Serendipity Online Marketing

Why Do SEO Campaigns Fail?

I recently ran an LinkedIn Poll to see how effective peoples SEO Campaigns had been. It did not come as a surprise when the number of ‘successes’ was far lower than those that failed, the figures showing that some 80% of campaigns were considered to be a failure.
LinkedIN Poll
LinkedIN Poll
The reason it was no surprise for me? Simply that I have seen statistics showing that a similar percentage of businesses would not recommend their current, or previous SEO company to others. The major reason for this must be that the required results were not forthcoming. But why does this happen and how can a business reduce the risks of it happening to them?  

SEO Campaigns Can Fail !

The first thing to accept is that SEO campaigns, like any form of advertising and marketing, do fail, and to make things a bit more complex, they can succeed and fail simultaneously. Whilst this sounds strange, it can occur when proper goals are not set. In order to understand whether you have succeeded or not, you of course have to set goals, but they could be different for the parties involved. For example, from the SEO point of view, success could equate to obtaining a number of first page placements on Google, or to double the Organic traffic. However, the customer can only in reality (setting the vanity of obtaining a Number One position on Google aside) gauge success by the number of new orders or enquiries they receive, in short ‘that the phone rings more often.’ I think you can guess that a campaign could well meet the ‘SEO criteria’ for success but fail the customers crucial need for more sales. This leads us down another rabbit hole, the question ‘why did none of these extra visitors buy?’ having to be answered.

Why Did the Site Not Convert?

The area of ‘Conversion’ is another topic and one that cannot be covered in this article, other than to say that one reason no one bought anything could well be down to the type of traffic delivered by the SEO company. This is a serious error, and one that can normally be traced to the lack of proper keyword research, more on this later.  

Some of The Reasons for Failure

Poor Targeting

In the SEO world, the Keyword, in its short phrase and long tail sister forms are King. After all SEO is all about ensuring that the appropriate page of a site is listed for any given ‘relevant’ phrase. The key points here are ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant, as for the best possible outcome you want to deliver visitors to the page that is most likely to result in a sale or other form of conversion. This means that you have to know what keywords to target and you have to make sure that the pages are built in a way that ensures that Google lists the right pages for the right keywords. This process requires highly detailed keyword research, this covering not only which terms are working for the competition, but also the terms that are being used in the market place. Only when this data has been compiled, sifted and the target keywords chosen can you move onto the stage where the pages are optimised. If this research step is missed out, or not done properly, the SEO campaign will not be targeted and the likelihood of failure is dramatically increased.

Campaign Not Long Enough

Unfortunately, SEO is not a quick and easy way of bringing in traffic. If that is what is wanted, then a Pay for Click campaign would be a better choice – just remember that you pay for every click and when you stop paying, the clicks stop too. SEO entails the detailed keyword research and the sifting of all the data collected, which alone could take a good few days. Then you have to optimise the content, write new copy and spend time optimising the pages to make sure that Google understands and ‘likes’ what it finds. However, the content of the pages in a site / domain is only a part of the whole SEO process. You just cannot afford to ignore the fact that to obtain good rankings in Google you need to have enough back links. The number and quality needed vary tremendously from market place to market place, but whatever area you are in, Google will require links to your site from other sites. The reason behind this is a simple one, it is how Google works out what sites seem to be trusted by others. Only when Google believes that others trust a site, will Google themselves start to trust it. Regardless of how flawed this system is, it is how Google works and has worked since its inception. To be sure, the PageRank algorithm has been updated numerous times, Google’s Penguin being just one example of this, but links still matter and there is no way of getting around this fact.
Google's Penguin
Google’s Penguin
  Google can never be said to make things easier for you though, so they not only ‘demand’ you have enough links, they also require that these are built in a manner that suggests their growth is natural, ‘slow and steady’ being the watch words here. The upshot of this is that creating a strong enough linking structure takes a good deal of time, at least six months of effort being needed. However, experience has shown me that in many cases it can take even longer than that before real improvements are seen. With all these points in mind, it should come as no surprise when I say that many SEO campaigns fail as they are just not run for long enough.

Not Strong Enough

There is lot to a ‘proper’ SEO campaign. You have to do the research, optimise the pages and then build enough links. If any of these are not done to the required standard, i.e. the optmisation of the site is only carried out in a half hearted manner, or if the links that are built are not powerful enough at an individual level, e.g. they are all from sites with a low Trust Factor or Domain Authority. In the end, this comes down to the budget allocated to the campaign, if this is too low, then again failure is a likely outcome.

Poor Co-operation

The entire SEO process requires that all parties, the customer, SEO professional, copywriters and Web design team work together, swapping information and assisting each other to ensure that all the required actions are made.
Poor Co-Operation
Poor Co-Operation
  For example, if a page is to be properly optimised, the SEO and Copywriting teams have to work together to make sure all the right words are on the page, the web design team possibly having to place them on the page, or make structural changes to accommodate any extra words. Then again, in order to build the very best possible links, the customer has either to allow the SEO team to contact the relevant sites or do it themselves. If they block such actions, and I have seen this recently myself, then the outcome of SEO campaign cannot be as good as it could have been. These are just two examples, there are many more, the upshot being that if all parties do not ‘pull together’ then the website will not gain the ranks that it deserves and the goals of the campaign could be missed.

A Slow or Poorly Built Website

Any good SEO professional should have pointed this out just as soon as they were engaged, as hopefully, they will have run some form of SEO Audit as you can’t fix something if you don’t know what is wrong. Some can even fix such issues themselves. Others like Serendipity, leave such matters to the web designer who built the site, or call in an expert designer to sort out all the issues. Slow sites are very likely to be subject to Google penalties, whilst users are very likely to leave the site earlier than they should. Google also downgrade sites for issues like Cumulative  Layout Shift (CLS)  – where parts of the page ‘move about’ as it loads – this being a part of the new area of SEO concerning what is known as ‘Core Web Vitals’. There are many ways a site can be slowed, it could be on an overloaded server, or the code could be poorly constructed. Then again the images on the site could be too large or poorly optimised. One way or another, such issues need to be fixed as if they are not, any site is unlikely to gain the rankings, and therefore the traffic, they should. This obviously could lead to the failure of the SEO campaign.  

SEO incompetence

I will mention no names here, but suffice to say, many SEO campaigns fail due to the SEO agency in question simply not doing all that is required. One reason is that they are not paid enough to do it all of course, which is not incompetence, as long as they have pointed out to the client that success is unlikely. But budget aside, many supposedly optimised sites do not meet even the basic standard, whilst many are optimised, but nothing is done about building any links, which is a bit like selling someone a car with no wheels; it is unlikely to be going anywhere…

Competition Too Strong

This in itself should not stop a campaign from becoming successful, as there are always ways of reaching the potential customers of any business in some way or another. The problem really starts when a site targets words it cannot hope to get rankings for and does not also include any other methods. To give an example, any business in the Mortgage Equity marketplace is up against some really high competition for the main keywords. Any person entering this market place is unlikely to get a first page rank for these main terms and instead has to find other ways of reaching its target market. Such a process entails the capturing of relevant long tail searches, which in turn means long copy and a strong enough linking structure. That said, some market places could be said to be ‘too hard’ for any business that does not have deep pockets.

Poor Conversion Rate

At the start of this article I touched on the matter of what ‘campaign success’ really means. Here I mentioned that from an SEO angle, a campaign could look to be very successful indeed, a large number of high ranks being obtained and / or Organic traffic being dramatically increased. However, if the number of sales do not increase, this success will look pretty thin to the owner of the website concerned.
Conversion rate
Conversion rate
Of course, the traffic could be the wrong type (the targeting was incorrect), but it is more likely that the pages simply do not convert for some reason. There are many reasons for this, perhaps it is because the product prices are too high, or the shipping charges too expensive, or maybe it is the way the page is laid out, there being no ‘emotional pull’, these being proven to boost conversion rates. Whatever, this is the subject of another article, but at least it is a good problem to have, as if a site is getting a lot of traffic, it only has to solve the conversion conundrum to turn these visits into sales!


I hope that you can see that there are many reasons that could case a SEO Campaign to fail, many of them having nothing to do with the SEO company’s abilities. You cannot let them off the hook totally though, as they should be telling their customers if they are playing a game that they cannot win, this being the professional approach in my view. The burning question that may have slipped into your mind is ‘How then can I make sure that my SEO Campaign will be a success?’. That is a very good question and is one that I will be covering in my next article.

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