When SEO may not be worth the cost

Everyone wants to be at the top. Similar to many new website owners that believed owning a website meant business would subsequently be automatic, the majority of executives and business owners purchasing SEO believe that being at the top means their business will flourish, have thousands of visitors and hundreds of new orders. They rely heavily on the inaccurate data provided by third party SEO tools, Google Adwords Keyword Research and Keyword Tracker. Think again. The best keyword research, in my professional opinion, is common sense, not to exclude using keyword research tools, especially in a complex niche where there may be a great deal of important synonymous or misspellings.

At the root of all above, the question for many companies is, “When is SEO not justified?”  When can you use all of the tools available to foresee SEO being a waste of money?

Here’s a brief list of situations where SEO is not worth it:

  • When you use common sense and the tools available that all show little to no online interest/market in your particular business.
  • If you are in a business where the profit margin is minimal and requires dozens of sales to recover your investment.
  • If you are fighting to pay current bills, either personal or business.
  • When your business focuses on national keywords; and when it’s possible you will exhaust your marketing budget before achieving top placement.
  • When you don’t have a product or service that sells without SEO. If you don’t have something that sells, SEO is useless.
  • When your sole objective is to move from position 3 to position 1. SEO is not worth it when your goal is to move up a few positions for one keyword. Textbook SEO should be utilized to make your website industry relevant, not relevant for one keyword. SEO Companies don’t control the engine’s results and cannot directly “move” someone to any specific position.
  • When your sole objective is to increase PageRank.
  • When you are trying to optimize a page that is part of an umbrella (for example: www.etsy.com/my-page.html)
  • When you are relying solely on SEO for profit. I find smaller businesses, having no sales or business at all, relying on SEO to change their life – and usually overnight. I find that businesses are typically more successful when they have a well rounded approach to marketing and business development.
  • When you rely on Black Hat strategies.
  • When your business requires immediate sales.

Here are some specific failure scenarios:

  • SEO was unsuccessful after thousands of dollars spent. Rankings did not greatly improve as a result of many factors.
  • SEO was semi successful but I was unable to continue due to budget.
  • SEO was successful in delivering rankings but not traffic.
  • SEO was successful in delivering rankings and traffic, but not sales, design/call to action not/being a factor.
  • SEO was successful in delivering rankings, traffic, and sales, but not enough revenue to match or exceed spend, resulting in a net loss.

SEO is typically a failure or “not worth it” with businesses that have little to no revenue, or business, at the time they commence SEO.  When someone tells me they don’t have a $200-$500 monthly budget for Adwords, the red flag goes up right away. Interestingly, clients claim that they believe Adwords is expensive, produces few clicks and no sales, all because customers know the AD is paid for – even if they haven’t personally tested it. I often explain that if there’s a market, that market will buy via free organic search (SEO) or Pay Per Click related search (Adwords). 

If you only had a budget for one or the other, Pay Per Click may win the first battle in your war because it will produce immediate traffic. If done correctly and done so under the ideal circumstances, it will also produce sales. You could easily spend the same amount on SEO that you would have spent on PPC, produce no traffic, no sales, and go broke.

Bottom line, if you cannot afford it, it’s not worth it. That’s common sense.  It gets tricky when you have a product or service that is either very competitive or hasn’t proven to be desired by the market. Consider the facts above before spending $3,000 - $50,000 per year on your SEO efforts.


Let’s visualize. Imagine you paid $500 per month for SEO and $500 per month for Pay Per Click, totaling $1,000 per month for a full year.  If you concurrently had no revenue stream whatsoever, you would likely find that paid advertising yields a higher return during the first year than natural SEO. The charts below display the assumed gain or loss after a full year of both paid and natural marketing efforts. Notice a positive ROI for “Paid Marketing” and a net loss for “Natural SEO”.

Think twice before hiring a company for SEO.  For a growing majority, the next question that needs to be asked is, "Is Social Media Marketing REALLY worth it?"

Qualified Impressions