Quite a depressing list for a small business owner, really.
The conclusion is also slightly flawed. "Is SEO Still Worth the Trouble?" The answer is not as simple as 'yes', it is about return on investment.
For some small businesses, it definitely isn't worth the effort, and they are better off spending their cash on PPC and other marketing activities.
A real example, is one of my small businesses achieved number 1 position for a quality competitive keyword, and despite this not a single extra bit of business was won through this (although enquiries increased).
Organic search is never going to be highly targeted or highly qualified, so it should form at least a thought in a small businesses marketing strategy, but whether a small business should give it anything more than a passing glance depends so much on what that business does / how it sells / what the competition is ........
I think Alan’s comment makes a lot of sense – any business decision, marketing-related or otherwise, should ultimately come down to ROI. I also think that 9 times out of 10, basic, bare-minimum SEO is going to be worth the investment for a business. But fair enough – there may be businesses out there that don’t need SEO to succeed. There are certainly businesses that should devote more of their marketing budget to other activities (PPC, email marketing, etc.).
But let’s focus on the portion of Alan’s comment that I highlighted above: “Organic search is never going to be highly targeted or highly qualified.” Is this true?
I’d argue that this claim is false, and here’s why: We’re believers in using PPC data to improve SEO . If you can find targeted keywords that convert at a high rate through PPC, there’s no reason you can’t make those same keywords work for you in organic search. The keywords that drive business for you won’t always be the same in organic search and paid search, but there is overlap, and making sure you have organic pages optimized for those valuable keywords, in addition to PPC ads and landing pages, can only help your business.
Let’s look at some examples of targeted, qualified organic keywords.
Three Types of Targeted, Qualified Organic Keywords
Here are a few types of keywords that work for us in both organic and paid search. We consider them targeted and qualified because they show clear intent and drive both traffic and conversions.
Often people are going to have multiple interactions with your business before they convert. They might first hear of you through a blog post they find via organic search or a referred link – maybe at that time they don’t convert. Maybe for a few weeks they get more exposure to your brand through your remarketing  campaign. Perhaps they sign up for your newsletter and then attend a webinar or download a white paper. Then weeks later they decide they want to buy your product or enlist your services, so they Google the name of your company or a product that you sell (for example “buy wordstream” or “wordstream ppc software”), then click on an organic result and convert. Branded searches aren’t always transactional in nature – sometimes they’re just informational. But in general branded terms convert at a high rate. Because they reveal a searcher who already knows your name (Cheers-style), they qualify as qualified.
Some keywords reveal that the searcher is looking for a solution to a problem. For example:
- “improve quality score”
- “how to start a blog”
- “closet organizer”
- “denver math tutor”
All of these keywords indicate a need for help, and as such they are targeted and qualified. Your job is to provide the solution to their problem through your content , whether it’s a soft sell (like a guide that explains the basics of starting a blog) or a hard sell (like consulting services or software that directly addresses the problem at hand).
Some of the “help” keywords above are good examples of long-tail keywords. Other kinds of long-tail keywords can drive targeted, qualified traffic as well. In general, with every additional word a searcher includes in their query, we can infer more intent. For example, take this string of queries:
bags -> shopping bags -> portable shopping bags -> portable eco-friendly shopping bags
The head term “bags” is extremely vague and also extremely competitive. As you move down the line toward the long tail, the keyword becomes more specific, more revealing, and also less competitive – that means it’s easier to rank for in organic search, and the cost per click (CPC) will be lower in paid search.
Terms with high commercial intent  are pre-qualified and easier to target with very specific offers. Well-designed e-commerce landing pages will drive conversions whether searchers find them through organic or paid search.
How to Better Qualify Your Organic Traffic
Qualifying traffic from organic search isn’t as important as qualifying your clicks in PPC because you don’t have to pay for them directly. But it’s still a good idea to do what you can to tell the searcher what they can expect from your site once they click through from the SERP. Here are a few ways to accomplish that:
- Write clear, descriptive headlines – Yes, your title tags  should be optimized for your target keyword. But beyond that, they should clearly indicate what the page in question is and does. Readers love titles that clearly tell them exactly what they’re going to get – like “10 Ways to Increase Your Email Open Rate” or “Pandora vs. Spotify: Which Streaming Music Service Is Better?” Strong, transparent titles can increase your CTR from the SERP and reduce your bounce rate. Don’t use bait-and-switch techniques to get clicks if you can’t actually deliver on the promise of your headline.
- Write a strong meta description – There’s no guarantee that your meta description will show up on the SERP; often Google chooses an excerpt of its own from the page to display. But in case your meta description is displayed, it should clearly describe the value of the page (it can be longer than your headline) and include the keyword you’re targeting (the search term will appear on the SERP in bold).
There’s no reason that organic traffic for targeted keywords would be less valuable to your site than traffic that you pay for by bidding on the same keywords. As always, a balance of both organic and paid traffic sources is going to work best for most businesses – don’t assume that your budget or business model means you should only focus on one or the other.