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SEO is a long-term play and requires patience.

I’ve told this to clients and stakeholders hundreds of times during my career.

After a couple of decades in the industry, I still believe that SEO demands time to see results.

SEO is a long-term commitment that should be considered an investment versus an expense.

It is not advertising and does not have the same type of quick return on investment measurement.

However, I have also seen clients and contacts who were told to wait and look at SEO as long-term, then end up getting burnt anyway.

There’s a difference between being patient and just waiting.

Beyond time, other factors go into a solid SEO client/agency partnership – or even in-house resources and teams – to ensure that expectations are defined and managed, so the effort is ultimately successful.

How to define and manage SEO expectations?

SEO expectations include:

  • The amount of time that SEO takes.
  • Hard costs associated with SEO resource investments (internal or external/agency).
  • Soft costs associated with SEO resource investments.
  • Non-SEO resources needed (copy, UX, dev, IT, approvals, etc.).
  • Level of involvement by client/stakeholders.
  • Competitive landscape.
  • Audience volume.
  • Overall ROI opportunity.

That’s a lot of stuff! There’s likely more to add to the list or nuanced ways to break out some of the items into more bullet points.

SEO is big. There are plenty of moving parts. It takes time, money, and a baseline level of understanding to:

  • Learn what you are getting.
  • Know that ROI is possible.
  • Have decision points down the road that are objective and not based on emotion or incomplete data.

How long does SEO take?

SEO takes time. It is a long-term discipline that requires consistent short-term tactics and implementation.

Whether you have an agency, consultant, or in-house person/team managing SEO, you need to mentally prepare for it to take some time to see significant results.

But that doesn’t mean you should detach from the effort, waiting for it all to be fully optimized and performing to your liking.

If you haven’t seen a strategy, tactical plan and goals, you should ask for one. 

There’s no reason to be “floating” or waiting for updates or results or to be led to believe that you should trust someone to handle SEO and that, at some point down the road, it will magically be “done.”

Promises about how long it will take to see specific results should not be expected or made. However, experienced SEO professionals should be able to give you some reasonable expectations based on their strategy, plan, and process – tied to your goals – or at what points you should see certain milestones.

You should expect to know:

  • What milestones are ahead.
  • What metrics and KPIs you’ll be seeing.
  • The level of communication and input you need in the process.

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How well should I expect SEO to perform?

This question probably could – and should – come before asking how long it will take. However, it sometimes isn’t asked at all until months into an SEO investment.

This is a key question on the front end of any SEO engagement or investment. Much like how long SEO takes, SEOs are often non-committal and can’t guarantee performance.

However, they should be able to do some modeling and projections based on your historical, current, and opportunistic website and business data combined with audience and competitor research.

Suppose there’s a big opportunity to gain new exposure with rankings for new topics and terms, matched with the right content and ability to serve that audience, getting them to convert in a customer journey. In that case, that can be used to do some projecting.

If you know the full investment in any SEO resource (people and tech) plus the other areas that will be needed (copy, IT, etc.), then you can get a pretty good picture of the total monetary investment.

Your SEO should be able to help you with some data to: 

  • Connect the dots with your business information.
  • Calculate possible conversions. 
  • Work through the math to ensure the potential ROI is positive, making for a good business investment overall.

What does SEO success look like?

SEO success can come in many different forms. Return on investment is the one that comes to mind first.

Beyond that:

  • How is SEO performance influencing your customer journey?
  • Is it generating more or new awareness?
  • Is it moving people through to the next step? 

It may not always lead directly to a conversion. Thought leadership and other aspects of exposure and engagement from SEO traffic could be part of your goals and essential in the success equation.

Having a solid partnership with your SEO team is vital as well.

You should be able to trust them to lead the strategy, be transparent, and have open lines of communication on the goals and ROI metrics, making sure no one is caught off guard.

What are warning signs?

Bad SEO warning signs include:

  • Poor communication.
  • Lack of transparency.
  • No conversation around strategy and goals.

These key items are central to so much of what goes right and wrong with SEO efforts. Time, money invested, goal performance metrics, and what it takes to achieve them are critical.

If any of those components aren’t clear, are glossed over, or are missing from your internal or external SEO resources and team, then it should be a cause for concern.

Keep these in mind before you start or call a timeout with your current partner to resolve any concerns before spending additional time and dollars.

Always set and manage SEO expectations

Unfortunately, I know many people who are skeptical about SEO or have given up on it. That tends to stem from the belief that SEO doesn’t work or that SEO providers can’t be trusted, so the effort isn’t worth it.

I totally get it. I’m not saying I’m perfect or that my team is and that every client we’ve partnered with has had an ideal path to their goal results.

However, you can see a profitable path for your SEO efforts. How? By:

  • Managing expectations.
  • Watching for warning signs.
  • Understanding what makes SEO successful.

Yes, there are a lot of moving parts and pieces. 

Yes, SEO takes time and money.

But it doesn’t have to be something you sit back and wait and see while you write checks.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Stips.io. Staff authors are listed here.

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About The Author

Corey Morris is a skilled marketing professional with 15+ years of experience developing award-winning, ROI-generating digital strategies for local and national brands. He was recently honored as the recipient of the KCDMA 2019 Marketer of the Year award. Corey serves as the chief strategy officer at Voltage – a marketing firm based in Kansas City, MO. Previously, he founded the KC Search Marketing Conference to help build a local community for search marketers for career growth. He was recognized for his involvement in the conference and invited to join the global board of SEMPO (now part of DAA) as the VP of Cities.