Are Unrealistic Expectations Setting You Up for SEO Failure?

This summer my family and I packed our car, fueled up, and left Pennsylvania for a vacation in which we traversed several states. Each day we made plans to arrive at our destination at a specific time.

We used a GPS to plan our daily excursions and stay on schedule. One feature of a GPS is calculating an estimated arrival time. But somehow, our actual arrival times were rarely what the GPS initially told us! In fact, we often arrived much later. Has this ever happened to you?

We might be tempted to blame the GPS for making us late. But what if the problem wasn’t a programming error, but our own unrealistic expectations? Like me, perhaps you have neglected to account for common schedule-busting possibilities such as fuel stops, inclement weather, road construction, and traffic congestion.

When we don’t base our expectations on the truth, or gloss over or underestimate the difficulties involved, we have fallen into the trap of setting unrealistic expectations.

Former professional football player Terrell Owens has said, “If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.” Unrealistic expectations can set us up for disappointment or even failure. To avoid this, we must set realistic expectations at the beginning of a project.

This is especially true in the realm of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the process of maximizing the number of visitors to your website by ensuring your site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine like Google.

While ranking high on Google may seem easy, there are many important factors involved. Businesses hiring an agency to help them with SEO often have unrealistic expectations about the results of their investment. When expectations aren’t met, business owners can become disillusioned.

There is likely a lot about SEO that you don’t understand or that is unfamiliar, and that is okay. If you have a website, this article should be helpful even if you don’t understand much about SEO. Below is a list of the top five unrealistic expectations businesses have about SEO, as well as how you can overcome them.

GPS gave out - car is on the rocks

#1: Assuming unrelated business problems can be corrected by SEO.

“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” – Albert Einstein

Sometimes businesses look to SEO to solve the wrong problem. Consider a company that engages a marketing agency to help them generate more website traffic and leads:

Marketing Agency: Why are you looking for more website traffic and leads?

Business Owner: Because most of the leads we are getting aren’t qualified.

Marketing Agency: How are the leads different from your target market?

Business Owner: I’m not sure who our target market is.

This dialogue raises a deeper question: Does the company really need more website traffic and leads, or would defining the target market and writing fresh messaging help meet their goal?

Because this business owner doesn’t fully comprehend the dimensions of the problem, he is missing an opportunity to correct it. Investing in SEO is likely to waste time and money because the underlying issue hasn’t been addressed.

A properly implemented SEO strategy is good at one thing: to drive more search traffic to your website. Depending on SEO to compensate for a bad business model, an underfunded marketing strategy, or a poorly trained sales team is setting an unrealistic expectation.

#2: Underestimating the importance of learning from online competition.

Do you know why your online competition ranks higher than you in a Google Search? Can you tell me why your website deserves to rank number one in Google, above hundreds or thousands of similar sites?

One business owner was frustrated that Google listed his website below his competitors. Even after I explained why their websites ranked higher, he refused to implement the same SEO strategies. He settled for a mediocre strategy that failed to live up to his expectations.

Instead of seeing your online competition as adversaries, try to learn from them. Your business can waste a lot of time, energy, and money trying to unlock a door that someone else has already opened.

To avoid this costly mistake, request a competitive website audit comparing your website to your top competitors’ sites. A well-designed audit will glean information from your competitors about important ranking factors such as primary keyword usage and density, domain authority, and inbound link quality. These insights will help create an effective plan for your own website.

#3: Assuming your website meets searchers’ expectations.

Since this article is all about reasonable expectations, have you considered your prospects’ expectations when they click through to your website? Research shows that in less than 1/10th of a second, an average website visitor forms an opinion that will determine whether they stay or leave. A study by the CRM firm Salesforce finds that 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. As customer expectations continue to rise, so must the quality of your website.

According to Lisa Gevelber, Vice President of Global Marketing with Google, internet searchers are expecting “more useful information, more personalization, more immediacy.” In 2019, your website needs to do more than give basic information about your product or service. Instead, your website should:

  1. Impart valuable, authoritative knowledge such as spec sheets, case studies, and product comparisons.
  2. Offer different ways to interact with your products and services including image galleries, videos, product visualizers, and fully-featured ecommerce systems.
  3. Make it easy for customers to find what they are looking for as well as have it delivered when they want by offering expedited shipping, interactive sales rep calendars to book appointments, or immediate downloads.

What happens when users are unable to quickly find what they want? They return to Google and consider your competition instead.

#4: Overestimating the value of your offer.

Your prospects expect you to deliver value. What is your value proposition? Have you taken a deep dive into what your online competitors are offering? Your customers most certainly will.

Search Google for products or services you wish to sell online and take note of the top three results. After compiling a list of your competitors’ offers for similar products or services, rank your offers compared to your competition on the following elements:

  • Benefits
  • Price
  • Options and customizations
  • Payment and financing options
  • Warranties and guarantees.

Honestly answer this question: Compared to my competition, are my offers truly compelling? If they aren’t, what changes are you willing to make?

An effective SEO strategy will improve your website rankings and traffic, but the key performance indicator of SEO success is an increase in sales. Without a compelling offer, you can’t expect a solid return on investment from your SEO campaign.

#5: Underestimating the amount of time and money needed for effective SEO.

As the adage goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And your SEO efforts won’t be completed in a day either.

New SEO clients often ask, “How long will it take before I see results?” The answer is, “It depends.” While that might seem evasive, many factors go into a website’s ranking, including domain authority, number of pages, linking profiles, technical deficiencies, off-page signals, and even Google penalties.

No two websites are exactly alike, which is why we strongly recommend a full website audit to understand your website’s strengths and weaknesses and to craft a plan to address the issues, build on opportunities, and better understand your online competition.

Budget is another factor. The smaller the monthly investment, the longer it takes to see results. While most clients begin seeing results in four to six months, some sites take longer because of their size, technical complexities, or competitive online landscape.

Unfortunately, some businesses give up on SEO after just a few months. Expecting immediate results is setting an unrealistic expectation. SEO is a long-term marketing strategy and requires ongoing investment to help your website stay competitive in search engine rankings. But with patience, it often provides one of the highest returns on investment for your marketing dollars.


SEO is a powerful, long-term strategy that can increase brand awareness and drive relevant traffic to your website. By implementing a solid business and marketing plan, understanding your online competition, giving searchers what they expect on your website, having the best online offers, and making an ample investment of time and money into your SEO strategy, you will pave the way to a successful outcome.

So go ahead, set your GPS, sit back, and enjoy the SEO journey with realistic expectations.

About the Author: Christopher Sedlak is the senior online marketer at Rosewood Marketing. He welcomes your SEO questions and comments at