Search engine optimization—is it a nice option for some businesses or an absolute necessity for every company? And if it’s truly needed, at what point is it vital? From the beginning? Once a business starts to gain traction? Or only when a company wants to grow, or sales need an injection?
We asked business and marketing experts to share their opinions about why SEO is important and when companies should incorporate SEO.
👇🏻 Scroll down to read the responses from 35 SEO experts.
President, SEO National
Table of Contents
Fundamental to business
SEO should be a fundamental part of any business marketing strategy. You should think about SEO during the process of building the website. The better SEO fundamentals you have, a better kick start once your site goes live. After that, you should continue with the SEO efforts. It can take weeks to months to rank for low-competition keywords and can take years for very highly competitive keywords. The sooner you start doing SEO, the sooner you can see results.
To sustain accelerated growth
Hypothetically, if you own the sole bakery in a village of 100, everybody knows where you are, they love your cupcakes, you generate a steady income to support yourself as well as the daily expenses of running your bakery, and you’re content with that, you don’t need SEO.
Even for expansion, if you wish to expand to nearby villages, ‘traditional marketing’ means such as being featured in the local newspaper or a short, 15-second TV ad during commercial breaks might do the trick.
However, it’s not always that easy. If you want to sustain accelerated growth in a heavily saturated market with stiff competition, you need SEO. Having a business listed online is the bare minimum in this day and age, where the general public wants access to instant information to their questions at this very second. If they pass your bakery and cannot find any reviews of it on Google Maps, they may simply walk on by. You need SEO when you want to grow steadily, rapidly, in a foreseeable timeline.
Furthermore, I place a strong emphasis on accelerated growth. There are 3.2 billion users on the internet, and not having an online presence will limit the reach of your company. It starts with having a website, curating the correct content to the right cohort of customers, adopting heavy localization and reaching a broader customer base internationally.
And SEO is not only about optimizing for Google (and other search consoles). It’s about sustaining visitors and converting them to “direct traffic,” building an online brand and creating an information hub for individuals who have even a slight thought about your business.
To sum it up, SEO is a need when it’s:
- The minimum requirement for survival
- The minimum requirement to grow
Depending on the nature of your business, of course.
To get your share of revenue
With 1.2 trillion searches performed on Google every year, almost every business stands a chance to leverage SEO and get its share of traffic, leads, customers, and revenue. Considering that no businessman would find it wise to say no to FREE income, not using SEO right away after a company’s inception would be losing your share of free organic traffic.
However, before you start doing SEO, you should make sure that you have a website which has a great UI/UX apart from being responsive, loading rapidly, and [having] content. And when I say content, I am not talking about just promotional content; rather, you should create some informational content first.
Before it’s too late
At the point that a business is ready to be found by the general public. Unfortunately, it is not even considered by most businesses until it’s too late. SEO should be thought about before you even create the content going onto your website.
Your business needs SEO right away. You want your website to be search engine optimized right when it goes live. When you set your website live, you want it to have the ability to start ranking on search engines as soon as possible. If your site isn’t search engine optimized right away, then it isn’t going to have the ability to rank because search engines aren’t going to see your site as legitimate. Make sure you are doing SEO correctly while creating your website, so you can have the ability to start ranking on search engines immediately.
“Need” is a strong word. I’d say that businesses only really “need” SEO if they’re struggling to achieve their desired growth rate through other means, and their ideal search terms are moderately-to-highly competitive. SEO is very hard to get right accidentally. It really does require a strategic approach, and the more competitive the landscape is, the more time, energy, and investment it takes to increase rankings.
At the start
From the moment you start to create your website, it’s important to have SEO built in, although we’re not talking about keywords (at least, not yet). Instead, as you create your website, include great messaging that speaks directly to your audience, identifying their pain points and how you can solve them. Although you’ll want to include features of products and/or services in your website copy, what’s most important is how they’ll benefit your customers.
The structure and design of your website will play a key role in SEO. It’s crucial that the site is easy to use and navigate and professionally designed so that potential customers don’t click off and head to your competitors’ sites. As you create each page, think about the conversion elements on it and what you hope to accomplish on that particular page. Do you want them, for example, to sign up for a free trial of your product? Contact you for a free consultation? No matter what it is, how clear will that be for site users—and how are you tracking conversions?
Adding online chat, call tracking and email forms is vital because, no matter how well you optimize your site for keywords and otherwise use SEO techniques, if customers can’t contact you, then it’s all for nothing. Also pay close attention to your shopping cart setup and ease of use, if applicable.
At this point, do an analysis of your site to determine if the architecture is good and if speed is optimal. (Yes, speed is now a ranking factor in Google for both desktop and mobile.)
Get an SSL certificate so that Google doesn’t flag your site as not secure in the search engine results pages—and then work on what is traditionally thought of as organic SEO: optimize your pages and backend tags with relevant keywords with steady to good traffic and achievable levels of competition. Include ones with commercial intent.
As soon as you’re online
A business needs SEO as soon as it is online.
Most people think of SEO as the practice of inserting relevant keywords into corresponding pages on a website, but in reality, that is just the most basic step in SEO. There are technical aspects of SEO that require constant attention, maintenance, and testing; there are human interaction aspects of SEO that impact how visitors interact with your site; and there are more page features that can be optimized to be more search engine friendly.
As soon as you launch your site, you should be making sure that you are taking all of these things into consideration when making decisions for how to build your website. Whether you are optimizing for local SEO, sales or business on a national level, or optimizing for an international audience, you need to be implementing SEO best practices from day one.
Once your website is established
While SEO is important to an online business any time throughout its existence, it is most necessary once their site is established. When they have a fully functional website and offering, focused keyword research can help them optimize key pages across the site. This will help deliver the right organic traffic to these pages to boost visits and sales (for eCommerce sites).
Further, once the site is established and regular content can be created, it is easier to build backlinks from a variety of sources. Finally, with an established site, it can be easily determined how effective SEO changes are by looking at the before and after.
SEO is a multi-faceted thing, pulling together many tactics to move sites up in the ranks of Google. It is best to keep it in mind throughout the lifecycle of a business’ site.
When you start your website
Nowadays SEO is deeply integrated with web development. If your site is built the ‘wrong’ way, you could have a harder time appearing on search engines, which may hinder future digital marketing efforts. If you want to establish an online presence, start paying attention to SEO best-practices right when you start building your company website.
While designing your website
There is a major difference between when a company feels they need SEO and when it makes the most sense to start optimizing your website and content. Often, I recommend that a business owner start thinking about search engine optimization while designing (or redesigning) their website, so an SEO can consult directly with a developer and web designer to create a website that converts.
User experience (UX) is an important consideration for SEO, and business owners need to consider website navigation and speed to increase a user’s time on site, encourage the user to visit more pages, and decrease bounce rate.
A search marketer is also an important member of your team when a business owner starts to plan and create more web content, which provides more opportunities to attract and engage web traffic through targeting keywords and encouraging backlinks. Since SEO tactics can take a while to show in search engine results — especially on a new domain — it’s crucial to consider SEO when you begin focusing on your online presence.
Right from the start
I would argue that a website needs SEO right from the start. The quicker you get started, the quicker you’re going to get results. The thing to remember is that SEO covers a number of things – we talk about:
- technical SEO
- content SEO
- local SEO
- backlinking SEO
- conversion rate optimization
Those are five areas that I would encourage any business to get started on as quickly as possible. I would think that you would want to do the technical SEO, the content SEO, and the local SEO, and setting up your Google My business immediately. If you can get those things done up front, you’re going to have a head start over everyone else.
Before you create your website
You need to be thinking about SEO even before you create your website or begin marketing in earnest. If you’re not well known or a newcomer to the game, you want to be creating content that is relevant to your target market. Think about the types of words that your prospects are using when searching for a service or a product? Do those words appear in your marketing, on your website, in your blog, etc? If not, it’s like fishing without bait. You’re just not going to catch anything.
Start with answering questions. What are your prospects problems and how can you solve them? Make your SEO their questions. But don’t just litter your content with SEO; you want to be sharing insightful, helpful and engaging information. If you write crap, or your videos suck, people aren’t going to take you seriously. They’re going to jump ship quickly.
After you have a well-designed website
Assuming they already have a website that is well-designed, up to date and fit for its purpose, a business is at the point they need SEO when:
- They seldom or never receive any inbound leads, inquiries or sales through their website.
- Their website is not easily found for any targeted search queries that are relevant to their sales funnel.
- If applicable, they are not featured in any map listings when searching within a close vicinity to their location.
- Their competitors are actively working on SEO as part of their marketing strategy.
As soon as you have a website
A business “needs” SEO as soon as they have a website… which should be before they even open their doors to the public. SEO is one of the only ways a business can guarantee that they organically appear in the search results for users who are searching for terms related to their products, services, or industry. Businesses should start their SEO campaigns with strong web content, regular press releases, frequent social media posts, and guest blogging opportunities.
Define SEO first
To answer this kind of question you have to first define what SEO really means. Are we trying to simply look good on a search engine when a user searches for the business? Or are we trying to rank highly to acquire more customers?
You could argue that a business never really “needs” SEO from a customer acquisition perspective as there are just so many marketing tactics available – and organic search is not the best fit for every business. However, I would argue that most, if not all, businesses need to look good online if a customer Googles the business name. Good reviews, a professional website, a good looking set of results when someone searches for your name–these things are all important.
We have a spectrum of possibilities here. A customer Googles your business name and can’t find your website. Rather, they find a series of bad reviews and inconsistent business information – not good. Your average business is in the middle – a prospective customer Googles the name of the business and they find the website and it looks okay. Then the ideal here is that a prospect searches you up, sees your business looking good, with a strong set of results and an information panel and lots of positive reviews and sentiments.
I would argue that all businesses need at least some basic SEO as soon as they get serious about marketing, whether that is SEO for the products or services they provide, content marketing or simply just looking good when a potential customer searches for the business. Ultimately, when marketing becomes important, SEO becomes important.
To provide a kick
Brand awareness is a key part of any marketing campaign, and SEO is no different. The more eyes that see a brand, the more likely it is to be recognized. If your business isn’t effectively using digital marketing as an avenue to reach more potential customers, SEO can provide a kick when you need it.
The very nature of search engine optimization is to drive a website, and in turn a brand, higher up in search results. So, when a new or local business is ready to take another step and try to appeal to a wider audience, SEO is the perfect partner for growth. It also concentrates on qualified opportunities in the sense that efforts are focused on specific search terms relevant to your specific business.
The day you go online
The day a business decides to go online is the day it needs SEO. From creating a Facebook page or Google My Business listing, to launching a company’s first website, SEO must be kept in the forefront of the decision making process. Anything worth doing is worth doing right, and the business consequences of ignoring SEO best practices and tactics are costly beyond belief. Employing SEO for your website and digital footprint will ensure that search engines and users alike will get the right impression of you and evaluate you the way you want to be portrayed.
From day 1, keep SEO in mind.
Jami Barnett Ph. D.
Once you have a website
Companies need to start strategizing about SEO as soon as they have a website or even a Facebook page. Google has created a search environment where businesses are rewarded for giving searchers the answers and content they want. This means that, at its core, SEO is simply about giving your customers the info they want on your website.
Basic keyword research with Google’s keyword planner or the Google Search Console can help you figure out what your customers are searching for so that you can use those words when describing your business and the services you provide. Handling SEO doesn’t mean investing in a full-time SEO employee, but it does mean staying on top of your online presence and providing useful information to people searching for your services.
When you want to be found online
We have a saying here at Futurety, “All marketing is search marketing.” Meaning, regardless of where you’re doing your marketing, we live in a Google world where your audience’s first action is likely to do an online search for your name or industry.
With this in mind, any business in an industry where they want to be easily found by a searcher, needs SEO. In only a few, very specific industries, is this not true—perhaps for sales processes where interactions are purely in-person or exclusively with an older audience that may not naturally jump to Google to verify information or pricing. Otherwise, SEO is valuable to essentially every business that wants to attract and retain engaged clients or customers.
We liken SEO vs other marketing in the same way you might look at buying vs renting: A short-term SEO project allows you to appear in Google searches with minimal maintenance over a long period of time, whereas paid methods are only as good as your pockets are deep. Even some basic, fundamental SEO setups on your site can make a big difference in your long-term business footprint.
Never too early
It is never too early to start working on SEO. Building a website without visibility on the web is tantamount to building a store with no roads leading to it.
SEO work is very similar to building a relationship with people: the earlier you sow the seeds of friendship, the deeper and longer lasting that friendship will be. This is true as well with helping Google/Bing understand what your website is about. Why? Because Google takes into account factors such as the age of your domain, how long your site has been around, and how long it has been consistently focused on a particular industry or category of products/services.
You can start simple: set up a Google/Bing business page for local SEO, then set up Google/Bing Webmaster Tools, submit an XML sitemap, and request that the search engines index your domain.
Remember: SEO is more about planting seeds for long-term growth than it is about hunting rankings. Waiting to begin SEO work, then pursuing aggressive tactics to catch up, will not achieve lasting results, and could actually end up hurting your rankings long term. Why? Because aggressive SEO tactics, such as keyword stuffing, low-quality backlinks, and content/title tags crammed with keywords that aren’t useful for visitors are considered “black hat” techniques, which can get your site blacklisted by search engines.
Instead, create value in your site by writing helpful and actionable content and connect with other sites and people in your area to cultivate backlinks. Over time you will see steady traffic growth.
From day one
SEO should be a priority for any organization – regardless of business model or industry – from day one. Strong SEO serves to not only position the company and the individuals and teams creating content for the company as thought leaders, but it is the most cost-effective long-term strategy to prime the sales and marketing funnels to drive revenue.
SEO never ends. It begins very early on day one of creating content and shaping your company’s website to drive as much traffic as possible by going after low-competition keywords, and continues years later when you own those keywords and are starting to compete for terms that show even greater buying intent to take your business to the next level. Either way, the core of a successful SEO strategy is consistency and understanding the difference between a good opportunity and one that will be too resource-intensive to provide much return on investment.
The earlier you can get started down this path, and encounter these decision-making moments around SEO, the better.
A business needs to start working on their SEO on day zero. At the very least, having a strategy in place for what keywords they want to target. Begin backlink research. If you have the domain already, you can start outreach and build some backlinks with some small amount of content up. Just be certain to 301 those links if the URL changes. SEO should start the second you have started to work on creating your business plan.
Gone are the days
Most new business owners do not realize that their website is their storefront. Gone are the days of the traditional mom and pop shops, where foot traffic was a must. Now, you need website traffic to grow your business.
When it comes to your business, you should consider SEO in conjunction with your website. If you have a website (which let’s face it, you should have a website) then you need to think about optimizing your site for Google and other search engines. The first page of Google is a must for your business if you want to be found; it’s the new storefront for the digital age. Developing a coherent, user-friendly website with SEO-rich content, which includes service pages, will help boost your site visibility and, ideally, your ROI.
The simple answer
The short answer is: when you want business to come to you via online channels. It’s that simple.
SEO is a robust digital methodology for creating relevant content for your target audience (buyer) to help them make a decision about the product you are selling. In the past, the standard definition of SEO was “I’m doing SEO to be found online.” Whereas the sentiment remains the same, digital buyers, especially in a B2B environment, have matured over time and their needs have changed accordingly.
The question you should ask yourself today is “Do I do SEO to sell, or do I do SEO to educate?” Depending on your goal, you will implement the appropriate digital strategy.
Before you need SEO
Most brands begin a foray into search marketing using paid ads. Usually, this proves the efficacy of obtaining and converting search traffic, which gives them the appetite to grow. Paid search ads generally limit you to the ‘sharp end’ of the funnel, that is keywords with very clear intent that make paying for those clicks worthwhile. The issue is, the bulk of the search traffic lies upstream where consumers aren’t yet aware of your product or service and are searching for a solution.
With search being so competitive, even if your site is technically perfect, the chances of your stumbling into gaps, producing the right content, targeting correctly and [having your content get] the initial amplification by chance, are very low. Businesses generally need to make a start on SEO before they need SEO. There’s a first mover advantage, and most of your competitors are likely already making some kind of movement, so standing still until you want results just puts you to the back of the pack.
SEO is a long-term activity for getting results, this means that starting with a good website can bring your business success in acquiring users in the future.
Working with SEO once the site has been launched can imply a lot of work and is not the best solution for your business. Starting [before that helps] you structure the website according to your potential customers’ interests in terms of contents pages to be created and scalability. This is also according to your resources (budget, time, people).
If you wait and then change the site’s structure, if the site is not yet very popular, it will take time to make Google – and other search engines – understand that change and make you rank for your target market.
With keyword research, you can understand your users and their intent and create the right pages in the right format, and make sure they can be found. You’ll need to attract interested users and backlinks, and this can be done with a strong SEO knowledge.
Unless your business is just drop shipping and relying on social media advertisements, then SEO is extremely important for businesses of all sizes, especially smaller ones.
The internet is a very crowded place – over 50% of the world’s population now uses it. This means that it’s getting much harder to get noticed, making SEO a crucial strategy for driving organic traffic to your website.
Getting this organic traffic means that you don’t have to rely on advertising either in Google shopping or social media, as you get a steady stream of potential customers filing through your site, regardless of if you are advertising on top of that or not.
Smaller companies should not try and compete for the extremely competitive keywords, but instead should find relevant niches that are much easier to rank for, but relevant enough to still get sales.
What is often overlooked when designing an SEO strategy is what the customers will do once they reach your landing page. You need to ensure that your landing pages are not only SEO-friendly but user-friendly. If a page is extremely user-friendly, then not only do you get higher conversions, but people stay on that page for longer, boosting your rankings even more. It’s also extremely important to keep the funnel, or flow, of customers extremely simple and quick in order to prevent drop-offs.
In summary, SEO is extremely important to companies of all sizes, even if strategies adopted by bigger, more established companies differ from small companies. It helps drive a flow of organic potential customers that will get you sales regardless of whether or not you’re running advertisements.
Truthfully, a company should start working on SEO before even launching. Building a website that is optimized for search and ensuring that business listings are accurate and consistent will help a company grow. Content is a large part of SEO and is a necessity for inbound marketing, which is how a new company will convert leads to customers. But that does not mean SEO is one and done. It is an ever-changing landscape and needs to be updated regularly to keep competitive in the market space.
Most businesses need it
Most business needs SEO in general, but here are some specific situations when a business needs SEO more than ever.
When you don’t rank for your brand name in Google on 1st position.
Ranking 1st for your brand name is a must, and most people would think their business does rank 1st, but sometimes you would be surprised. For an example, for small hotels and BNBs, it is not uncommon to see their business on TripAdvisor or Booking.com come up as a 1st result in Google (organically). This is especially bad for lodgings as people can book through TripAdvisor and the hotel owner pays a 15% commission on those bookings, while he should get them on his official site with almost no commission!
When you start a new business or change your web domain of your site.
A fresh domain name is trouble for SEO, unless you had one previously, and it is redirecting to the new one. With a new domain, you will experience big problems ranking, even for your own name. You will need a lot of SEO planning for your new domain name.
In case of penalty.
Sometimes, Google can penalize your website for suspicious activities. Maybe you hired a bad SEO person that got you bad backlinks (even those from years ago can still hurt you) or a competitor or someone paid for a spammy attack on your site – linking from Viagra selling sites to yours. Sometimes, a new Google algorithm update can hurt your site, and SEO optimization that you did 5 years ago might now harm your site.
When you don’t show up in Google, but your competitors do
The most common one.
From the get-go
A business needs SEO from the get-go. Simple.
Even brick and mortar businesses that don’t think they need an online presence need SEO, whether that simply means a local Google listing or attempting to rank for competitive search terms on both a national and international level. These days, the world does business online, and by not boosting your online presence, you’ll only limit the potential your company has to grow.
SEO is not only free advertising, but you are putting your product or service in front of potential clients at a time when they need it most, at a time when they are actively searching for a solution to a problem—a solution that you can provide.
Holistically from the beginning
Any business would benefit from SEO from the beginning stages. If we think about it in terms of a lean methodology, a lot can be discovered about customer preferences and interest in specific products and services by doing keyword research. In addition, said research can also help to create clusters of content which can then define the taxonomy and structure of the whole website, which eventually will be the base of any specific efforts to competing for organic rankings.
In addition, we should understand the intersection between UX/ADA compliance and SEO, which relates to making the website accessible not only for search engine crawlers but also for any type of user. For this and many other examples, it is imperative to create a holistic strategy that includes SEO from the beginning to eventually crossover intelligence between any other digital discipline.
When you’re ready for a boost
The real factor in determining when a business needs SEO is asking yourself if everything is in place and ready if there were a boost in traffic. The framework of a website needs to be done before you ever consider using SEO. The preparation should include things like Product or Service Pages, verifying that the website servers can hold a boost in traffic and that you are able to fulfill potential orders or services.
As strange as it might sound, I have many freelance clients wanting a boost in traffic without any real structure or preplanning on their website. SEO is incredibly important for any small or large business, but if you are receiving traffic to a broken website, chances are you are scaring away your otherwise potential customers.
After paid search
For an early stage business whose objective is primarily business growth, I would suggest choosing paid search before search engine optimization.
In marketing, you are mostly likely to win if you don’t depend on any unpaid marketing tactics to generate leads. Search engine optimization is primarily to generate organic traffic/visits to your site. I am not trying to underestimate the value of good SEO, but when it comes to prioritizing your marketing efforts, you should give preference to paid search before SEO for one simple reason – control. Our big brother, Google, changes its search algorithm very frequently. While most of these changes are minor, they roll out major changes occasionally (such as Google Panda and Google Penguin) that affect search results in a significant way.
For a marketer, it means you have to adapt your SEO efforts based on Google’s changing algorithm and guidelines, which you don’t have any control over. But, you have control over your ad placement through proper bidding and keyword selection in Google search engine marketing. Usually, the top three ads in the search are actual ads; then below that are the organic search results.
So, it’s better to begin your online marketing efforts on paid search since you can start running your ads in a week’s time and get leads from it.
Setting up your website
From the very start, SEO practices should be deeply embedded in your company’s foundation. Online presence and potency is determined by how well you set up your website SEO and continue expanding the reach and detail of the SEO your website features.
It should be part of the design, and content-writing process. If it is an older company that has adapted to new standards and sales channels, then you can give your company and website an SEO overhaul that will give your site a high-functioning online presence.