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6 Disadvantages of Search Engine Optimization

SEO is a critical, foundational part of a business’ online presence. As such, it should be discarded under no circumstances. With that said, there are some decided disadvantages of search engine optimization as a primary traffic source.

1. It’s Slow

SEO is slow. According to some of the top industry experts, it can take 3-6 months for a new page to be crawled and, speaking from personal experience, even a properly changed domain can have ramifications for years.

If you’re looking for quick results, SEO is not the way to go. If you’re looking for lasting impact, SEO is the only way to go.

2. It’s At The Mercy Of The Algorithms

Even after your site is indexed, you’re not out of the weeds. I cannot count the number of clients I’ve watched rank very highly and then, overnight, fall of the face of the organic planet due to an algorithm update.

There’s (normally) not much that can be done here. The last 2-3 major updates have “rewarded pages that were previously [essentially underappreciated]” and came with not helpful tips on how to regain the previous rank.

If you’re very concerned about being at the top, paid ads are the way to go. In fact, on mobile, organic listings typically don’t even show up before a user scrolls. With that said, a strong SEO presence with fully optimized pages and content are always advised and, eventually, you may be rewarded when your site was previously underappreciated.

3. It’s Hard To Test

Unlike paid ads, it’s difficult to test SEO. The first reason is that it’s difficult to control the amount of traffic that reaches the page or the number of people who see a particular organic listing, meaning you could have either an infinite test or an inconclusive one. The second reason it’s difficult to test with SEO is because, at least with the organic listing, you have to run asynchronous tests – tests that run back to back instead of side by side. This lends itself to unknown variables such as seasonality or a fluke occurrence. Both of these lead to less-than-ideal testing conditions.

If you’re looking at the performance of two page designs, it might be best to throw some paid traffic on the pages. Once you have a winner, strong optimization through SEO will keep your page at the top.

4. It’s Hard To Target

Somewhat related to the difficulties with testing, reaching your ideal customer on a consistent basis can be a challenge with SEO. If you want to appeal to women ages 25-31 with an interest in handbags or luxury purses, you can absolutely design your page with that in mind, but Google will show your organic listing to whoever they deem relevant, whether they fit in that demographic or not.

If you have specific messages for specific groups, it might be best to build out some landing pages and use paid ads. However, you can also leverage dynamic content insertion to customize pages that users find through other channels (such as SEO).

5. It’s Ineffective Promoting One-Time Events

SEO is bad for one-time events for a couple of reasons. First and foremost (and a nod to my final disadvantage), without considerable publicity, it’s unlikely people will search for your event. Second, even if your event could rank for “nyc charity ball,” you would need to create the page well in advance in order to ensure the page could show up in search results. Given the extreme reliance on existing demand and the requirement of planning at least 3-6 months in advance, it’s probably not wise to rely on SEO to drive significant traffic for a one-time event.

Things change, however, if there is a recurring event. Everyone knows about Walk For A Cure and about 600 people search for it every month. Because of the recurring nature of the event, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to try to rank for some relevant keywords and consistently optimize the page for better performance.

If your event is a one-time occurence, it’s probably best to promote it through other channels to ensure the message gets out effectively. However, if it’s a recurring event, SEO should definitely be in the ongoing plans for promotion.

6. It’s (Basically) Incapable Of Demand Generation

Last but not least, SEO is almost entirely incapable of demand generation. What this means is that if your product or category isn’t well known and searched for, even the best SEO won’t help you.

If you’re pioneering a new way to do things (or an entirely new category), you need to have a disruptive presence that SEO won’t provide in order to generate sales. With that said, it’s worth investing in SEO to rank for keywords you believe will explode. For example, at one time, “smartphone” was probably an easy search to rank for and the people who started at the top have an advantage compared to those who had to climb through the intense competition.


Ultimately, SEO is good for a number of things and should be a foundational element of your overall marketing strategy. However, it does have a its limitations (just like everything) and those should be considered when determining your marketing strategy.

To learn more about SEO and other methods to promote your business, schedule a consultation with one of our marketing experts.

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