The case against SEO - why you might avoid search engines

Post by
Dr. Daniel Pressley
The case against SEO - why you might avoid search engines

Well, this is a first. An SEO consultancy is telling you in writing that you might not want to go ahead with SEO.

But, to be honest, it's probably not a first. At least, it certainly shouldn't be. An outside agency might be slightly different but, for an SEO consultant, the first job should be to decide whether SEO is a sensible course of action for the client.

Very often, SEO is actually the wrong thing to do.

In fact, when advising lots of the small businesses which I talk to, I tell them to avoid proactive SEO if they have a viable alternative. This page will explain why. Think of it as the case against SEO.

First, the case in favour of SEO

For most successful online businesses, Google is the front door of their online store. It's where most of their customers come from. But, more than that, it's a filter. Anyone who finds your website in Google has already decided to look proactively for what you're selling. That means that visitors arriving from Google are almost 100% qualified leads.

Can you imagine a shop like that in the real world? Where every single customer arrived knowing exactly what they're looking for, happy with the price and reaching for their wallet? It's every salesperson's dream.

Best of all, with SEO, once you have secured stable rankings at the top of Google, this steady flow of customers is yours for free. You have made the investment and now they just keep coming.

So it's easy to see why businesses are willing to invest so much in SEO and the privileged position at the top of Google that it brings them.

But there's a but. In fact, there are a few of them. And, before you invest, you should think carefully about whether SEO is the right course of action for your small business.

SEO is expensive

It takes a lot of time and specialist knowledge to get a website to the top of Google. Especially for a set of competitive, valuable keywords. Other businesses just like yours will be trying to do exactly the same thing, making it a highly competitive field.

But, for a website selling car insurance, ranking #1 in Google search results is worth literally millions of pounds every year. By contrast, ranking on page two of Google gets you precisely nothing.

So, for many businesses, Google rankings are a matter of life and death. It makes sense, then, that SEO is priced accordingly.

Now, less competitive keywords take less work and are therefore less expensive. Ranking for "Used Canon camera spare parts" will be much easier and less costly than going toe-to-toe with Go Compare and Compare the Market.

But it still takes a long time and it's still expensive. Also, it's a speculative, upfront cost. You have to invest big before you see any return. Especially for new businesses with innovative (i.e. untested) products, this can be a risky investment.

SEO is slow

If you're looking to make quick money and move on, SEO isn't for you. It's a long-term investment built on the promise of long-term gains.

For an existing website which doesn't need to be rebuilt, I would usually allow around six months before you should expect to see any tangible results in terms of increased sales and conversions.

For a brand new business with a brand new website, it could be closer to a year.

If you can't afford to wait, SEO isn't for you.

There is no guarantee of success

If an SEO agency ever promises you certain rankings, you absolutely have to ask them to link their remuneration to that promise. If they won't do it, walk away.


Because they simply can't promise you rankings.

Whether they're an agency or a consultant, all anyone can promise you is that their methods have worked before and are likely to work again. That's a predicted outcome, not a promised outcome.

This is important because nobody knows what Google is going to do next. Google could rewrite their search algorithm tomorrow and change the rules of the game forever. At that point, any promises you have been given would mean nothing.

Also, nobody knows what your rivals are going to do. If you have an SEO budget of £20,000 and your rivals stump up £200,000 - they're going to beat you.

With SEO, there is no guarantee of success.

SEO requires upkeep

Getting your website to the top of Google search results is hard. But staying there isn't exactly a breeze. Especially if your rivals are proactively waging SEO campaigns of their own.

The initial investment is big. But there is likely to be a smaller ongoing investment, too.

An SEO consultant should teach you how to do some of this work yourself. But it's still a time or monetary cost which you will have to factor into your decision making from the start.

SEO is not 'agile'

Having SEO as a big part of your customer acquisition is a strategic decision, not a tactical one. In other words, with SEO you're playing the long game.

In stable industries and predictable times, that's great. But, if you own a liquor distributor, the arrival of Covid-19 can instantly turn your business on its head. Now, you're moving hand sanitiser for a living. And your Google rankings might not be doing much for you.

As a small business, your agility is your greatest strength. If you rely on SEO alone to find new customers, you can undermine that super-power.

#1 in Google is not what it once was

Google's famous motto is "Don't be evil". It doesn't say anything about being sneaky.

For years, Google has been devaluing its 'free' organic search results by gradually moving them further down the page. Once considered the Holy Grail of search engine marketing, these organic results are slowly becoming less significant as users are required to scroll past as many as five paid listings, Google shopping results, Google Places results and maybe a featured snippet, just to find the top organic result.

This is not to say that #1 rankings are not good for business. Clearly, they are.

The question for you as a business owner, though, is one of priorities. Nobody would question whether top Google rankings can help a business.

The question that an SEO consultant should help you with is more like this: does SEO represent the best investment for you and your budget?

If you decide to work with Growth Stream, we consider it our first and most important job to help you decide if SEO really is what you need right now as a business. If we think it's not, we will say so.

Not our first rodeo

Growth Stream is a new brand, but we have been doing digital marketing since before that term existed. Read our backstory to find out what we've been doing over the last decade. Spoiler alert: it involves lots of small businesses growing massively.