Is SEO an All-or-Nothing Strategy?

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“You get what you pay for” is an idiom true in many contexts. It’s not worth buying a cheap mattress, a cheap pair of running shoes, or (arguably) cheap beer because these things either won’t last, or will be so unsatisfying you end up buying the more expensive version anyway. SEO is such a strategy; while different agencies offer similar services at different prices, as a general rule, the more you invest in an SEO strategy, the more it’s going to pay off for you.

That being said, is your gradually increasing investment met with a corresponding, gradually increasing benefit? Or is there some kind of threshold of investment where SEO really starts to “pay off?”

Compounding Investments and Long-Term Payoffs

First, it’s important to acknowledge that SEO payoffs are closely tied to three significant dimensions:

· Quantity. This is the sheer amount of work you do on a regular basis. For example, having more links (as long as they are quality) results in having a higher domain authority, and having more high-quality content pieces on your website gives you more pages in Google’s index.

· Quality. The quality of your work also matters, and tends to increase with the amount of time (or money) you spend on it. For example, one link on a highly authoritative source is probably worth more than several links from low-authority sources.

· Time. Your work tends to have cumulating effects that snowball over time — you won’t see results immediately, no matter how much effort you spend, but your efforts are semi-permanent, and stack over a period of months and years.

Investing more personal time or money in the strategy greatly affects both volume and quality (assuming you’ve invested correctly). Therefore, the compounding payoff of time is greatly increased by such a change.

By these accounts, additional investments of time and money carry an increase not only in overall returns, but the rate of growth of those returns. Think of it as an increase in acceleration, rather than an increase in speed. To assign arbitrary numerical values as an illustration of this effect, consider an investment of 1 producing an eventual return of 2, an investment of 2 producing an eventual return of 6, an investment of 3 producing an eventual return of 12, and so on.

The Competition Factor

The click-through rates for search positions offer diminishing returns; the first result for a given keyword gets about 31 percent of the clicks, with the second result getting 14 percent. Only about 5 percent of searchers ever make it beyond the first page of search results.

Let’s run a thought experiment: there are 10,000 sites for a given query, and your site starts at the bottom. If you pour in 50 hours of effort, you end up ranking at position 11, just shy of the first page. If you pour in another 50 hours of effort, you end up at position 1. Here, a 50 percent investment would yield less than a 5 percent traffic payoff, where a 100 percent investment would yield a 34 percent traffic payoff. In this example, it seems your strategy demands an “all or nothing approach.”

However, there are alternative ways of increasing visibility at lower budgets and lower levels of investment. For example, you could target a specific niche to reduce your competition, or you could target only a local geographic area for a higher chance of relevance with your target audience. The competition factor is a significant one, but it doesn’t necessitate investing everything you have, especially if search traffic is not a high priority for your business.

The Quality Threshold

You also need to consider a standard of quality that must be met before you start seeing results. For example, if your on-site blog posts are short and contain little to no meaningful information, they’re not going to help improve your campaign at all. In fact, poorly-written or thin content on your site can trigger a Panda penalty, dropping your rankings significantly in search engines, not to mention the negative impacts on your brand when visitors read the content. If you try to submit similarly poor content to publishers for link building purposes, you’re going to get rejected and lose the relationships you’re trying to build.

Accordingly, there’s a minimum you’ll need to invest in quality if you want to see results; you can’t just toss a few hundred dollars at it and expect to start seeing growth. That doesn’t mean you need to be the best in the world, but it does mean you need to at least measure up to your competitors. And if you want to rank higher than your highest-ranking competitors, you probably need to design a content strategy that’s better than theirs. Unfortunately, there’s no quantitative guide here; there’s no series of definitive rules that can “guarantee” a piece of content surpasses that of your competitors. You’ll have to use your best judgment in combination with an intimate knowledge of best practices for content marketing.

Bringing It Together

So far, we’ve evaluated SEO investments in a number of different areas, and we’ve come to the following conclusions:

· Increased investments offer greatly increasing returns rather than a simple one-to-one exchange.

· Competition makes it hard, but not impossible, for businesses with small investments to achieve visibility.

· In order to gain any momentum, your content and link building strategies must achieve a certain threshold of quality.

From these conclusions, we can answer the question: is SEO an all-or-nothing strategy? One that demands your entire marketing strategy to see any significant effects? Not exactly. You need to invest enough time and effort to meet a high standard of quality, and greater investments definitely yield greater results, but smaller investments can also be effective if invested the right way.

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