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Is search engine optimisation worth it?

Long-time readers will know my view on this. Great search engine optimisation should easily be worth the time, effort and expense. In technical business to business markets, generating a website visit from a prospect can easily cost £5 or more. For a small company, even if Google or Bing natural search sends you just 100 interesting people a week, increasing this by 20% will be worth £5,000 a year straight off.

And yet… great search engine optimisation is unlikely to be available for £5,000 a year, not if you want your involvement to be limited to signing a purchase order. Many companies are spending this sort of money, just passing £500 a month or something like that to a web design agency, but I doubt that many are getting results from it; the exercise is more like an act of faith, and being seen to be doing something.

If your budget is this small, I believe you’d be better off managing things yourself. That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert. You can research or buy in advice on what needs doing (we give this to our clients for free), and you can get many of the resulting tasks done quite cheaply (or in-house for nothing). Don’t be bamboozled by anyone claiming it’s some sort of magic which can’t be explained to the likes of you.

For those whose budget for SEO is decent (and I can’t believe how few large companies in technical B2B markets push for an appropriate budget), then you can talk to a proper SEO specialist agency. But expect to pay well into five figures a year for this sort of thing. To prepare for this, have a read of 34 Questions You Should Ask Before Hiring an SEO Agency on

What impact should we expect from links on search engine ranking?

If you’re building links to your website, or you’ve got somebody “doing SEO” who should be building links, how long will it take to have an effect? That’s the subject of a good article How Long Does Link Building Take to Influence Rankings? on the Moz blog.

The two ‘takeaways’ which I got from the article were these. Firstly, 10 weeks is a typical gestation period for a strong inbound link to have an impact on the position of your search result. And secondly, stronger external sites will have a far higher impact, and may do so slightly more quickly.

What do we mean by ‘stronger external sites’? The article refers to ‘DA’, which is ‘domain authority‘. This is a score developed by the Moz website which attempts to rate how well a website is ranking on search engines. You can see the Domain Authority of a site (including your own) using Open Site Explorer.


The author of the article writes: “I generally have a rule that I don’t want to spend any time or money on sites with DAs under 25. This chart shows that they’re not completely devoid of value, but be prepared for a very, very small change in rank with these guys.”

So there you have it: a way to determine sites to target for links, and an idea of when you should be expecting any impact. Don’t be impatient.

DIY SEO in 2016

Yesterday I reiterated that if you’re paying somebody to “do SEO” for you, it’s essential to get a breakdown of what they’re doing each month. There do seem to be people out there taking money from clients each month for search engine optimisation and doing nothing in return. If you know what they’re doing, you can see if it’s worthwhile (and it can be; plenty of good people do exist out there).

More than ever though, I think you can maintain and improve your website’s performance in the search engines yourself. At the very least, if you understand what needs to be done, you can outsource the work for which you might not have the time or inclination. This includes tidying up all the on-page SEO (titles, tags etc) and creating more and better content across the site.

You can book yourself on an SEO training day, naturally – there are plenty of them around. But before you commit to spending £500, why not have a read of some of the extensive online guides which are available. For example, the Beginners Guide To SEO from comes with impeccable credentials and believe me, tells you more than you’re going to be able to seriously implement. It also goes further than a one-day course is likely to be able to go. Then all you need to do is to find that spare day (which you’d have found if you’d booked yourself on a course!) to study the subject.

There are helpful links and unhelpful ones

If you’re interested in search marketing, I would thoroughly recommend the weekly “Whiteboard Friday” videos on Moz, a site which most SEO specialists rate very highly. Last week they tackled “Why the Links You’ve Built Aren’t Helping Your Page Rank Higher“, which gave a good insight into some of the difficulties surrounding search engine optimisation.

I won’t go over what’s said in the presentation (although I’d recommend watching it), but there are two things we should take away. The first is that although we want links to our sites and our content, there’s no point in having just any old links. The ones which make a difference are from good sites, which are related to what we do, and are clearly linking to us as a reference for something they’re discussing. A link to your home page from a poorly-rated directory isn’t going to do you any good at all, especially if Google believes that there’s a commercial element to the link.

The second thing to realise is that building good links is really hard to do, and the opportunities are really limited. Throwing a couple of hundred quid each month at someone to “do SEO” isn’t going to get you an effective external link profile. That’s something you’ll need to work on yourself, using your knowledge of your industry, its media and your contacts.

Agonise over your web page titles. This is important!

Controlling the way your results are displayed in Google may seem like an academic subject, but it’s important. It can make a huge difference to the clickthroughs you get from Google, which – down the line – will affect your company’s sales. As simple as that. Companies can throw a lot of money at “SEO” (often not knowing what that really involves), without realising that perhaps the single most important element of SEO may be getting the titles and descriptions looking good – and that’s something which is easy to manage, in-house.

Even the best-reading titles and descriptions can be ruined, however, if they get cut off by Google. So it’s important, when you’re writing them, to know how many words you can use. There’s now new data available on that, following the introduction of Google’s recent redesign.

In the past, analysts have recommended that you “count characters”, and have suggested around 60 characters is the upper limit for titles, and 160 characters for the description. However, Google is now using a fixed-width box, and things get much more complicated, because the number of characters which fit in the invisible box depends on which characters you’re using: “W”s, for example, are much wider than “i”s.

This might sound impossible to calculate, and I’m not even going to tell you what the pixel limits are here, because none of us can count them by hand. Fortunately, some folks who like data crunching have come to the rescue. Firstly, they’ve worked out how many pixels we’ve got in which to fit our titles and descriptions. Then they’ve developed tools we can use to test things against this pixel limit.

There’s a new Title Preview Tool on The Moz Blog, for example. And website audit applications such as Screaming Frog and A1 Website Analyzer have also included “pixel count” into their results.

I can understand companies agonising for hours over a print advertisement headline, even though it might only be seen by a few hundred people, and be history after a couple of weeks. But it doesn’t make sense if you don’t spend at least as long on a web page title, which may be seen (in the Google results) by tens of thousands more people, for years to come. You need to audit the titles and descriptions on all of your web pages, and you need to keep on top of them.

Those readers who use BMON for their Google AdWords campaigns can always ask us for a complete titles and descriptions analysis – we’re happy to provide these, free, at any time.

Further reading:
Page Title & Meta Description By Pixel Width In SERP Snippet (Screaming Frog)
New Title Tag Guidelines and Preview Tool (The Moz Blog)