As a business owner, I’m always thinking in the present. I need to know how to get results now — how to increase the visibility of my business, get more leads, and generate more revenue as soon as possible. The sooner I meet my immediate goals, the sooner I can meet my long-term goals, and the more my business will grow as a result.
That’s a natural and healthy mentality for most business owners — it’s that drive that separates the successful entrepreneurs from the dawdlers. However, there are some strategies that can’t be improved with that pressing sense of urgency. There’s a fine line between eagerness and impatience, and SEO is a strategy where that line is particularly fuzzy.
Think Long Term
Your first job is to remember that search engine optimization is a long-term campaign that should be grounded in long-term goals. Trying to achieve immediate numbers is an exercise in futility. Furthermore, SEO campaigns have no end date; they must persist through the lifetime of a business’s online presence. The flip side is that it’s also a strategy that pays off with compounding interest — the longer you spend, and the more consistent you are, the better ROI you’ll realize, as long as you stay committed to quality content and best practices.
When you first chart a course for the future of your SEO campaign, try not to form too many expectations. Every site is unique, and sets of circumstances are always changing; you never know when a new competitor might arrive, or when a new trend takes off that better positions you for a specific range of potential topic keywords. Instead of setting specific “results” goals right away, take a step back and focus on setting “process” goals. Start forming the structures that are going to carry you through the next few years, and try not to worry about how your metrics will turn out — that will all come in time.
You Get Out What You Put In
It’s also important to recognize that SEO is a strategy that heavily relies on the amount of effort you put into it. A small business with a single marketing manager trying to juggle a handful of SEO tasks on top of his/her other responsibilities simply isn’t going to see the same level of results as a large firm that can afford to hire a full-time team of search engine optimizers.
That’s not to say that a minimal team can’t be effective with SEO; you just have to adjust your expectations accordingly. If you only have one team member, you’ll have to prioritize your key channels for optimization; it would be virtually impossible to actively manage a community on every social media platform, build inbound links, analyze and make technical changes on the website’s backend, and write a new blog post every day. As a result, your metrics won’t grow anywhere near as fast.
The Importance of Reevaluation
When you first start an SEO campaign, you’ll likely have a set of expectations and beliefs about the general course of your campaign. But as I mentioned previously, every business is unique and circumstances are entirely unpredictable, so odds are your expectations will not remain stagnant throughout the development of your strategy — if they do, you’ll only be setting yourself up for disappointment.
At each major milestone in your campaign, you’ll need to take a serious look at your progress, your current strategy, and your goals, and make some adjustments for the future. Unlike traditional advertising, which usually revolves around major teardowns and rebuilds, you won’t be dramatically overhauling your SEO strategy. Instead, you’ll be making tweaks and adjustments throughout the process, fine tuning until you get the perfect balance of investment and payoff in the areas you wish to develop.
That being said, it’s valuable to imagine each major milestone and the types of indicators you’ll look for as you pass those milestones.
After One Month
At the beginning of the first month, you’ll be at ground zero. Make sure your Analytics script is set up, and take a snapshot of your current traffic metrics. This is going to serve as the baseline for the remainder of your campaign, and the starting point that will measure your other temporal milestones (at three months, six months, etc.).
Over the course of the first month, you’ll be putting the greatest emphasis on creating systems and procedures to carry your campaign forward. Don’t even worry about measuring the results of your campaign at this point — any fluctuations you see in traffic could be the result of a fluke. Some measures, such as blog comments and social shares, can give you a sneak preview of how people are responding to your content, but they won’t give you any major insights.
After Three Months
After three months of consistent running, you’ll be in a good position to take the pulse of your campaign. Start by checking out your Analytics data — here, you’ll be able to see exactly how much your traffic has grown. Don’t be shocked if the increases are slight, especially if you’re working with a limited team or budget, but the composition of your traffic should be starting to change — look for Organic and Social visitors, and visits to deeper pages of your site, such as individual blogs.
You’ll also want to start evaluating the effectiveness of your content strategy. If you notice that one group of subjects is getting significantly more attention than another already, it might be worth making an adjustment.
After Six Months
Once six months have elapsed since the start of your campaign, you should be able to make a definitive analysis of how your campaign is working overall — even campaigns with minimal budgets should see a significant traffic increase at this point. If you haven’t, or if your growth is inconsistent, it might be the result of an algorithm change or of a point of inefficiency in your campaign. Scrutinize your strategy for any potential deviations from best practices.
After One Year
The one year mark is the final major milestone for your introductory campaign. By this point, you should start engaging with your audience to learn how you can improve your content strategy — your audience should be substantial enough to attain a significant sample of opinions.
Moving forward, you’ll have a better opportunity to measure your progress in terms of traffic and other SEO-specific metrics. Since fluctuations can be based on seasonality and tweaks to your campaign, your best course of action is to compare each month moving forward to the corresponding month of the previous month. Since all this data is archived, you’ll be able to look forward and set realistic goals for the coming months.
Setting realistic expectations for your SEO campaign can help you remain patient as your long-term strategy begins to take form. Unfortunately, you won’t have much control or insight into your progress in the first few months, but after several months of due diligence, you’ll not only be able to see sprouts of your progress, you’ll also be able to form the insights you need in order to adjust and rebuild your campaign moving forward.