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The very first thing Cosgrave Hill does when presenting our SEO services to a client is to disappoint the potential client.

This is, of course, a terrible short-term sales approach, and we’d certainly avoid it if we could. However, we’re building our brand on long-term satisfaction so setting realistic client expectations is core to our growth strategy.

Unfortunately, due in part to wishful thinking and predatory sales tactics, many clients come to us with a skewed understanding of what SEO is and how it works.

Businesses thinking about investing in SEO for the first time tend to believe that if they “do the right things online” and spend enough money on SEO they will beat their search competition and reach pre-determined business goals regardless of what the circumstances may be.

Predictably this myth has been facilitated by the people who offer services for “doing the right things online.” There exist countless SEO specialists and firms propagating this magic bullet solution. This fundamental misunderstanding makes marketing decisions confusing for business owners and brands.

The 2 main FACTS that kill the magic bullet theory:

  1. Your online presence doesn’t exist in a vacuum separated from your offline presence. Real-world status can be the biggest factor influencing search ranking. (Continued Below.)
  2.   Your online presence doesn’t exist in a vacuum unaffected by the rest of the internet. Just as with offline factors online factors can dictate search position more than your direct online actions to improve SEO ( Continued in article Part II .)

In the rest of this article, we’ll discuss point #1 above.

The biggest hurdle for many businesses is understanding that there IS NOT a fundamental separation between the online side of operations and the offline side.

 Improving online presence isn’t like playing a video game. There’s no on or off switch. Your online brand image and search engine reputation grows every day, with or without your input.

 A brand that is more popular and larger than yours, in the real-world, carries that brand awareness advantage into the search engine results.

Consider this hypothetical example of how a regional donut chain ranks in a search for “Donuts” vs. a local donut chain in San Antonio, TX – 

Company A is a regional chain with 200 stores throughout Texas and 20 locations in San Antonio.

Company B is a local San Antonio chain with 10 locations total.

(You can probably guess what the search results will be.)

Company A’s offline footprint is so much larger than Company B’s that Company A will rank ahead of Company B in almost any set of search parameters regardless of what either company has specifically done to improve SEO.

We all know this intuitively from our experiences searching on Google, but it’s easy to ignore our intuition when what we wish was true aligns with what a whole industry sells us as true.

While everyone loves a Cinderella Story, there are just some competitions you’re not going to win overnight, in a year, or maybe ever.

There are some circumstances where you can win, and certainly some ways intelligent SEO strategy will reap huge benefits even if you don’t acquire the #1 search ranking for your most valuable keywords.

You can make extremely efficient improvements to your marketing through SEO and digital marketing as a whole.

However, please remember, there may be considerable limitations to what an SEO investment can achieve.

 The most important thing you need to understand about SEO before you start investing:

SEO rule #1 -Your real-world market share and offline social reach have an influence on your search ranking that can’t be erased by actions you take online.

Without this realistic expectation, your goals will be eternally unattainable, decision-making will suffer, and you’ll burn through potentially infinite budgets.