The whats, whos and hows of SEO have been covered time and again across the web. All business owners should understand that search engine optimization is a vital digital marketing strategy for gaining visibility and converting web users into customers, and SEO best practices are available on almost any business site, guiding even SEO novices through the technical processes of attracting the positive attention of search engine spiders.

However, what many business leaders often fail to understand is the whens of SEO. To correctly optimize their pages for search, businesses need to follow the right schedule, which can be difficult to understand and enact. Here’s a quick guide to typical SEO whens for the average startup or small business.

When Do You Need SEO?

SEO can benefit all businesses, but not all businesses are ready to spend the requisite time, energy and money into SEO at the drop of a hat. SEO isn’t cheap or easy; it requires that business leaders devote a large amount of resources to learning SEO theories and techniques and then more resources to applying them strategically to benefit the business. Business leaders who simply lack the willingness to invest in SEO at this stage are not ready.

However, business leaders who are ready to devote themselves and their capital to SEO should consider the following questions:

1) Can I grow by word-of-mouth and referrals only? Brand-new businesses or else those thriving without significant marketing budgets might not need SEO quite yet. Businesses that are not seeing success through word-of-mouth or referrals should move onto question two.

2) Am I going to invest in a sales team, focus on online visibility or both? Business leaders need to choose a path that makes sense for their business plan, goals, brand and products. If online visibility is a priority, leaders should move to questions three, four and five.

3) How many customers do I need to reach? This is an important question best answered with diligent research and conscious goal setting. Some businesses might need to calculate a breakeven point, while others might want to build an audience of a certain size for a purpose other than revenue.

4) How much capital can I invest to reach customers? Not all businesses have the same budget. Business leaders need to evaluate what they are able to spend on SEO before they make any commitments or set expectations.

5) How much capital do I need to invest to reach customers? What a business can do and what it needs to do are often different. If the answer to this question is covered by the answer to question four, business leaders can begin their SEO journey; otherwise, some cash flow maintenance might be in order.

In truth, most businesses can benefit from SEO at any time, but business leaders need to be certain that they can concentrate their best efforts on SEO to find success.

When Should You Hire SEO Experts?

SEO is something that startups and small businesses can manage in house — but not well. Because SEO is quite technical and frequently experiences shake-ups that alter tactics and practices, SEO is best performed by a well-trained expert or, better yet, a team of experts. As a result, outsourcing to an SEO agency tends to be the best option for most businesses.

As with embarking on the SEO journey, the switch to a third-party SEO company should not be made lightly. Businesses should consult with a few different agencies to identify experts that are appropriately skilled and suit the business’s needs, to include budget and time constraints. Hallmarks of the best SEO agency in the world include clear communication, scalable services, commitment to cutting-edge strategies, up-to-date certifications and proven success. Business leaders should accept nothing more or less than the best.

When Will SEO Show Results?

Business leaders know better than anyone that success can take time. Rarely does SEO manifest results quickly, especially if it is done right. Some black-hat SEO tactics allow webpages to climb search rankings in record time, but equally swiftly Google recognizes the shady practices and penalizes those pages harshly. Generally, businesses shouldn’t expect to see much difference in their search rankings for four to six months, though businesses in larger markets vying for more competitive keywords might be waiting even longer. “It depends” is a frustrating answer to this question, but it is the truth.

SEO is neither one-and-done nor set-and-forget. It takes concerted time, effort and capital to do properly, and even then, it takes time, effort and capital to maintain. Still, SEO is extremely valuable for businesses that rely on online visibility, which in the Digital Age, is almost all businesses. Thus, the sooner business leaders get comfortable with SEO’s whens, the better.

By Eddy

Eddy is the editorial columnist in Business Fundas, and oversees partner relationships. He posts articles of partners on various topics related to strategy, marketing, supply chain, technology management, social media, e-business, finance, economics and operations management. The articles posted are copyrighted under a Creative Commons unported license 4.0. To contact him, please direct your emails to [email protected].