Is Organic SEO Really Free?

Category: SEO

So you want to rank number one in Google? Great!

Unfortunately, so does everyone else.

That’s where SEO, or search engine optimisation comes in. It’s the process of making changes to your website to optimise it to be the best out there, and (fingers crossed) to be ranked higher in Google searches.

Often we have business owners approach us wanting advice on SEO. And often, they aren’t asking for our SEO services – they’re asking to be guided in the right direction because SEO is ‘free’ and they can do it themselves.

Our response? You wouldn’t ask a chef for their secret sauce so you can create their dish at home, would you?! It’s like going to University to earn your Masters Degree in a specialty Physiotherapy, only to have a high school kid turn around to you and say they can fix their own ankle pain because they watched a video about it on YouTube!

But is SEO Really ‘Free’?

Organic SEO refers to the unpaid search results, whereas paid search results are run through Google Ads. So technically, yes – you don’t pay Google to rank in organic search.

But there is always a transaction when you do anything. Either in money, time, or by saying ‘no’ to something else. So what is the payoff when it comes to organic SEO? Let’s explore that a little.

For context, there’s many, many companies whose work revolves around getting their clients ranked in Google, and they get paid big bucks to do it. Why? Because while organic SEO is technically ‘free’; the skill, knowledge and effort required to get to the top (or at least near the top) is far from free.

I personally have spent since 2016 working on my personal website/blog, and it’s only in the last year that I can confidently say I have a deep understanding of how to implement SEO in a way that actually works. Within a few minutes of research, I know what new keyphrases I could rank for and my site brings in around 10 thousand hits per week from Google alone. That’s over 1,200,000 views and rapidly counting since 2017, and all done through organic search (and thousands of hours of research and writing optimised content 😉). This is a great result but one that didn’t come easily or quickly. Not to mention I have an amazing husband who set my website up to be technically sound for SEO! Without those solid foundations I would have simply been setting myself up for failure from the outset.

Is organic SEO free | Newcastle Creative Co

How Much Time Do You Have?

With that said, how much time do you have to realistically work on your SEO as a business owner? Will you dedicate maybe an hour per week, or per month? Unfortunately that won’t be enough to see results.

Let me reiterate that it has taken me four years to fully understand SEO and get great results. And that’s through spending at least a day every week working on my blog.

Keep in mind that Google has over 200 ranking factors. A lot of people will focus on optimising the simple ones like adding keywords, meta descriptions and creating content. But if you neglect the other 197+ factors, it’s likely you won’t see a return on your efforts.

SEO is a long term game. So if you’re wanting to rank, be aware that you may not see results from your efforts for the first six months, even with an expert on your side.

Is it Worth Your Energy to Learn it From Scratch?

As a busy business owner, I’m sure there are multiple things you could or should be spending your time on. You will need to weigh up if your SEO strategy is worth spending your time own on, in lieu of everything else you could be doing. Time is the ultimate commodity, and when you say yes to one thing, you’re ultimately saying no to a bunch of other things.

Not only is there the time taken to implement SEO, but you’ll actually need to spend your time researching and learning about how to do it in the first place. And yes, there is a tonne of free SEO resources available online.

But you will need to weigh up if it’s worth what you could be doing instead, to first learn about this free strategy or not. Are you first & foremost a business owner, or do you want to become a master of this highly sought-after skill of being an SEO?

There’s also the time spent on staying up-to-date with SEO to consider. Google is constantly updating their algorithm and if you aren’t keeping up with the latest changes you can quickly fall behind.

Are You Technically Minded?

This might seem like an odd question but it is one that must be asked. Some parts of SEO implementation are relatively simple (which is normally what you’ll read about in blog posts) while others are very technical. Do you know your way around your website currently? Do you confidently know how to fix errors when they come up? Are you sure the software you have installed is quality? (Hint: if it was free, most likely not).

Some basics to start with are; do you have Google Analytics set up on your site? Are you familiar with it and are you aware of how much traffic your site is currently getting, where it’s coming from and what searches or pages are getting you that traffic? Do you know where you currently rank for different searches, in light of how you’d like to rank?

They’re all very basic but important questions to ask. Again, they are all things you can learn about. But without these simple foundations in place, you may not know where to start when it comes to implementing SEO strategies. If you aren’t technically minded or if you find the simple parts tricky, I’ll let you know straight away that DIY SEO may not be for you.

Will You Invest in Some of the Tools Required?

Apart from the free resources available online, there’s also a myriad of paid SEO tools that can really up your SEO game, add to your strategy and help you understand your strengths & weaknesses when compared to your competition. (Yes, you can even ‘spy’ on your competitors’ SEO strategies too).

Most SEO tools are a monthly subscription and can range from a few dollars per month to a few hundred dollars per month. Agencies often have access to the best tools because it’s worthwhile for them to do so – they can use them on multiple clients.

If you’re wanting some help with things like tracking toxic backlinks, analysing competitors’ traffic, learning what keywords are the most valuable, creating consistent directory listings for local business SEO, there are tools for it all.

You’ll need to consider any costs of software that can really help your SEO strategy and whether you can invest in tools like this and learn how they work.

Can You Hire an SEO Expert?

Let’s say it’s your partner’s birthday and its up to you to make it special. You want to organise a birthday cake. Simple, right?

You have two options: Buy some eggs, sugar, butter and make a cake in your kitchen for under $10. All it will take is your time and skill (if you have baking skills, that is).

Or, you could buy a cake from the local cake baking business. This will cost you $20-50 for a cake that looks good and tastes even better. It has passionfruit frosting, your partner’s name written across the top (if you’ve tried this at home, you’ll know it’s impossible to make writing on cakes look good), and the fluffiest, not-too-dry and not-too-wet sponge centre.

But WHY would anyone pay someone to make a cake when you could do it yourself at home for so much cheaper?!

Catching my drift? I know that I’m personally no baker, and if I attempted that passionfruit-frosted sponge with cursive writing on top, it would probably end up in one of those articles about hilarious Pinterest fails.

buzzfeed Pinterest cake fail | Newcastle Creative Co
pic via Buzzfeed

‘Happy Birthday, Gena…’ Now that’s just scary.

Of course, there are so many benefits of paying an expert for something that you could maybe attempt yourself. And this is absolutely true when it comes to SEO. Sometimes it just takes knowing your strengths & weaknesses, and what you should really outsource.

A common misconception with SEO services is that they are an overpriced service for work that you could do yourself. And while it is possible to give SEO a go yourself (as above), prices for SEO services generally reflect a few things:

  • The amount of time it actually takes to implement SEO strategies
  • The skills your SEO consultant have acquired over many years
  • The costs of tools & software programs used to help with SEO, and
  • The results they’ve been able to get others (proof and/or guarantee).

What about the ROI on organic SEO services?

Great question… And one we find most people do not think about. Generally speaking, SEO contracts start at a 6 month minimum and if you’re paying anything less than $1000 a month, you should seriously question the service given the amount of time that goes into a quality SEO strategy.

So what’s the ROI? For myself I now have traffic coming in on autopilot to my site, and for me that means long term recurring revenue. My leads and customers may look different to the service-based industry, but nonetheless I get a cheque in the mail every month. And it’s growing…

Your SEO strategy can be a lead that can bring in traffic for years to come. But depending on your business, you’ll also need to take into account if that traffic is able to convert on your site and how to measure this. Are they locals that can visit your business? Do you sell something online worldwide? You’ll need to connect the dots between ranking in a Google search and getting money in your bank account at the end of the day.

Do You Really want to Rank #1?

Let’s come back to the original question – can you implement organic SEO to rank #1 in Google – for free? Well, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worth your energy of learning a new skill, investing in programs, your ongoing time, what you could be doing with your time instead, or if it’s worth your money to hire an expert.

If you’ve weighed up the above and decide you’d like to learn how to implement SEO yourself, I’ll give you a quick head start. We’ve piled all we know into a step-by-step SEO course especially for local businesses. You can learn about the SEO for Local Business Course here.

If you want to start with a more content-focused SEO strategy, you can grab the Blogging & Content Strategy Masterclass section of the course here.

Or if you’d like to take the expert route, contact us for info on our SEO services.

And if you’d really, truly like to do SEO for free, start by checking out our blog & podcasts – they’re full of SEO tips specifically for local businesses.

What do you think of organic SEO – do you agree or disagree that it’s free? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

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