Digital marketing: it’s the practice of teaching consumers what they’re interested in, swaying the public opinion, and changing the conversation. In the 1950s, back when we had ad men on madison avenue (hence, Mad Men), it was much more of a siloed industry. There were a few designers, some copywriters, the creative director. The designer did their art by hand, and if the copywriter made a typo, they would have to actually x it out on the typewriter. They had runners designated to get approvals from clients. It was very tedious. But now, it’s this multi-channel, fully integrated thing that can reach you anywhere, anytime: from your favorite podcast to TV, to YouTube, social media, your park bench, your newspaper. 

In fact, it’s happening in so many new channels that people have stopped noticing the ads exist at all. We even have a coined term for it: banner blindness. And it affects nearly 86 percent of buyers.

And it’s no longer the 1950s — search engine optimization (SEO) is a core digital strategy that agencies are now specializing in more effectively, and it can be applicable to many different channels; whether it’s in social media, SEO, or paid ads, you can directly engage with your customers online in ways you never could have before. The metric is now web traffic, and the more you get, the higher your chances are to convert them into loyal customers.

While digital agencies are here to assist you in acquiring more leads, they are also businesses like any other. This means that they want to make profits as well. That said, here are five things that online marketers won’t tell you about how SEO truly works.

1. SEO is a true long-term process

If your digital agency is worth its salt, it will sign you onto an SEO program. However, don’t expect to see results immediately. 

Neil Patel, one of the most famous SEO agencies in the U.S., did some number crunching on a handful of their clients. After building out the keyword program, getting quality backlinks, great referring domains, it took an average of 3.39 months to get to page one. But that comes with a big disclaimer, even then — sometimes it can take six months, depending on your industry. Truly, the number is less prescriptive than it is descriptive, and it’s based on many factors.

And if you fall off of page one? Here are some reasons to consider. 

Your competitors may have recently started ranking higher for your keywords. Maybe user behaviors have changed, or Google has rolled out an algorithm update, impacting the search engine ranking. 

All of these factors may happen at some point or another. But keep in mind that SEO is a long game, and you won’t see results overnight.

2. You’ll need more than a few blog posts

Content marketing is a very strategic marketing technique, and many businesses are successfully using it to attract new customers. By publishing quality content on your website, you are winning trust for your brand, building thought leadership, ranking for keywords that you never dreamed would be applicable to your industry. 

But you have to hire a quality content writer — not just anyone off of the street. After all, content is king.

You’ll also need links from high ranking authority websites to prove that well-known people are talking about your brand and to be cross-promoting your content on other channels to keep promoting its efficacy. This gives your brand a chance to experience high-quality engagement. 

3. Don’t ignore mobile!

We truly cannot overstate this enough. The fact is that almost every adult today owns a smartphone (well, 81 percent according to recent PEW research), and they use them to access everything. 

If your website is not mobile-optimized, only a few potential customers will gain access to your website. 

So, how do you think ‘mobile-first’? 

  • Start by implementing structured data in the HTML of your website — this will tell Google and other search engines like Bing, which snippets are the most important to display in search. 
  • Which then also includes schema markup — HTML that is made up of rich snippets that help people find exactly the product they’re looking for on your website. (In case you’re wondering if you’ve seen them, you probably have. They’re usually above the paid and organic results in search.)
  • Make sure all your images are compressed, whether it’s on desktop or mobile. This will increase your site speed which Google loves. 
  • But remember that while Google prioritizes mobile over desktop, users are still converting way more frequently on desktop. According to TheDrum, “around half of all visits to retailer’s sites come from mobile, but just 36% of purchases take place on mobile.

4. Never Underrate Local SEO

So, let’s say you drained your marketing budget trying to reach out to customers all over the country (or even the world!). Along the way, it can be easy to forget just how much traffic and conversions local search can serve.

Here are some data points from Hubspot about local search to keep in mind:

  • “46% of all Google searches are looking for local information.
  • 88% of searches for local businesses on a mobile device either call or visit the business within 24 hours.
  • By 2021, mobile devices will influence more than $1.4 trillion in local sales.
  • 78% of location-based mobile searches result in an offline purchase.
  • “Near me” or “close by” type searches grew by more than 900% over two years.”

In a nutshell:

If you are working with a digital agency, you also need to do your research on how SEO works, among other aspects. We know, it can be extremely confusing. But you’ll be able to tell who knows their stuff based on the interview process. What do they know about schema or mobile load speeds? How many of their clients invest in local search? 

They say, ‘information is power,’ — start with a base level of knowledge, maybe even some tips from colleagues and friends, and always do your homework. The rest will be up to Google.