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Website Ranking: Expectations vs. Reality

There's a large discrepancy between the results that are expected from the general public and the way that SEO actually works. Working in the digital marketing industry, I often feel like clients think we're "holding out on them". That, if we really wanted to, we could provide the instant gratification that they want. Sometimes it's hard to explain to someone that what they want simply doesn't exist. But, it's our job as SEO professionals to help educate business owners about SEO and set the proper expectations.

So, without further ado, here is a compilation of the expectations vs. the reality of getting your website ranked on the first page of Google.

Expectation: Instant Ranking

Lets just rip the Band-aid right off. This is the biggie. And I think any business owner out there reading this article will agree that instant ranking is exactly what they want from their SEO services.

I feel confident in saying that at least 80% of small business owners expect an SEO service to be able to rank their website on the front page of Google organically, overnight.

Reality: 3-6 Months

In reality, websites take anywhere from 3-6 months to rank organically on the front page of Google for a targeted key phrase. And that's assuming that the phrase you're looking to target is industry and/or location specific, such as "door repair phoenix, az". Targeting keywords that are vague, like "doors", are likely going to take much longer.

At the end of the day, SEO is not a magic trick. There is no SEO agency out there that has the ability to copy and paste your website onto the top of Google's search results. We are all required to make our way through the obstacle course that Google has set up for us in order to get a website ranking.

So why do people keep using SEO? Because it works. When your marketing agency uses a proper SEO process, your website will rank organically, you will outrank your competitors, and you will see the ROI. Because ranking a website organically means that you get all that traffic without paying per click, you're no longer paying for each lead.

SEO is a long term solution with a long term process.

Expectation: Straight to #1

There's a myth that once your website does start ranking, that it's going to be placed directly in the #1 spot on Google search.

Reality: A Steady Rise

After the indexing process, Google places the website in the search results at a base ranking. This could be anywhere from #1 to infinity, depending on the size and accuracy of your online presence, the "trust" Google has in your company and information, and the overall algorithm.

Steady Ranking Over Time

Over time, websites build trust and authority with Google through maintaining an accurate online presence and providing reliable information. As this trust grows, your website will begin to move up the rankings toward that #1 spot, leaving your stagnant competitor's in your dust.

Expectation: Lead Generation

Once a website is ranking, a lot of business owners expect to instantly start receiving leads. Let's face it; as a business owner, your goal is to get leads. Leads turn into customers, which turns into money. So, leads are where it's at.

Reality: Visibility

Yes, websites want to bring you leads. No, websites are not lead generation platforms. Websites are built for visibility. Without a website, your company doesn't exist online. But they shouldn't be relied on purely for lead generation.

Lets take a look at the three most popular types of digital marketing in order to better understand the purpose of your website.

  • Lead Generation (PPL): A lead generation service is a service where leads are collected through a request platform and delivered to business owners who pay for said lead. The leads are generally qualified based on their need. Sounds great right? Well, the downfall is that multiple companies are receiving the same leads. Which means you have to low-ball your services in order to "win". And even if you don't win, you still have to pay for that lead.

    HomeAdvisor is the best example of a lead generation service.
  • Paid Ads (PPC): Paid ads are somewhere in the middle of PPL and SEO services. With paid ads, an ad will be written for your company and placed in ad positions on whichever platform you're using. With paid ads, you pay per click. The benefit of paid ads is that you get your company in front of a lot of people instantly. The downside to paid ads is that these leads aren't necessarily qualified. They're often times someone who is simply gathering information instead of ready to buy.

    While a lot of platforms offer traditional PPC, you get a more qualified lead when using Yelp Ads. People visiting Yelp are more often in the "buying stage" of the buyer's journey as opposed to the "research stage".
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Unlike the two mentioned above, websites and SEO are about visibility as opposed to lead generation. Although the obvious goal is to gain new customers, SEO does this by ensuring that your company is in front of the customer when searching for related services on the search engine. This allows the customer to make the decision to connect with you. The difference is similar to a client seeing a billboard (PPC) or driving by your store and going inside (SEO). Although both avenues are beneficial to your company, one is much more costly and one is natural.


The moral of this story is that while SEO may take time and patience, the benefit to your company and ROI far outweighs the frustration of waiting for your reward. If you stick with a proper small business SEO plan, your company will earn the ranking and leads that you expect without the higher price point of other internet marketing sources.

Sarah Nelson

After years of studying literature, Sarah discovered her true love; marketing. She is a firm believer that educating small business owners about marketing empowers them to make smart business decisions. When she's not busy saving people from marketing faux pas, you can find her reading or slaying pixel demons in far off lands.

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