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How To Know You’re Ready For SEO, and What to Do If You’re Not

Believe it or not, search engine optimization was first abbreviated as SEO in 1997. As crazy as it sounds, SEO has been around even longer than Google. And it’s not going away any time soon. Digital marketing is more relevant now than it’s ever been before.

What Is SEO?

SEO is one of about eight digital marketing strategies used in business today:

  • Social media marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Mobile marketing
  • Marketing analytics
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Pay-per-click
  • Search engine optimization

Ideally, all these strategies work together in concert. Of the eight, SEO is the only one that depends entirely on what people proactively search for online.

The basic gist of the SEO game is to research which keywords you want to rank with, and then research whether you stand a chance of beating out the competition with those specific terms in a Google search.

If you want to really dive in and learn more about what SEO is and how to do it right, expert SEO consultants at Moz have an in-depth beginner’s guide they put together to help you get started. In this post, we’re going to focus on how to know if your business is ready to commit budget to SEO strategy, and how to move the needle right now if you’re not.

Market Size and Scope

The first thing you want to pin down before launching a large-scale SEO operation is the size and scope of your market. Companies like Apple and Airbnb invest heavily in maintaining their presence on front-page search results in their respective industries. But while it’s true that SEO is essential for many national and international brands, local Mom and Pop’s Ice Cream Shop may not have quite as much to gain from the same strategies.

Let’s say you’re based in Lansing and you’ve just finalized the design for a taco-shaped sleeping bag. While we agree that’s super cool, it isn’t likely a fan of the children’s book “Dragons Love Tacos” in L.A. will know to jump online today and preorder a pallet full of them. However, optimizing locally relevant keywords can still be a profitable strategy, especially in industries and for offers where competition is relatively low.

The Bottom Line

Huge brands with nationwide markets and an SEO budget to match can bring in significant returns, but even up-and-coming brands can compete with carefully chosen, laser-focused keywords.

There are so many great strategies to bring new, local and relatively unknown products and services to the attention of their audiences. Especially for new and niche offers, building up an audience through emails, content marketing and social media throughout the development phase can be the difference between irrelevance and success. When used consistently over time, these strategies can help you grow quickly while preparing you for an expanded strategy that includes SEO down the line.

SEO Budget

Big businesses spend $5,000 to $20,000 or more monthly, where international corporate giants like Amazon and Facebook spend tens of millions of dollars each month on SEO alone. For a small business, even $1,000 per month of SEO spend can make a difference, but only if your direct competition isn’t already spending much, much more.

Keyword research itself doesn’t have to cost more than time, and that may be all you need to optimize your articles and posts. Basic SEO knowledge and optimization skills can only serve you well when you’re writing content for your website and copy for your ads. But if you’re going to try for that coveted spot on the front page of Google, you’re going to have to pay to beat your competitors to it.

There are many tools you can use to conduct keyword research and track changes in traffic and sales resulting from your efforts. At M3 Group, we use Semrush to discover and analyze competitors, for keyword research, and to track performance for our clients. We also use Google Analytics, which is robust as well as free to use.

The Bottom Line

Basic SEO optimization can be good for anyone, but the spot on the first search results page generally goes to whichever company spends the most to optimize its results. Still, businesses more willing to find and focus on ranking for different keywords than their competitors can also compete.

Signing up for a free business profile on Google Business and Apple Business Register, respectively, are other ways to — literally — put yourself on the map.

Measurable ROI

It’s always a good idea to do a full website audit for our clients before seriously considering SEO or any other digital marketing strategy, because without solid return on investment that clearly justifies the cost, first-page ranking in the name of “visibility” is nothing more than a money-roasting vanity metric.

Don’t be the business that invests significant resources into SEO optimization without fully understanding its purpose, therefore failing to fully achieve the potential benefits. Visibility itself is only a means to an end, and the end goal here is the same for every other marketing strategy you use: increasing ROI.

That said, don’t be the business that shies away from investing in SEO strategy that really stands to benefit from it either. No strategy is guaranteed to work right out of the gate; but if you do your research and make a data-based decision, your odds will be much better.

The Bottom Line

If you complete a website audit and competitive keyword research analysis and see a clear potential for measurable ROI from expanding your SEO strategy, you likely stand to gain a lot from trying it out. If your research shows you’re not ready yet, building out your authority with consistent blog content, guest podcasting, media spots, video and social media posts can expand your reach now while setting you up for potential SEO success in the future.


How long will it take for this to work? Business owners and digital marketers have been asking SEO experts this tired question for decades.

The days of loading blog posts with keywords and expecting a traffic increase are long gone. SEO strategy has evolved alongside changing search algorithms, laws and even popular culture — and will continue to do so. Like planting a seed, it takes more than hoping for good weather to see results.

SEO strategy takes four to six months of sustained and consistent effort, and there’s always the risk of some huge distraction or crisis compromising your progress, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the potential return.

The Bottom Line

If you can confirm that you and your team have budget and bandwidth to tackle SEO for four to six months before you can be sure it either is or is not working, go for it.

To SEO or Not To SEO?

If your business has …

  • A firm marketing foundation already in place
  • Bandwidth and skill to tackle a highly nuanced and dynamic strategy with especially squirrelly metrics (or funds to hire someone who can)
  • Four to six months to spare before you start seeing a significant jump in traffic and business
  • A digital marketing budget that can compete with your competitors’

… then it’s worth looking into and seeing if it’s a fit. If not, there are plenty of other strategies you can use to help expand your reach and grow your business.

While SEO research and tracking brings in a good return for some brands, others aren’t ready, and that’s OK too. The important thing is to know where you are, identify your next step and then take it. If you could use support at any stage of the process, get in touch with us at We would be happy to help you connect with your customers and expand your reach, no matter what marketing strategy you want to focus on next.