Last updated on 5th October 2023 at 14:04 by Alex Nicholas

You've probably heard countless times that SEO (search engine optimisation) is vital to a website's sustainability when it comes to attracting customers and that the importance of SEO in digital marketing as a whole is key to a business's long-term success.

Indeed, it's a well-understood fact that a good SEO strategy will bring in endless leads or product sales when implemented correctly, and there are really good reasons for making that statement, away from anything an SEO consultant like me will tell you.

And that's this:

  1. 68% of the time, an online experience or journey starts with a search on a search engine
  2. In the UK, Google holds a massive 91.1% of the market share, with Bing coming in 2nd with just 5.18%
  3. Search makes up 76% of all traffic for B2B websites, with 53% of that coming directly from organic search
  4. Organic search generates 2x more revenue than any other marketing channel
  5. 63% of all shopping begins online, even if the sale is made in a store
  6. The UK eCommerce market was worth $169 billion in 2021 with 50 million people regularly buying online
  7. eCommerce growth in the UK is expected to grow at 5.16% until 2025, although I suspect this percentage will be higher than this, then grow even faster after 2025

The world has become even more comfortable shopping online or finding the services they want, in part due to being locked in their houses for months on end through Covid, and in part, because the world is living and organising their lives on their mobile or smartphone, which is constantly connected to the internet.

What is SEO though?

I won't go into too much detail on what SEO is, exactly. Because there are more “what is SEO” articles on the internet than you could possibly imagine.

What I will say, however, is that SEO is often portrayed as a dark art that's hard to understand and riddled with charlatans (sadly, the charlatan bit is true…). But the truth is that SEO is simply a relationship between a search engine and a website.

And whilst that's the 10-mile overview of the definition, that's ultimately how you should look at it.

Give both the user and the web crawler what it wants/expects to see and you stand a very good chance of being found for your desired search terms.

Yes, there are many things to take onboard, understand and apply to your website but at the heart of it is you telling your story or selling your services to your target audience in a way that Google will understand so that it can promote you highly in the SERPs.

The 3 core elements of SEO

Whilst it would be possible to spend the rest of your life reading about the different and important SEO techniques, applications, best practices and many elements when it comes to ranking pages in the SERPs, there are really only 3 main areas of SEO.

  1. User experience
  2. Content
  3. Links

But to further break down these 3 types of SEO in a little more detail and context…

User experience

User experience is something that's as old as SEO itself, and whilst it might mean different things to people who sell CRO services (conversion rate optimisation services), as an SEO consultant, UX means that you have a well-made site that search engines can crawl, render and index that's easy to navigate through menu structures and internal links and is quick to load.

And although there are many ways in which crawling and rendering a site can go horribly wrong and hinder your SERP visibility, such as a poorly handled robots.txt file or broken links, the fixes are generally easy to find and easy to fix. And there are some great software applications on the market that can help find and fix these issues, such as Sitebulbs fantastic crawling software.

But the biggest problem I come across in sites looking to set out on their SEO journey from a UX point of view is poor web hosting, and by poor web hosting, I'm talking about shared hosting plans that cost £2.99 per month.

A poor host will simply not allow you to get the best from your site due to the fact that you'll be sharing servers with hundreds or thousands of other websites that are all hungry for resources and bandwidth.

It's also important to understand that by moving to a hosting company that specialises in the CMS (content management system) you use, you'll be getting two things:

  1. Servers that are designed and fine-tuned to suit your CMS, meaning you'll be getting the best performance
  2. Much better security, which is vital in this day and age because hackers are becoming more and more sophisticated.

So my advice, right from the start is to pay for good hosting that you don't need to worry about when your traffic grows and the pressure on your site increases.

Website content

There are a few elements to the content of your website that it's important that you get right and understand. But I want to focus on the two most important ones.

Firstly, NLP (natural language processing).

In a nutshell, NLP is the part of Google's algorithm that focuses on understanding the context and meaning behind the words on a page and how they will fit in with a search query. Long gone are the days when you can simply stuff keywords onto a page and it would rank.

And although the truth is that Google still can't read your content in the same way that you or I can, it still needs to read well and have closely related search terms and entities throughout the page to build a picture in Google's eyes of what the page is all about and to convert users.

Google essentially looks for signals both on and off a page so it can make it's decision on where to rank you. AT THE END OF THE DAY, IT'S MATHS.

And that fits perfectly in with number two, user intent.

Your content must meet the user's expectations, but most importantly if you want to rank at the top of the SERPs (search engine results page), it must meet the user and search intent that Google believes the searcher wants.

And to help you to understand what I mean by this, search for something on Google and take a look at the results. What do you see? Do you see products from eCommerce stores? Long-form informational articles? YouTube videos? Or maybe a map pack because Google understands that you want a service in your area.

For example, let's take a quick look at the image below for the search term restaurants Southampton.

map pack importance of SEO image

As you can see when I typed in the search terms “restaurants Southampton”, Google clearly understood that I am looking for somewhere to eat in Southampton and showed me results for places with good reviews that I might be interested in.

Therefore, it answers my question, solves my problem and serves the correct purpose for the search intent.

But if I were to search for “best weightlifting shoes”, which clearly has a research element to it, Google returns what are essentially long-form articles from affiliate websites.

user intent importance of SEO image

And the reason Google shows us these sites is that it understands that I'm in the research phase before I make any decision to buy. I basically want reviews and opinions so that I can make an informed decision before I buy, primarily driven by the fact that I used “best” within the search term.

However, if you type in “weightlifting shoes” without the “best” modifier, you get a totally different set of results.

user intent in the importance of SEO screenshot

As you can clearly see, the intent of the search has shifted away from comparisons to a buying cycle, as Google is confident that you have made your decision or already know what you want, and therefore it's eCommerce websites that you need.

This is what user intent is. And to take it a step further, if you were to try and compete within the best weightlifting shoe space with a product that you owned rather than a similar article to the above, you would almost certainly be wasting your time and money.

Building backlinks

Although link building often and quite rightly at times gets a bad rap from many in the industry, backlinks still play a major role in ranking. Especially for new sites, sites that have never undergone a linkbuilding campaign or sites that operate in competitive niches.

But it's vital that you understand that you can't just build any old link and expect to rank.

The importance of off page SEO must never be ignored. Whenever I embark on a link building campaign I look at these key factors before I decide whether or not a website is worth pursuing to get a link from, for example:

  • Is this link coming from a trusted source?
  • Is this link relevant to the site it's linking to?
  • Is the website offering the link I want selling links to everyone?
  • Is the website part of a PBN (private blog network)
  • Does this website generate traffic?

And whilst these things aren't always immediately obvious, they must be studied carefully because the risk of wasting money or damaging your own site is large.

Builds trust & credibility

If your potential customers continually see you ranking highly in the SERPs it will automatically build up trust and credibility in their eyes, and show them that you're a worthy source of information, which will have a significant impact on your business.

Not only that, but if they also find exactly what they're looking for on your website, they'll begin to see you as the authority in your niche.

In fact, customers are far more likely to buy from and trust you if they understand your service or product thoroughly after they've found you in the SERPs (source).

And whilst this sounds easy, the path to becoming a trusted source is long. So I recommend doing the following to build your credibility:

  • Continually create clusters of related content on your blog that surround your services
  • Interlink this content together
  • Create detailed articles explaining how your services or software works
  • Clearly explain how you're different to your competitors

By doing these things you'll stand out from your competitors and create a moat around your company that will instil trust in your potential customers.

When done correctly SEO lasts for years

When an SEO campaign is carried out correctly the results will last for years in most cases.

But that's not to say that you can do it once and forget about it, because you can't as it's an ongoing process that needs constant attention, such as re-optimizing old articles or building links to new pages etc.

What I mean by lasting for years is that, unlike PPC, if you need to pause or shift your budget for whatever reason, your rankings won't automatically disappear!

This is an issue I often see/hear about from companies that ran into cash flow problems and had only spent their monthly marketing budget on ads.

If they'd only budgeted a percentage towards SEO, those cash flow issues become easier because the rankings, traffic and customers are still there.

Meet your customers at different buying cycles

Your potential customers are online and very adept at finding the information they want. And this is especially true when it comes to searching for products and services that suit their needs.

Therefore, a good customer experience means that you meet them at all stages of their buying cycle. This is imperative if you want to see year-on-year growth and take market share from your competitors.

But the problem is savvy business owners are all too aware of this and are already investing in their long-term growth, with content creation being the top priority for 80% of businesses, going forward (source).

The good news is that if you're in the B2B space, content marketing accounts for just 26% of overall budgets, so if you have the time and or budget to spare, it's a good business opportunity for you to make progress in accelerating away from or overtaking your competitors (depending on the size of the overall budget itself).

SEO is cheap in comparison to PPC

If you have the budget to throw at PPC and are ignoring SEO, then you're doing so at your peril for two reasons.

Reason 1:

PPC is expensive, all the time. Let's take a look at two separate examples, starting with the screenshot below for the search term “SEO services”.

The cost per click (CPC) is $20 or roughly £16, with a traffic potential of 1.4K, and as I'm sure you're already aware, consumers don't simply click on the first website they see and buy straight away. They shop around, gather data, information, check out the competition then make a decision, so there's no guarantee that you'll even win their custom anyway.

(It's also a fact that the more expensive your product or service is, the longer the sales cycle will be with multiple steps/touch points. This is especially true when it comes to things like SaaS products (source)).

Therefore it stands to reason that to bring in a worthwhile amount of traffic just for this one search term could cost somewhere in the region of £10,000 to £20,000 per month.

That's a huge outlay and gamble for a company without a track record, history, a loyal following, case studies or is new to a market.

Here's another example for the search term “dental implants”.

Importance of SEO Ahrefs implants image

As you can see from the Ahrefs screenshot, the search term “dental implants” has a cost per click of $6 or roughly £5 per click. And whilst the traffic potential is good and could bring large amounts of money into a business for business, the cost to obtain those customers is also large.

In this example, you're looking at a cost of around £10,500 per month just to bring in half of the traffic potential shown by Ahrefs.

This is especially true for local businesses because of the way in which Google operates. The importance of local SEO for business and footfall can't be emphasised enough. It's an incredibly powerful channel that every local business should consider.

Reason 2:

This won't be something you haven't already figured out, but when you rely solely on PPC for your traffic and conversions, what happens when your advertising budget needs to be squeezed/scaled back for cash flow reasons or your product fit isn't good enough?

Well, obviously your traffic, leads and conversions will reduce…

The answer:

Devote a percentage of your budget to SEO for 18-24 months and never worry about whether or not you'll be able to grow quicker than your competitors, increase your dividend payouts or, worst case scenario, make payroll!

Let's say you're in the dental implants niche and you're spending £10,000 every month on paid ads, does it not make sense to spend at least £4000 of that budget on a form of marketing that will pay for itself for years to come whilst compounding and bringing in many times the amount of traffic over a 2 year period than PPC could ever dream of?

In my book it does. You'd have to have a special kind of hatred for SEO to ignore the potential it offers.

Should I invest in SEO from the beginning?

Well obviously as a consultant that will set out an SEO roadmap for you, I'm going to be biased, but the answer to this question in the majority of cases is yes, you absolutely should invest in SEO as early as possible.

And the reason, as I've already pointed out is that when done correctly, SEO will skyrocket your business and bring customers to your door for years into the future.

But you must be patient when embarking on an SEO campaign on a brand-new domain because it can take over 12 months to see any meaningful results (depending on the size of your budget).

Is SEO needed for every business?

The honest answer is no, not every business should invest in SEO, for one simple reason. SEO, like all other channels/routes to market, should ROI focused, and if your customers aren't searching on Google for what you offer because they're discovering trends on Instagram or TikTok or are automatically heading to Amazon to buy what they want, then it can be hard to justify spending thousands of pounds on content and links with very little in the way of profit.

Good examples of companies that should move SEO down the pecking order or ignore it altogether in terms of priority are brands that:

  • Have an audience whose target market is permanently on social media
  • Need results in double quick time

Now don't get me wrong, the vast majority of businesses will benefit from a well-executed SEO strategy because every journey starts with a search, and that's all too often within Google.

But in some cases, the target market simply isn't searching in a way that requires an SEO campaign.

Examples of websites that execute SEO well within competitive industries

It goes without saying that companies with SEO experience and large resources usually have the upper hand in the SERPs and the ability to dominate their niche for years to come whilst making huge amounts of money along the way, such as Amazon and Hearst Media etc.

However, you don't always need to have a budget the size of a small country's GDP to take market share from the big players that dominate financially rewarding niches.

In many cases, what you need is a good depth of knowledge within the niche you're operating in, the ability to create and execute a detailed content strategy and patience.

A good example of this is Dimond Lobby, which is a gaming site created by Luke Jordan that was launched in the middle of 2021, as you can see here from the Wayback Machine screenshot.

(And before we look at Luke's site, I should point out that I'm not saying this is easy because it's not)

diamond lobby way back screenshot

The speed at which this site has grown is really impressive! And given the organic traffic and keywords the site is pulling in (provided by Ahrefs), it's safe to say that the ad and affiliate revenue he'll be receiving will easily be in the mid-5 figures per month.

And if you work on the assumption (Luke has already admitted that this is what he's doing) that almost every penny of this project will be fed back into the site for a decent period of time in the form of more content, you can see how this site will eventually do 3 things:

  1. Take large steps toward catching it's competitors
  2. Grow to a £100,000 per month cash printing machine
  3. Build a “moat” around his site, meaning startups will find it very hard to catch him
  4. Be worth in excess of 5 million pounds within the next 5 years as a saleable asset

dl ahrfefs traffic & keywords image

But as I said before, building this type of site isn't easy or straightforward.

It takes a lot of planning, a small team of writers that know the niche well and a decent upfront budget of roughly £20,000-£30,000 to get the bulk of the initial content written and producing results.

This also doesn't account for the time it takes to train the writers and ensure they're consistently producing good quality content with the focus and importance of on page SEO and UX at the heart of everything.

And as you can see from the screenshot below, Luke clearly has a good editorial process in place as Diamond Lobby is up and over the 2k page mark after 2 years.

dl ahrefs number of pages image

Whilst the above figures might not seem that impressive in the sense that his team have only produced between 80-90 posts per month, remember that it takes time to ensure a writer fully understands the process and consistently produces content that's worthy of pressing publish.

In fact, I'd put money on them only producing a small number of articles each month for a number of months, meaning the vast majority of the content would have been produced over the last 12 months.

Finally, with this short overview of Diamond Lobby, let's take a quick look at it's top pages.

dl ahrefs traffic to top pages image

What I like to see with a website that's generating good traffic levels is a broad spread of traffic over a number of URLs rather than just a handful of URLs pulling in 80-90% of the traffic, and Diamond Lobby clearly ticks this box, too.

As you can see, although there's a clear winner in terms of which URL generates the most traffic, there are also over 200 pages that bring in over 1000 visitors every single month, and there are 370 URLs that bring in between 999 to 250 visitors per month.

That's brilliant because it means that if for some reason some of the best-performing pages drop down a few places, there's such a broad spread of top-ranking articles that the ad and affiliate revenue won't be completely annihilated.

So, summing up Diamond Lobby's success we can look at it like this:

  1. Map everything out from the very beginning (or pay an SEO professional to do it)
  2. Write within a niche that you understand and enjoy
  3. Produce lots of good content in clusters
  4. Be consistent

What I'm not saying is that this is easy, or that you can even come close to replicating Luke's success. He's produced a lot of content very quickly and has been involved in SEO for a long time, along with having a sizable chunk of money to produce content with a small team of writers from the start.

What I am saying is that if you're willing and able to put in the effort and expect to see nothing or very little in return for months on end, you too can create a website that will consistently pay you a good wage every single month.

You don't need to start with thousands of pounds for writers if you're prepared to write the content yourself. All you really need is:

  • A lightweight theme
  • Good hosting
  • Software that allows you to plan your content strategy/clusters
  • Software that allows you to optimise your content

And on that last point, I strongly recommend you look into using tools such as InLinks to optimise your content. In my opinion, Inlinks is one of the best NLP and entity tools on the market.

SEO is a mid to long-term strategy

Although SEO can, from time to time generate results quickly (within weeks), these quick wins almost always come from SEO fixes to established sites that have good links and have one of the following problems:

  • Technical issues that are hindering performance
  • Poorly optimised content that doesn't quite align with user intent

How you should view an SEO campaign is as a mid to long-term strategy that will:

  • Compound and improve over time
  • Pay for itself many times throughout the years
  • Consistently bring in leads and sales without ever worrying about CPC (cost per click)

In fact, content marketing when done correctly brings in 3x the number of leads that outbound marketing brings in and costs over 60% LESS (source).

That's not to say that it's either easy or straightforward, because more often than not, it isn't either of those things.

SEO takes careful planning and implementation with every website needing it's own bespoke strategy that's tailored to fit it's needs. This is where a detailed SEO audit comes into its own.

An audit will uncover everything that's both good and bad with a website's performance, from a technical point of view as well as it's overall performance in the SERPs. Audits pinpoint where your weaknesses are, and most importantly, how they should be fixed.

And when you start looking at SEO not only as the long game but as an integral part of your company's overall health, you'll find it much easier to project where your business could be in 18-24 months with a consistent stream of leads every month.

Is SEO quantifiable?

SEO is worth nothing if it's not quantifiable, and whilst SEO doesn't ordinarily come with the straightforward ROI calculations that PPC does, you can certainly measure the results by tracking the most important metrics and studying your analytics.

The tricky part comes when comes to connecting the dots between the SEO work carried out and all of the other marketing actions the company has implemented.

And whilst I'm talking about other marketing channels, I recommend that SEO and PPC should be done together if your budget allows it. After all, the more real estate you own at the top of the SERPs the better.

PPC will also give you a very good idea of which search terms convert best which will provide great insight for any SEO campaign.

Anyway, back to measuring your SEO campaign. The way most people automatically look at quantifying their campaigns is by looking at metrics like page 1 rankings. And whilst this is important, I would suggest that the best way to study the results of a campaign is to look through your GSC (Google Search Console) and do a like-for-like comparison for a 6 to 12-month period.

Have the impressions dramatically improved? Have the Clicks shot up in line with the impressions? Are you generating more leads now than you were 12 months ago?

Ask your clients how they found you.

It's only when you understand what the biggest driver of leads is that you can double down on the most profitable channels, and at the end of the day, the data doesn't lie.

SEO is the gift that keeps on giving

I'm sure by now that you've figured out that SEO is something that will pay dividends over the years as you invest in the channel and with the results compounding due to the clusters of content that get built over time surrounding your services, on top of the links that get built and the exposure gained by being ever present when your website appears in countless touch points in a customers journey.

And one more time for the people at the back, a good SEO campaign is something that will pay for itself many times over the years, especially if you invest consistently over time.

How much will a mid/long-term project cost

The needs of every website are different and there's no set answer to the cost of SEO because what needs to be carried out to compete will vary. For example, just because a Shopify store needs a 6-month link building campaign aimed at it's collection and product pages, doesn't mean that a company offering services to it's local area will need the same.

As mentioned above you do need to invest in SEO and you do need to be patient, but the investment will be worth it. Just make sure that you set aside the right amount of budget and ask for the following from your SEO consultant or agency:

  1. Will you provide me with a detailed proposal of the work that needs to be done and why it needs to be done
  2. Will you provide me with a roadmap explaining the timeframe needed to implement the work

Note on proposals: You should be prepared to pay for a proposal because they're time-consuming for an SEO to put together and are often taken for free by tyre kickers who don't have the money to invest and are simply wanting to gain insights for nothing.

That's why I will always charge a fee for any written insights I provide, period. At the end of the day, if you're not prepared to pay a small fee for a proposal that outlines where you're falling short, then you need to consider whether SEO is for you or not.

SEO will always be around

Contrary to what you might have heard (from people that don't understand the process), SEO isn't a dying art. In fact, it's the opposite!

Yes, there are many pieces to the jigsaw puzzle with regard to ranking a website and driving targeted traffic to it. It's time-consuming, but SEO will always be around and good SEOs will always be in hot demand.

Partly due to the fact that ads have become prohibitively expensive in many sectors, partly due to the ROI that SEO provides and partly due to the fact that an SEO professional that understands how to take a site from 1000 to 30,000 monthly visitors over a 12-month period and change the value of a business in the process is worth their weight in gold.

And if I'm being honest, SEO hasn't really changed that much since I started working on my own sites back in 2012. What's changed is that the search engines have become much better at understanding user intent, natural language and the majority of spam.

(The jury's out on the spam bit…)

Yes, it is involved because there are many different aspects to consider, but that's why you hire the right SEO professional.

And don't be too scared of backlinks. Backlinks are still a big deal and a major part of the algorithms, but the links that get built must be of a certain standard to have any effect on rankings. Remember, links are how the web works and how Google initially built their search engine. We click on a link to go to another page on the web.

Things obviously evolve over time as the machine learning deployed by Google gets better at understanding content and patterns, but those 3 core principles will always remain. We as SEOs just learn to adapt and test as we go.

Summing up

Why is SEO important for your business? Well, without it you're leaving money on the table and letting your competitors steal your customers. It's as straightforward as that.

SEO is a mid to long-term game that will act as the water that lifts all boats and supports everything that your brand is trying to achieve, through the content on your site that will supply you with a stream of leads and clients.

Just be sure to invest, work with and trust the SEO you choose to implement a strategy.