as long as it has in the past and can sometimes happen very quickly. Other times, it can take weeks. You can’t even begin the climb to the top until this happens.

But wait, my site has already been indexed. Why isn’t it the number one result?

If it were that easy, we’d all be billionaires. Imagine a world where anyone could build a website about anything and their website would be number one for whatever they wished, within weeks. You’d have a lot of temporarily rich people in the world and even more misinformed, unhappy internet users. Oh also, the world would probably start to fall apart.

Just because you built a website about health & medicine doesn’t mean you have any authority on the subject. And it doesn’t mean that anyone will ever find it in search. Or that they should. Imagine searching for answers to genuine health questions and finding answers written by a guy who has never attended medical school and still lives in his moms basement. Because if SEO was as easy as you’d like it to be, that’s what you’d get.

Google has things in place to prevent this. If it didn’t, the internet would be full of misinformative, spammy and useless websites. It wouldn’t have useful, informative websites in the results. Which means that people would stop using Google. Which would make all of this pointless, wouldn’t it?

Imagine the political and economical repercussions of literally anyone being able to appear for anything and how often those results would change. Imagine the scams, lost money and destroyed lives. There is a reason that websites need a little authority to show in search results.

So a brand new website goes through a period that some like to call “sandboxing“. Does it mean that it isn’t indexed? No. Does it mean that it can’t appear for anything? No. But it does mean that Google will probably not show it as the number one result for anything during this period. If you appear at all for any relevant searches during this time, you are doing good and your website is probably well optimized.

Although Google officially denies it, data has existed and evidence has been gathered by SEO professionals over the course of many years that proves the sandbox effect is real. Trust me when I tell you, it’s real. Unless you are aiming for a VERY low competition search term, a new website isn’t going to simply jump to the top. The first few months (and sometimes longer) you shouldn’t have super high expectations of your new website. You just shouldn’t. No matter what that guy trying to sell you his services told you.

Put yourself in your competitors shoes. Sure, you just coughed up the money and had a website designed. That’s awesome! But some of your competition did this YEARS ago and have been working on their website ever since. Why should your new website (and often new company) suddenly knock them out of their number one position? It shouldn’t. There is no valid reason why this should happen.

It doesn’t matter how much better YOU think you are than the competition. You need to prove it. You need to gain authority, online reviews, backlinks and more before Google believes it.

Also, just like wine, a domain gets better with time. You can sometimes do nothing to a website and watch it slowly climb in the rankings because of nothing but time.

So be realistic and be ready to wait at least a few months before your website can really start to break out, no matter how well optimized it is. Patience goes a long way with SEO.

Too many website owners make the mistake of being impatient and fixing things that aren’t broken. They ruin a good thing before it has time to work. The unnecessary changes and overoptimization end up having negative consequences. Had they left well enough alone and simply waited, they could have reaped the benefits of a well optimized website.

Finally, if your business depends on building a brand new website and being at the top of search rankings within days or weeks, then you should take another look at your business model. Not your web designer or your SEO guy.

2. SEO requires good quality content that YOU have to create.

The single most important thing on a website is good quality content. Without quality content your website will never rank like you want it to. 

Far too many small business owners will have one paragraph of text on their website and expect it to rank in search results. Useful and meaningful content is not an option. It is a requirement. And chances are, your website designer doesn’t know anything about your business. He doesn’t know anything about what’s important to your customers. But guess who does? That’s right, YOU.

Why would a web designer know anything about hair salons or septic tanks? Think about how many different kinds of websites a web designer can create in a year. It’s impossible for him to be an expert or knowledgeable about literally every industry on earth.

It is your job to create content (text) for your website and provide that content to your web designer. If you can’t even think of what to say about your own business then you shouldn’t expect anyone else to. If your web designer is worth anything, he will not just copy and paste what you send but present it in a more search engine friendly way. Perhaps even offer some suggestions. But the core of what it says should come from you. Regardless, that content is key to your success. No matter how many things are done right, nothing will work if you skip this step. So if you are coming up blank, think harder.

I would wager that over 90% of poor performing websites have poor content or lack of content. So if your website consists of two paragraphs, stop complaining and start writing. Again, your web designer can help or guide you as far as best practices but you are responsible for what your website says to the world.

Some web design or SEO agencies will offer to write content for you (for additional fees) and that’s great for some people. But nobody knows your business and can speak to your customers like you. So content from you is better content that usually makes more sense and is more likely to convert your visitors. Do you really want someone who doesn’t know anything about your business or industry to write everything your website visitors read?

Another thing to remember is that content creation doesn’t stop after creating your basic web pages. If SEO is important to you, then regularly added content in the form of helpful articles will be a huge boost to your SEO. But paying someone else to do all of your writing can get expensive if you are doing it regularly. So shake your fears of writing and find the time in your busy schedule to create some content. There’s a good chance that the guy you are trying to outrank already does.

3. There is no magic SEO formula.

Regardless of how many ads you’ve seen and emails you’ve received, there is no magic SEO formula.

Everyone is following the same rules with and those rules cannot be broken. They can, but breaking the rules will result in penalties that can wipe your website out of search results altogether. So those emails that you get, claiming to get you to the top of Google and touting their secret methods are nothing but lies.

I’ve seen far too many websites that have been destroyed by scammers offering a magic formula for SEO. It doesn’t exist any more than a magic diet does. It takes time. It takes work and it takes patience. If you are a new website owner, you WILL be contacted by people from all over the world, hoping to take advantage of your situation. They will lie. They will claim there are problems with your website or business listing and that they can “fix” them. Sometimes they even claim to be from Google. And if you don’t know any better, you will believe them.

But the truth is that they sent that same email to thousands of people (mostly new website owners) in hopes of finding one person that was dumb enough to call or email them back. Don’t let that person be you. And God forbid you start calling random “SEO experts” on the internet. Fun fact: There are no SEO experts.

4. There are no guarantees with SEO

Let me be clear about this. Anyone that guarantees rankings in search results is a liar.

There are no guarantees with SEO because nobody controls Google or even knows it’s secret, constantly changing algorithm. What works today may not work in two months. Google is always evolving and SEO professionals are always learning. Usually through trial and error. It is impossible to offer guarantees on something that you might understand better than the average person but still have no control over. The weather man cannot guarantee that your house won’t be hit by a tornado during the storm. But he sure does know a lot about tornadoes. SEO professionals are the weather men of the internet. You can change the channel if you don’t like the forecast, but you can’t control the weather.

5. Your first place ranking doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.

You are focused on ranking number one and you believe that it will make all the difference in the world. But it probably won’t.

The truth is, your focus needs to be appearing in the local “3 pack” of Google business listings.

Most businesses are focused on finding nearby customers or customers in their service area. When Google assumes that a search has local intent, it will not display organic website results first. It will show local business listings. You know this because you see it every day. This is where the majority of your phone calls and website clicks will come from.

Studies have proven that anything below the fold (where your first place listing will usually appear) has far less visibility or clicks. Google has shown this with their own data. Some studies put that number from 84 to 100 percent less. So they can’t see and they wont click your first place listing anyway in many cases. Why are you so worried about it? Think about it. When you aren’t looking for your own business, how often do you scroll all the way down or click to view page two of results?

This website has appeared first in organic results for many terms over the years. But it’s not where our business comes from. It comes from our Google business listing because everything else is hidden below the fold these days. So if you want more customers, that should be your focus. Your Google business listing and long-tail local key words are a good place to start if you want more customers.

Good website optimization helps with this goal. So you still need a website along with your Google listing. It’s pretty much a requirement if you are hoping for better visibility. But being number one is a far less glorious thing than it used to be and it might not be worth what you are paying to achieve it. Google business listings are free.

In todays online world, you don’t buy your way to the top of search engines, unless you are advertising with PPC. You earn your way to the top with lots of time and plenty of work. It’s not easy. It’s not instant. And no amount of money you spend can change it. So just be patient. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your business. And for the love of all that is good and holy, be patient with the person you hired to help you. And that is the cold hard truth about SEO.