What to do When SEO is “Not Working” for Your Business: 3 Insanely Practical Steps

by | Marketing

It’s hard to imagine a more powerful tool than SEO to grow your business.

Think about it: It’s a tool that has been designed to perfectly match the questions your customers are asking with the answers you provide.

Pretty magical, right?

Imagine a customer facing a problem you can solve, asking for the solution in their web browser, and that web browser pointing them DIRECTLY to you as the solution provider.

This is awesome.

And yet, many business owners find SEO to be a waste of time, money, or both.

One thing is for sure—SEO has the opportunity to drive incredible results for your business… but it also has the side effect of driving some people insane.

So the question is, how do we accomplish the results without the insanity?

There are a few mistakes that most business owners make when trying to implement an SEO strategy.

Let’s talk about those, and then I am going to give you three insanely practical steps to give your SEO a boost.

Quitting too soon

When we’re talking about SEO, we’re really talking about “content marketing.”

The content marketing game is only a game of skill to a certain degree. More than anything else, it is a game of endurance.

The one who “endures long enough to get noticed” (H/T Nathan Barry) is usually the one who reaches the success they desire.

If you want to build your business on SEO, dare I say, you should not even consider doing so without looking at a 3-5 year time horizon.

Many websites will start seeing some results at around month 18, but even that is only the beginning. You must be willing to see this plan through a 3-5 year time period before you consider moving on.


Simply because it will seriously take that long to know whether or not it is working. That might scare some people. And it should. That’s why most don’t do it.

Start today and don’t ever plan to stop. Endure for 3-5 years and I’ll bet you’ll have a constant stream of new customers.

Paying too much

The other two mistakes are going sound weird because we offer services, in full disclosure, that might seem to violate them. But I will explain.

If you are paying a ton of money for SEO services, but have done so without considering that you will need to pay for them for 3-5 years to see great results, you are going to commit the first mistake of quitting too soon.

But of course, cheap SEO services won’t work. They offer little in the way of meaningful results.

Thus, the catch-22: If you are going to pay, you should pay a lot. If you can’t handle the cost, you should do something else. Namely:

  1. Do the work yourself
  2. Pick a different strategy altogether

Since this post is about SEO, we’ll ignore #2 and instead discuss #1.

Which leads to the next mistake:

Farming out the responsibility

Once again, we offer services to help create SEO-driven content. Full disclosure. That said, we make every effort to mold to the content to your voice, style, and expertise.

That takes lots of skill, thought, and time. This is why SEO services (at least ours) are not cheap.

Bottom line: If you can do it yourself, you probably should do it yourself.

Nobody gets your voice, expertise, experience, or insight better than you. And while copywriters are trained to translate those things to the written page, still, nothing is better than the original.

SEO can have tremendous value for your business. But maybe you just need to roll up your sleeves and do it.

Start a business blog about your topic, write on a consistent cadence about what matters to you, and watch the magic happen.

Don’t quit too soon. Don’t pay too much. Don’t send someone else to do a job you can do better.

Ok — let’s say you’ve got those things under control and your expectations are in line.

For example, you know that in month 22 it might be premature to declare that SEO is “not working” even if you have been consistent in that time period.

You just want to make sure you are doing it right and putting your best foot forward. Great!

Here are those three insanely practical steps that I promised you:

Step 1. Check your headlines and leads

This might sound obvious, but in the game of content, there are really only two things that matter:

  1. Whether someone starts reading
  2. Whether someone finishes reading

Now, hear me out.

You probably think you must be a masterful writer in order for that reality to be the case. You needn’t be.

While you should, of course, write the best and most helpful piece you can (which we’ll discuss further in Step 2), that is not what causes someone to either start or finish what you have written.

That is largely determined by two things, and two things only:

  1. Your headline
  2. Your lead

The headline is obvious. This is the title you give your piece.

Many people create titles that commit the #1 marketing sin, which is to be boring. Boring and milk toast rarely go far. That’s why controversy does so well in journalism.

I am not saying you need to be controversial—only that you need to be interesting.

Your title should convey a few things:

  1. Who is the piece for?
  2. What is the promise of the piece?
  3. What will the payoff be?
  4. What is the path to get there?

Let’s follow these steps to analyze the title of this article: What to do When SEO is “Not Working” for Your Business: 3 Insanely Practical Steps

  1. The piece is for business owners trying to use SEO for their business, but finding it is not working
    1. I’m going to give myself bonus points here for putting “not working” in quotes—this signals something might be off about the person’s claim that it is not working and invites the click.
  2. The promise is that this piece will help solve your SEO problems.
  3. The payoff I am foreshadowing is the 3 steps I will show you to fix it.
  4. The path to get there is, again, the “3” steps (emphasis on the 3). It’s not amorphous. There’s a clear plan to follow, suggesting to the reader that they will not need to read a novel to get the answer. It will be skimmable.

As you can see, there’s a lot of information packed into that headline. It is far more likely to get clicked than something like “How to Fix Your SEO Problems”.

See how that is so… boring, non-communicative, amorphous, bland, etc?

A great headline covers a multitude of writing sins.

But now, there is one more thing to consider. A great lead. There is, in fact, a great book called Great Leads (affiliate link) you should consider reading to help.

The idea is simple: People will not start reading a boring story.

Novelists mull over the first line of their books. Why?

Because they know that the first line is their one chance to pull a reader in. Crazy as it sounds, a killer first line is far more likely to lead to a reader finish the story than almost anything else.

Just consider a classic example from A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

You’re going to keep reading that book.

There is another related truth, though, you should also consider. Sure, special attention should be paid to the first line.

But in truth, the job of every line is to get the reader to read the next one, turn the page, etc.

This is easier to accomplish with a blog post than a novel. But also harder because of how easy it is to click away and get distracted by shiny objects on the Internet.

Over time you will get better with your words. Start with the headline and the lead. It will get readers into the story and allow you to make more impact and get the right information into their hands.

Step 2. Ask the “Power Question”

This step is where we get radically honest with ourselves.

Here’s what you need to know about SEO: You are writing for people. Period. Not machines.

The “machines” (e.g., search engine algorithms) are designed to give the most value possible to potential readers.

You need to create the best human reading experience possible. This was captured well in one of the best books I’ve ever personally read about SEO, How To Get To The Top of Google: The Plain English Guide to SEO (affiliate link).

In it, the author, Tim Cameron-Kitchen proposed what I call the Power Question:

Does this website genuinely deserve to rank position one for this phrase?

Justifying this question, he continues later:

…everything we do in SEO is about showing Google that your website deserves to be ranking at the top. If we do that, we crack the code.

Here are a few reasons why this question is so valuable to ask:

  1. It forces you to get real
  2. It clarifies what you are trying to rank for
  3. It implicitly denies “hacktics”
  4. It honors the goal of Position 1

Here’s how it boils down: If you are writing with the intent of ranking on Google for a specific term, and you don’t even believe the piece has the potential to get there, it’s likely not good enough.

Is the piece informative? Does it match the intent of the searcher? Does it match their expectations? (e.g., are they expecting a listicle post when you’ve given them a blocky novel?)

These additional questions help to clarify whether or not you are giving the people (and the algorithms designed to get your work in front of them) what they want.

And if you’re not giving them what they want, you can’t ultimately be successful with SEO.

But wait, there’s more…

This is important: Let me now provide a HUGE caveat and disclaimer to what I just wrote:

When it comes to writing content on the Internet, there are three ideas you MUST grasp, or else you are going to fail because you think it is too hard.

Step 2 leads us to radical honesty about some of the questions we should ask, tweaks we should make, and levers we should pull.

But we must not get so overwhelmed by these that we ignore a few fundamental ideas about getting the basics right:

  1. Staying with it. The worst kind of marketing is the kind you don’t (or won’t) do. I cannot overstate the importance of simply staying with it longer than everyone else (or at least your competition!). Staying with it leads to getting better over time anyway. Quitting is a bad idea. If keeping it simpler means you do it longer, choose that path.
  2. Answering questions. I learned the concept of answering specific questions from Sean Cannell of the Think Media YouTube channel. Also must attribute Marcus Sheridan’s incredible book They Ask, You Answer (affiliate link) here. One of the BEST “SEO Strategies™” ever is to simply write better answers to your customers’ specific questions for a longer period of time. That might be 70% of SEO right there.
  3. The research dilemma. SEOs are known for their voluminous research efforts. And keyword research is a good thing, sure enough. But even the best SEOs and content marketers will tell you they are often surprised by what gets results. Sometimes you work for days to write a post that goes nowhere and mere hours (or minutes!) on a post that goes viral. You have less control than you think, so just write.

Step 3. Measure up: audit your progress

If you’ll notice, to this point, my advice has been basically this:

  1. Write something and do it longer than other people
  2. Make small tweaks along the way to get more people reading

Neither of those things is very analytical, and that’s on purpose. Most people think SEO is merely a game of analytics. It isn’t. As discussed, it’s a game of endurance and intentionality.

There certainly is a time, however, to look at numbers and make sure you are being effective. This is business after all, and the investment has to make sense.

I get that. We get that.

For that reason, we recommend regularly auditing your SEO efforts so you can (1) celebrate wins and (2) strategize for the future.

One of the services we offer is called the Full SEO Audit + Action Plan. It allows us to take a deep dive into what’s working, what isn’t, and lay out a plan for the future.

We run these reports and work with this data all the time and would love to help you with that. However, if you want to do this yourself, here’s a video that shows you exactly what to do using the same exact platform we use:

Some generally sound advice for Internet marketing:

Never let data stop you from taking action. But when possible, avail yourself of the plethora of data and take action based on it.

As long as you continue taking action, it only makes sense to make the most of your time and money investment. We use data-driven SEO audits and action plans to make that happen.

If you would like our help with that, please give us a shout!

And if not, that’s fine too. Keep writing. Keeping working. Keep improving. Endure the longest, and you will win the SEO game.


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