Is SEO Worth It, or Is It a Scam?

March 30, 2023


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First, Is SEO a Scam?

Written by Colette Nichol, SEO Expert and Story Strategist

Before I dig deeper into whether SEO is worth it, let’s address the elephant in the room.

Is SEO a scam?

When business owners interested in SEO come to me for the first time, they’re usually skeptical. Some have been burned by online marketing agencies, and others have had what they thought was SEO done to their website and didn’t see results.

Table of Contents

  1. Is SEO Worth It in 2023?
  2. Why SEO Is Important
  3. Why Local SEO Is Important
  4. Is SEO Effective?
  5. Are Potential Customers Searching for What You Sell?
  6. SEO For Small Businesses
  7. The Importance of SEO for Helping Customers Find You Online
  8. Working with an SEO Agency vs. an SEO Consultant
  9. Benefits of Investing in SEO
  10. Potential ROI from SEO
  11. How to Calculate Potential ROI from SEO
  12. SEO vs. PPC
  13. Hiring an SEO Expert
  14. Understanding the Cost of SEO
  15. The Cost of NOT Doing Search Engine Optimization
  16. Timeline for SEO Results
  17. Common Reasons Business Owners Don’t Hire an SEO Consultant or Agency
  18. Tips For Making Your SEO Investment Worth It
  19. Common Questions about SEO
  20. Start Investing in SEO Now, Not Later

The truth is that many SEO agencies are shady.

I haven’t seen behind-the-scenes of their operations, but I’ve seen plenty of weak case studies on their websites.

And I’ve heard the stories from my own clients. So it’s not all skyrocketing traffic and above-board tactics in the SEO industry. 

But I got into SEO from outside the industry. I didn’t start out in an agency. In fact, like many SEO consultants, I started out doing freelance website design. In 2013, I started doing website design for people in my network. Then in 2015, I opened a video production business.

Through working with small businesses, I saw that getting found online was a huge problem.

People typically built their businesses with word of mouth, which eventually caused them to hit a ceiling.

They’d tap out their word-of-mouth network and be stuck at a revenue plateau. Or they relied on social media advertising which gave them unreliable results.

By harnessing the power of SEO marketing for small businesses, they can break free from relying solely on word-of-mouth networks and unpredictable social media advertising, unlocking new avenues of growth and reaching a wider audience with consistent, measurable results.

In 2017, I started dabbling with SEO by accident.

I was doing a big marketing and media production contract for a private school, and I wanted them to get found online.

So I started brainstorming what people might be searching for and including those keywords in the website. Then I got teachers and department heads to write articles. Lo and behold, the website started to move up on the Google rankings.

We went from the second page of Google to the magical, wondrous first page of Google!

At this point, I had no idea what I was doing. It was an experiment. But I was hooked. So I started studying SEO seriously. 

I learned the tactics and techniques, read the massive Google Quality Rater Guidelines from cover to cover and geeked out on SEO articles and podcasts.

From there, I applied what I learned to my own website. At the time, my website focused solely on a highly competitive and difficult niche: filmmaking. One of my passion projects is teaching solo filmmaking, and I’ve been doing it since 2016. So I applied what I’d learned in the SEO universe to my niche, and I went from getting about 100 filmmaking visitors per month to 1500. I went from no new leads per month to 40. 

Then I sold my first big SEO contract and applied everything I knew about SEO, content marketing, and premium video to their business.

We went from 100 organic visitors per month to 8000. They went from no organic leads to 40 introductory calls per month, all from organic traffic! They grew their business revenue each year by more than 30%. 

They had so many leads they had to hire more people and increase the minimum investment to reduce the volume of prospects. And yes, we’re still working together, and they’re still growing their business.

So what does this tell you about SEO? It’s legit.

SEO is definitely not a scam. But it can be.

One of my friends recently told me about how she’d worked with an SEO agency that only did pay-per-click ads for her.

She thought she was getting SEO, but really, she was getting ads. So when she stopped investing, the traffic stopped as well.

That’s not SEO. Search Engine Optimization is the act of optimizing your website and your most important content and money pages so that you attract the right traffic over the long term. When you do SEO properly, your traffic doesn’t disappear overnight. 

In fact, I’ve seen firsthand how long SEO results can last when you have a good strategy and optimized website.

One of my clients didn’t have time to create any new content for ten months. It took about six months for their traffic to start dropping. Even after eight months, they’d only lost 25% of their traffic. But, despite losing traffic, their number of leads hadn’t gone down. Their business was still growing.

🌟 Related Post: Increase Traffic to Your Website with SEO

Although they were losing traffic, they weren’t losing their most important traffic.

In other words, when you do SEO correctly, you have a lot of wiggle room. Your traffic doesn’t disappear overnight.

The only exception to this rule is if you’re in an extremely competitive niche. If that’s the case, you must always be on top of your website.

So now that we’ve covered the basics and addressed the elephant in the room let’s go into a few topics that are often of interest to business owners and website owners.

Is SEO Worth It in 2023?

You might wonder if SEO will still be effective today and in the future. Is SEO going to become obsolete like MySpace? Will it just stop bringing you leads all of a sudden? 

I don’t see that happening anytime soon, if ever. Right now, there are very few companies doing SEO properly. This means that there is a massive amount of opportunity to get your website ranking on the first page of Google for your most important money topics. 

Some people have come to me worried that AI will kill SEO. But that doesn’t make sense. People aren’t going to open up ChatGPT to find out where to eat dinner or to get advice on how to make more money or fix a rocky relationship. 

The AI tools that exist right now aren’t SEO replacements.

In addition, none of the AI tools work particularly well. So I don’t see people getting AI-written articles to the top of Google for any competitive niche. 

So, yes, SEO is worth it in 2023.

Why SEO Is Important

SEO is important if your clients and customers search online for solutions to their problems.

If your customers don’t go online to search for answers or do research, then SEO isn’t important to your business. But as of this writing, there is almost no industry that isn’t being disrupted by SEO. 

I used to think that you couldn’t attract high-value clients from SEO.

I thought that wealthy clients wouldn’t go to Google first. I figured if they’re wealthy, they probably go to their network first. Well, I’ve been proven wrong. 

My experience as an SEO has shown me that everyone goes to Google first. Whether your net worth is $1 or $10,000,000, you’re doing a Google search as soon as you have a new problem you’re unsure how to solve. 

As a business owner or entrepreneur, you need to be found by your ideal clients and customers every time they go to Google.

They should find your content at every single step of the customer journey. When you do SEO correctly, your ideal client will run into you constantly, without ads.

By the time they schedule that first call or buy a product from you, they’ve already seen your content on multiple searches. You don’t have to be obsessed with email marketing because no matter what, this person is going to keep finding you. (Not that I’m against email marketing; I’m actually a huge fan. Email marketing goes very well with SEO.)

Why Local SEO Is Important

What do you do if you’re trying to decide which Italian restaurant to go to in your city?

You might grab your phone and type Italian restaurant into Google maps. Then you’ll scroll through and look at the reviews and see which ones are closest to you. If you’re really obsessed with picking the right restaurant, you might open up Google Chrome and type in “best italian restaurant vancouver.” (Nobody types caps into Google, FYI)

A “Top 10” article pops up, and you read about Vancouver’s top 10 Italian restaurants.

Then you go back to Google maps, pick the one with good reviews and a good write-up in the article, click over to their website and book a reservation with Open Table. 

That reservation happened because of local SEO.

When you search for something local online, you might get a map or a bunch of Google Business Profiles. Then you’ll typically get a list of top 10 (or some other number) lists.

Google Maps vs. SERPs

The same process will happen with service providers, except when looking for a local lawyer, you don’t usually go to Google Maps.

Instead, you look at the first page of Google. You’re not trying to optimize for convenience. You want the best divorce attorney, not the closest one. You type in “best divorce lawyer vancouver.” Then you look at the top three to five websites. You read their home page and about page and schedule a meeting with the firm that best fits your needs. If none of the top five Google results appeal to you, you’ll scroll down and look at the lawyers in positions six, seven and eight.

You’ll rarely go to the second page of Google. And only some people will click on the Google ads. 

The lawyer who gets the client from Google is the one who did local SEO optimization. In the case of the search term “divorce lawyer vancouver,” half of the searchers click on SEO results and the other half don’t click on anything. Nobody clicks on ads.

I can get this information by looking at Ubersuggest data. See the image below to see what I mean.

In this example, 320 people click on SEO results, and the rest of the searchers don’t click on anything! Nobody clicks on ads.

Let’s say you own a business serving a local client base and are growing your business with word-of-mouth referrals. You’ll be able to grow more quickly and with better clients if you start doing local SEO.

Is SEO Effective?

SEO is effective if done in alignment with Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines and combined with conversion optimization techniques.

SEO isn’t an effective tool if all you do is randomly drive traffic to your website. Traffic that doesn’t convert to sales is useless unless you run a website that makes money by hosting ads.

But if you focus on creating a high-quality SEO strategy designed to give your business a long-term revenue boost, then SEO can have one of the highest ROIs of any digital marketing strategy.

Don’t feel like doing SEO alone? Save time and work with an SEO expert.

Are Potential Customers Searching for What You Sell?

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to do SEO, you need to start by asking yourself if your people are searching for your products or services online.

If yes, then find out the search volume.

  • How many potential customers are searching for what you sell?

Next, look at the competition.

  • Is it a highly competitive niche? Or will ranking be easy?

Finally, consider whether your potential customers are searching for informational content around the problem you solve.

  • Are they researching the topic online?

To decide whether to do SEO or not, you can use this formula:

Volume of High-Intent Searches Per Month – Competition x Website Conversion Rate x Average Customer Value

Or, if you’re not a formula lover, think about it this way:

You need good search volume, low to medium competition, and well-priced products sold from a website with decent conversion rates to increase revenue over the medium term.

Let’s say you’re in a highly competitive niche with low-priced products but a high volume of searches. Before diving into the SEO universe, you need to do a serious ROI assessment.

Meanwhile, if your niche has a high volume of searches with low competition, and you have a high-value product and good customer retention, you’re sitting on an SEO goldmine.

SEO For Small Businesses

SEO marketing is important for small businesses.

In fact, it’s just as relevant for small businesses as it is for corporations.

In fact, you might argue that affordable SEO services are more important to small businesses than big ones because a small business doesn’t have the revenue to cover massive advertising campaigns. As a small business owner, you must focus on marketing tactics that give you long-term, lasting results.

You need to ensure that SEO is logical based on your niche and the search volume in your niche. Speak with an SEO consultant before you get started with optimizing your website.

🌟 Related Post: 19 Video SEO Tips for Beginners

If you have a call with an SEO agency and they don’t ask you about your business goals, that’s a red flag.

The Importance of SEO for Helping Customers Find You Online

I can’t overstate how important it is for your customers to find you at every part of the customer journey. When you pop up on a new customer’s radar every time they search Google, closing that sale becomes much easier. Your new clients think of you as leading experts in the field, and they aren’t a pain to work with because they feel lucky to have found you.

If you’re not in a niche where people go to Instagram or Tiktok for a solution, then you must be found on Google.

Working with an SEO Agency vs. an SEO Consultant

There are plenty of big SEO agencies that typically service enterprise-level clients.

They work with global brands and have service fees in the millions per year. There are also big agencies that operate more on volume. They’ll have 1000 local businesses who all pay $2000 per month.

You should choose an SEO agency or consultant who you feel will give you the best results and experience. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get the best results. So whether you work with a big agency or a boutique SEO firm isn’t too important. What matters is whether you think they will be able to help you achieve your goals.

If you have a call with an SEO agency and they don’t ask you about your business goals, that’s a red flag.

Choose to work with an SEO consultant, expert, or agency that truly cares about your business goals and success.

Doing SEO will bring you organic traffic that can’t disappear overnight.

Benefits of Investing in SEO

The biggest benefit of investing in SEO is increased sales and revenue.

But there are other benefits. You or your business will be seen as an authority in your industry. This can lead to other opportunities that may benefit you and your company. Your clients tend to be better and easier to work with because they see you leading the industry. They feel lucky to have found you. 

Your sales process is typically easier because your potential client keeps finding you over and over again.

They find your content, watch your videos, and are sold by your marketing and offer. You don’t have to sweat bullets to make a sale. 

Your business should run more smoothly when you have a good SEO system in place. You should always combine SEO with a smart lead magnet, email sequence, and sales system.

Potential ROI from SEO

The ROI from SEO depends on the search volume for your products, services, and the problems you solve.

as well as the price of what you sell and how well your website converts. Below I’ll show you a somewhat complex way to calculate the potential ROI from SEO.

How to Calculate Potential ROI from SEO

In this step-by-step overview, I’ll show you how to calculate the potential ROI from one keyword.

Keep in mind that you need to do this for ALL high-value keywords. This is something an SEO consultant can help you with.  

1. Get a free Ubersuggest Account.

2. Brainstorm a list of keywords based on what you sell and the problems you solve.

3. Research those keywords in Ubbersuggest to see the search volume for your area or your main markets.

4. Find keywords that are high volume, seem close to a sale, and have a high CPC number. CPC means cost per click, and it shows you if people are advertising on this keyword.

5. Now calculate the potential ROI from all the keywords in your list using the formula below. 

Total Volume in Your Main Market x 30% x Website Conversion Rate x Average Sale Value = Potential ROI from Keyword for Position #1 on Google

You can do this for an entire list of keywords by using a spreadsheet that adds up the volume of the most important keywords and then gives you a dollar value for that traffic.

When you do this process for a large list of keywords, I suggest using 10% rather than 30%, as it’s unlikely you’ll get position #1 on Google for every keyword you go after. We use 30% as a rough estimate because in general, if you get to the first position on Google, you can get about 30% of the traffic.

But as I said, it’s important to do a high and low estimate so you have a range.


Doing SEO will bring you organic traffic that can’t disappear overnight.

While PPC will give you traffic that depends on ad spend. For some businesses, PPC is better. However, for most businesses, SEO should come first, and PPC should come second. In many cases, if you have the budget, you can do both. PPC isn’t my area of expertise. I’ve experimented with Google ads, but I’ve been happier with the results I’ve gotten from SEO. You have to have extremely excellent conversion-optimized website pages to make money from PPC.

Why Start Now vs. Later?

SEO is like compound interest in investing. It takes time for you to start ranking in Google.

But once you gain domain authority, you gain more and more traction every time you create a new post. Eventually, ranking pages isn’t that difficult. But you have to put the time in and create the content to get results. It’s not a faucet you can turn on and off. So the longer you wait to start, the longer you wait for the results. 

My rule is that you should do SEO before you need it.

If your business is running smoothly and you have good word of mouth, it’s time to start doing SEO. Don’t wait until word of mouth has dried up.

Hiring an SEO Expert

Hiring an SEO expert will save you hundreds, if not thousands, of hours.

It takes years to become an SEO expert and know how to structure a strategy to get results. If you don’t have time to become an SEO expert but want the results, work with a good SEO consultant or agency and have them create a strategy for you based on your vision.

Find someone you trust who understands your business and work with them long-term.

Your SEO consultant will become a key part of your business growth team.

Starting a business is a risk. Growing a business is hard. So it’s worth your time to investigate SEO and see if it can help your business grow more easily and effectively. 

Understanding the Cost of SEO

SEO is not cheap. It’s an investment in medium-term and long-term growth. Four main areas incur costs in the SEO space.

1) Labour – You need SEO assistants to help with the keyword research, design, and posting required to create results.

2) Expertise – A good SEO expert knows how much money they add to your business. They don’t come cheap.

3) Pro Video – If you want to massively increase your SEO success, you need to do high-quality evergreen videos. Video production costs are high due to the technology and expertise that goes into making excellent videos. You also need to work with someone who understands video SEO.

4) Technology – An SEO expert uses a variety of not inexpensive tools to do their jobs well. 

As long as hiring an SEO expert costs much less than the potential revenue, then it’s worth it. 

The Cost of NOT Doing Search Engine Optimization

The cost of not doing SEO is knowing that your competitors are growing their businesses with online traffic that will never find you.

If your social ads stop working and you have no other way to bring traffic to your website, you’ll wish you’d been doing SEO for the past five years. 

Or suppose your competitors aren’t doing SEO either, and you’re sitting on a big, beautiful SEO pot of gold. In that case, you have to face the fact that you’re just letting your potential customers go without service. 

Starting a business is a risk.

Growing a business is hard. So it’s worth your time to investigate SEO and see if it can help your business grow more easily and effectively. 

You can usually expect big traffic changes within six months of executing a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Timeline for SEO Results

There’s no simple answer to the question, “How long will it take for me to see results?” But here’s a typical situation:

Your website has been online for a few years, and you have some content already. Then it typically takes three months to see results after making major changes.

For a website in a low-competition niche with a lot of content, you can see traffic changes in as little as a week, depending on what kind of change was made to the website.

You can usually expect big traffic changes within six months of executing a comprehensive SEO strategy.

Common Reasons Business Owners Don’t Hire an SEO Consultant or Agency

I’ve already done SEO, and it didn’t work!

First, make sure that you’ve actually done SEO.

Many people have done PPC, not SEO. They think they’re the same. Next, find out if your SEO was done properly. 

SEO is so expensive. I’m not sure it’s worth it.

To see if it’s worth it, follow the formula I discussed earlier and calculate the ROI. 

Total Volume in Your Main Market x 30% x Website Conversion Rate x Average Sale Value = ROI from Keyword for Position #1 on Google

SEO takes forever. I need results now. 

SEO doesn’t take forever, but it does take 6-12 months. But if you’re feeling desperate, SEO isn’t for you. SEO is for serious business owners who want medium- and long-term results. 

I don’t have the time to write content.

You can hire an agency that will write the content for you. Or you can work with an SEO expert who uses audio interviews done with you to create the content. Or you can get an expert to create easy-to-follow article templates that only take 1-2 hours for a writer to complete. Or you can have one of your team members, who is also a topical expert, write the content based on your SEO consultant’s formulas.

SEO is part of it my website plan already. 

Actually, it’s not. What many website companies call SEO is just very basic technical optimization. If you don’t know your main keywords and don’t have pillar pages, supporting blog posts, and a comprehensive traffic strategy, then you don’t have an SEO plan.

Paid search is better than SEO, isn’t it?

Paid search might be better for your business than organic search. It depends on what you sell and how your customers behave. I’d suggest speaking with an organic SEO consultant and a PPC consultant to see what they say about your niche.

A good SEO expert doesn’t come cheap. But they’re worth it!

Tips For Making Your SEO Investment Worth It

  1. Make sure your SEO consultant knows your most important business goals.
  2. Be clear about your ideal audience.
  3. Start with keywords that target your most important and profitable service or product.
  4. Do an ROI assessment before you begin to see the opportunity level in your niche.
  5. Follow a clear and logical process rather than a scattershot approach.
  6. Focus on creating outstanding, much better content than your competitors.
  7. Add video that’s optimized for SEO to supercharge your traffic and sales.
  8. Always have a good lead magnet and opt-in form.
  9. Create a solid welcome email to convert new subscribers to take the next best step.
  10. Be hyper-focused on the most important steps you want your clients or customers to take.

Common Questions about SEO

Is SEO Dead?

SEO is definitely not dead. In fact, most businesses are not using SEO.

There’s still a massive opportunity to get found online by people searching for your products and services.

Should You Pay for SEO?

If you currently run a profitable business, you should pay for SEO.

If you’re starting a new business or would like to grow your existing business, I also recommend paying for SEO. The only time I don’t recommend paying for SEO is if you’re not sure you want to commit to your business or if nobody is searching for your products and services online.

Paying for SEO services saves you time and money and gives you a much higher success rate.

It takes time to become an SEO expert. Paying for SEO will provide excellent ROI if you’re in a niche with enough search volume. Speaking with an SEO consultant will help you determine your niche’s potential and whether it’s worth it.

Should You Hire an SEO Expert?

If you’re serious about growing your business and generating more revenue, hire an SEO expert rather than trying to do it yourself.

The only time I recommend a totally DIY approach is if your business is very new and you have very little start-up capital i.e. you have more TIME than money on your hands.

In addition, if you plan on building your entire business around blogging, you should take an SEO course and work with an SEO consultant to get you started.

How Much Does SEO Cost?

There isn’t one cookie-cutter price for SEO services which can range from $1000/month to $20,000/month depending on the size of your website and the complexity of your business.

A typical starter plan for SEO services is $1300 to $1500 monthly. While a comprehensive SEO plan will usually be $5000 to $10,000 per month. If your SEO plan includes video, expect to pay on the higher end of the scale. Additionally, expect to pay more if you don’t have anyone to write your posts and pages.

If you’re just looking for link building, you can get high-quality links generated for your website for around $6000 for 10 links.

When reviewing your SEO costs, consider the long-term investment and how much revenue the SEO work will generate for your business.

Think of SEO as another form of advertising. The only difference is that the advertisements never get turned off with organic SEO.

How Many SEO Keywords Should You Use?

You’ll start with 5 to 10 main keyword buckets or umbrella keywords for a typical website.

These keywords will have related or supporting keywords.

When you create a pillar page (money page), you’ll use the main keyword as the page’s base and include all the supporting keywords.

Next, you’ll write three to five supporting articles for every money page.

These articles will have one main keyword and 3-20 supporting keywords. In total, for year one of an SEO strategy, you’ll typically have 10 main and 100 supporting keywords.

When doing the research to see if you’re in a reasonable niche, you should be able to find at least 150 keywords with volume over 100 and a keyword difficulty rating of under 70. At least half of the keywords should have a difficulty rating of under 45.

You invest in SEO so that in 6 to 12 months, you’ll get consistent organic traffic and leads. 

Start Investing in SEO Now, Not Later

The biggest mistake a business owner can make is putting off the SEO investment and waiting until they need it.

If your business is growing and doing well, it’s time to do SEO. I recommend doing SEO before you max out word-of-mouth referrals. It takes time for an SEO strategy to give you the desired results, which is why you should invest early. 

Think of SEO the same way you think of a retirement plan. You don’t start investing in your 401(k) or RRSP a week before you want to retire; you start investing 30 years or more before retiring. 

With SEO, you don’t start investing in building organic traffic the week before you desperately need more leads. You invest in SEO so that in 6 to 12 months, you’ll get consistent organic traffic and leads. 

Good SEO takes time. But it’s worth it. 

SEO is not for dabblers. But it is for businesses that intend to grow EVERY year for many years. SEO will (very much) be worth it if you’re building a legacy business or a business you plan on selling.

Work with an SEO Consultant

If you’re totally new to SEO and want to use it to grow your business, I recommend working with an SEO consultant or expert. It takes time to get good at doing SEO, and it’s a lot of work when you’re just learning. It’s common to waste time on the wrong things when you have no experience. So speak with an SEO consultant to see what the potential is in your niche, then get make a decision.

SEO Vancouver and Worldwide

Hi, I’m Colette Nichol! I’m a video producer, story strategist, and SEO expert based out of Vancouver.

Whether you’re in Vancouver or the middle of the Arctic circle, I can help you get found online. As an SEO consultant and video producer, I typically work with clients who are experts in their field and want to reach a larger national or international audience and increase business revenue. If you’re open to combining high-end evergreen videos with traditional on-page SEO and a content strategy, you can expect to see massive results. I’d love to hear about your business goals to see if working together might be a fit.

Get in touch HERE to schedule a 15-minute introductory call.

About the Author

Hi! I’m Colette Nichol. I’m a solo filmmaker, SEO, story strategist, and digital marketer based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been helping small local businesses and global brands since 2014.

In 2017, I started applying SEO to my work with clients and in my own business. The results were extraordinary, and I got obsessed!

If you’re interested in working together, please reach out. I’d love to hear about your business goals to see how we can help.

We currently take on a maximum of one new client per month, so please schedule a call early to ensure we can help with your project.


I'm Colette Nichol!

Welcome! I’m a story strategist, SEO consultant, filmmaker, and digital media consultant based out of rainy Vancouver, Canada. My mission is to give you the tools and tactics you need to achieve your dreams!

If you're here for filmmaking training, please join the inbox party: take my free mini-course and start building a filmmaking and video creation skill set.


ahoy there!