Is SEO Worth It in 2021? Analyzing the ROI of Organic Search Campaigns

Business owners and managers are often skeptical of search engine optimization (SEO) when considering their marketing budget.

“Is SEO even worth it?” They’ll ask themselves and their staff. And we understand why.

Unlike with paid ads, there’s no easy, platform-specific performance dashboard that compares daily spend with sales revenue from conversions.

The industry is full of jargon, and it can feel like some service providers are positioning themselves as gurus more than serious businesses.

Some cynics simply conclude that SEO won’t work for them.

But the cold, hard data shows a different story. Let’s see what the numbers say about whether SEO is worth it in 2021.

How expensive is SEO?

While an often-cited study (9-years old) puts the average monthly SEO spend at $5,000 per month, with more freelancers and agencies in the industry than ever, prices have changed.

A recent study by SEO tool provider Ahrefs explored what the current pricing landscape looks like — 74.71% of SEO agencies and freelance consultants offer a monthly retainer.

Surprisingly, the majority of monthly plans are cheaper than they were just nine short years ago.

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You can also see that prices vary from SEO company to company to a degree where averages aren’t very informative.

The influx in lower monthly fees likely reflects that more small businesses invest in a basic SEO service than ever before.

But when 56% of the SEOs charge more than $76 per hour, it’s hard to imagine that you get a lot of work for a retainer of a few hundred dollars.

Business size, goals, and target market are huge pricing factors

Of course, you get what you pay for. So, a multinational company with hundreds of different products or services, a $100 monthly retainer — what’s even in that? Web hosting? — probably won’t cut it.

Enterprise SEO is a different ballgame than small business SEO. You’re competing with million-dollar budgets and have to work hard for every tiny improvement.

We understand that the average small business marketing budget doesn’t include $10,000 for SEO. But coming up with and implementing a good SEO strategy takes time and expertise.

If you think your company will get world-class search engine optimization for less than your monthly Starbucks budget, you’ve got another thing coming.

If you think about SEO as an expense, a cost center, it’s easy to choose the cheapest option. But really, it’s one of the biggest investment opportunities for your business.

Think about it like real estate. When opening a new store or restaurant, you’d aim for areas with a lot of foot traffic.

SEO is the same, except the people in the “street” are potential customers who are actively searching for your products and services. Getting your business in front of these people 24/7, 365 days a year can be life-changing

If you’re not willing to pay, or you can’t find the money, you’ll have to invest a lot of your own valuable time on trial and error.

Let Us Show You The Power of SEO

Since 2009, we have helped hundreds of businesses generate more online leads and sales through SEO. Let us do it for you!

How effective is SEO? Does it even generate sales?

The short answer is SEO is very effective — not just to generate traffic but also leads and sales. Don’t worry. The long answer includes research and data, not just empty statements.

Most SEOs get too caught up in search-specific metrics like SERPs (search engine results page), rankings, and organic traffic.

For example, organic search gets over 20 times more clicks than any paid Google ad. (Zero-click searches are, for example, resolved by showing the information in a Wikipedia infobox or a word definition.)

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That sounds like a great selling point, right? Essentially, the traffic potential is 20 times larger with SEO. And you don’t have to pay for each click for the rest of your life.

But as a business owner, you care more about your bottom line than flashy metrics. If all that traffic comes from “how you can unclog your own toilet” rather than “plumber in San Diego,” you won’t get many sales.

Search intent and keyword relevance matter.

But don’t worry. When done right, SEO attracts potential consumers at beneficial stages in the buying cycle. A true SEO expert knows how to plan an SEO campaign that delivers traffic, conversions, and sales.

And the proof is in the pudding. For B2B companies, SEO generates more revenue than all other digital marketing channels combined. Across all industries, it averages 44% of all revenue.

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There’s something powerful about showing up naturally in the top results for Google. Compared to an ad, it almost feels like you’re getting Google’s cosign, singling you out as the best result.

Most experienced digital marketers agree — 70% say that SEO is better for driving sales than PPC.

A real-life example of SEO making a difference

Not convinced by examining lifeless data? Take a look at this recent case study from one of our clients.

We helped Restoration Roofing renew its online image and implement on-page and off-page SEO efforts.

Not only did we help the company increase its organic traffic by 162%, but our web design makeover helped quadruple its conversions.

Bottom line? SEO is effective for generating traffic, sales, and even brand awareness. If you’re still not convinced, check out our post on why SEO is important.

The verdict is in. For most businesses, SEO is a solid investment.

When will we see results? SEO takes too long

Some business owners and managers, especially in SMBs, feel like SEO simply takes too long.

In our recent study on SMBs and digital marketing, almost 68.8% of SMB owners expect significant results in three months or less.

Realistically, with the time it takes to rank pages in the top results, three months is at the lower end of what you could expect. And that’s if you invested in professional SEO services from experts with an appropriate budget.

If you don’t go all-in, expect a much slower timeframe.

If you try the do-it-yourself approach, only partially outsource it, or go for the cheapest option, it’s hard to tell when you should expect results. In a worst-case scenario, you may never see results or even a negative impact on your SERPs.

Learning SEO is a painstaking process that often involves more error than trial. In your quest to conquer the number one search result spot for your keywords, it’s best to get help from people who’ve done it before.

In the post “how long does SEO take,” we cover this in more detail, including steps you can take to get results faster.

Let Us Show You The Power of SEO

Since 2009, we have helped hundreds of businesses generate more online leads and sales through SEO. Let us do it for you!

Not all SEO is created equal

All SEO isn’t good SEO.

In the worst-case scenario, you can fall victim to a company that uses black hat SEO techniques, cutting corners and building links through obvious private blogging networks.

As a result, Google can punish you by completely deindexing your entire website. Even when someone Googles your company by name or keywords you already ranked for, you won’t show up.

It can take months and thousands of dollars to recover. Self-proclaimed experts also share these “tricks” online. Follow them at your own risk.

If you want consistent, reliable results, you need to work with a reputable white hat SEO agency. Ideally, you should choose one with a reputation for being on the cutting edge of technical SEO.

One indicator of that is that they’ve recently won recognized industry awards.

(Not to toot our own horn here, but we won two awards in 2020, including Search Engine Land’s SEO Agency of the year)

Of course, the awards alone don’t tell the whole story. Just like you shouldn’t instantly hire someone because of their diploma, you shouldn’t instantly hire an agency because of their awards.

You also want to see case studies of real companies (like the one we shared above) with live websites where you can double-check the claimed results.

You should also check a firm’s customer reputation, for example, with It shares reviews from confirmed customers to give you an impression of what it’s like to work with them.

For DIY, focus on finding up-to-date advice from trusted experts

If you really don’t have the budget, be extremely careful with who you take SEO advice from.

There’s a lot of information about SEO out there — 690 million search results for the term “SEO” level of a lot.

But not all of this information is good information. Most of these millions of results include outdated advice or even stuff that never really worked.

So tread carefully. We recommend that you stick to Google itself, SaaS companies with access to applicable data, big publications, and experts with a proven track record.

  • Official sources: Google Search Central
  • The big three (SEO software providers): Moz, SEMrush, Ahrefs
  • Reputable industry publications: Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch
  • SEO Agencies or consultants with a proven track record: Higher Visibility, Backlinko, etc.

But even then, make sure you check that all of the information is up-to-date and ideally includes a case study, original research, or a reference to guidelines or third-party data.

You don’t want to waste dozens or hundreds of hours based on someone else’s hunch-based SEO tactic.

Follow the latest guidelines and research-backed advice, and you should be heading in the right direction.

SEO, content creation, web design: how can I manage it all?

Organic search can seem like a complicated process compared to just cold-calling a list of potential customers.

SEO alone has hundreds of ranking factors and lots of conflicting information on best practices.

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Can you make sense of this periodic table of ranking factors? No? And these aren’t even half of the factors that top SEO experts work with.

On top of that, you need to consider:

  • Web design
  • Site loading speed and usability
  • Overall strategy
  • High-quality content
  • Landing page sales copy

If you don’t have the experience, that’s a lot to shovel onto your plate. But if you do decide to outsource, don’t worry. You don’t need to pay the hefty price tag to fix absolutely everything at once.

Treat it as a long-term investment. Figure out which areas need the most improvement, and start there. Create a roadmap for optimizing your online presence.

If you’re not sure where to start, it’s best to rely on a full-service agency that has access to experts across every element of digital marketing.

We can help you identify the areas with the most immediate upside. Then we develop the best investment strategy for delivering beneficial long-term results.

We start with an SEO audit and evaluate your whole online presence for any shortcomings.

The truth about SEO: is it still worth it in 2021?

For us, the answer is a resounding yes — as long as you do it the right way.

If you’ve read the entire post and saw the data proving how SEO helps generate sales, not just empty traffic, you probably feel the same way.

But there’s a catch. Like with anything, the quality of the service has a dramatic impact on your results. Just like you wouldn’t skimp on a TV commercial production, you don’t want to try to cut corners with SEO.

Let Us Show You The Power of SEO

Since 2009, we have helped hundreds of businesses generate more online leads and sales through SEO. Let us do it for you!

Is your traffic declining? Are you not generating enough leads or sales? We’ve been growing businesses since 2009, let us do it for you!

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