When SEO Is Not Worth Your Time

Save your time and make more money.

Both SEM, or paid search advertising, and SEO can be valuable search marketing strategies – here’s how we define the terms, and some advice on how to use each. But SEO can have its limits: depending on your strategy, your products, and a host of other factors, it could be smart to invest some money into your marketing efforts instead of spending all your time on SEO. Here’s what to look out for:

Your customers just need to make a purchase

If your audience is searching for products like yours with the intent to complete a transaction (such as buying a product or service), they’re not going to be researching intensively. People searching with high commercial intent are more likely to click on paid ads that are there conveniently at the right place and the right time – more likely, one study found, by a factor of 2 to 1 (WordStream).

Say you’re selling laptop covers online. Think about your value proposition (durable, variety of designs and colors, inexpensive) and invest in some keywords for an ad. The next time a potential customer searches for a “durable blue laptop case” and your ad pops up in front of them, you’ve just gotten closer to making a sale.

Your customers are searching for local results

Local searches are a form of transactional queries – according to Forbes, 61% of local searches result in purchases. If you’re a local coffee shop in Boston, you don’t need someone in Los Angeles searching for coffee to discover you – maybe you just need a strategically placed ad to show up in front of someone searching for “coffee shops in Boston.”

Your keywords are extremely competitive

Realistically, there are some keywords that are simply too competitive to bring you organic results. In those cases, you may have to pay for keywords in order to reach your audience at all. SEM allows you to compete more effectively in competitive spaces.

Tip: use tools like SEMrush and Google AdWords to help you analyze what keywords are being searched for, decide on keywords you can potentially rank for, and plan a budget that hits the sweet spot between affordability and profitability. Check out WordStream’s guide to keyword competition.

You need a strategy that aligns with your goals.

Every marketing initiative should start with a clearly-defined goal you can measure and improve upon. What are your goals? This will help you decide what your strategy should focus on. Here are some sample situations:

  • Are you building long-term authority and brand loyalty with your audience, or do you need results now?
    It can take months to see results from strategies that focus on organic content and SEO. Creating a strong foundation of quality content, developing a vigorous social footprint, building an authoritative link base… putting together the pieces of SEO best practices takes time, effort, and patience. Paying for search ads, on the other hand, will start getting you results right away – but at a price (literally).
  • Are you running a series of short campaigns, or are you investing time and effort in a strategy that can coast long-term without stopping?
    SEM goes on and off like a light switch. Stop putting money in, stop getting money out. If your strategy focuses on short-term campaigns, paying for search ads could get you better results. For example, if you’re selling sports equipment, you could run ads throughout the sporting season, then turn your campaign off once the season is over.
  • Do you want to direct your audience to a landing page through paid ads, or is your marketing plan more about organic content?
    Landing pages are brief and to-the-point with an easily digestible value proposition and a clear call to action. When you send your audience to landing pages through, say, a PPC advertisement, you’re investing in quickly and actively converting a potential customer into a paying one. Organic content has its own specific role in the customer journey.

Of course, you need to strategize carefully to make sure that your SEM efforts will turn into a cash machine. And even if you’re spending money on paid search results, SEO is still worth your time: if you’re not incorporating good SEO practices, you may find that you’re spending more money than you should. So what do you do next? You need to stop wasting money on SEM.