Throughout my experience with SEO (Search Engine Optimization), the one frustration I have encountered the most is the lack of desire many CEOs and higher-ups have to understand that ranking high is *not* the end goal they should care about. It should be leads and conversions. Ranking highly for a keyword is only as good as its performance for you while it sits in a coveted top position in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Likewise, many CEOs and higher-ups get hung up on the idea of ranking for a particular keyword (or list of keywords) that actually holds no value for them to rank for in the first place! Now, while generating leads and conversions isn't necessarily the responsibility of your SEO agency/guru, there are many SEO agencies who feel they should be (and I agree). Let's take the following conversation into consideration:
SEO Agency: "Hey, Client! We've completed our keyword research! Here is a spreadsheet of the top-10 keywords we will begin focusing on getting you to rank for. We've determined these on many matrices; including relevance, traffic, competition, and more."
Client: "That's great, but per our last phone discussion, I said I wanted to rank for *this* keyword in particular. Why didn't you include it on the list? You're our SEO person and I'm telling you that we really need to rank for that one."
SEO Agency: "Oh, yes. My apologies for not explaining that. During our keyword research, we've found that there's basically no ROI for you where ranking for that keyword is concerned. While it's relevant to your industry, it spills too far over into another industry where it's actually much more relevant. Lastly, it doesn't have a significant amount of traffic -- and the traffic that it *does* have is still much more likely to garner business for that other industry instead of yours, even if you rank at the top for it."
Client: "What? That's impossible! It's the most relevant term for our industry (you just said yourself that it's relevant)! There HAS to not only be a ROI, but a significant one at that! I don't care what it takes; I want to rank for *this* keyword, carnsarn it!"
SEO Agency: "Okay, okay. We'll make sure and add this to our list of priorities as well and get you ranking for it." *sigh...*
At this point, the SEO agency now has to contend with their client potentially thinking they're incompetent because they didn't include that one magical keyword, when really, their SEO agency just tried to do them a huge favor. From here, said SEO agency will probably put in a minimal amount of effort to get that one keyword to rank simply because it will make their client happy. Hopefully, the increase in rankings, traffic, and conversions happening due to the true priority keywords will be enough to satisfy the client. Unfortunately, there are those who will always attribute total SEO success to the ranking of a keyword that they've grown personally attached to.
If all you care about is hiring an SEO agency to rank for a bunch of keywords you think you should rank for, then there are *PLENTY* out there who will happily take your money, get you ranking for them, and leave the rest up to you. That's not how your approach to SEO should be, though. If you have a bunch of keywords that someone gets you ranked for but they do nothing to help you, you're going to think SEO just didn't work. The truth, though, is that you just approached it the wrong way (which isn't necessarily your fault and part of my mission with this blog is to help clarify things for you) and you're undoubtedly missing the boat on the *real* "money keywords," so to speak. I believe this misunderstanding of how SEO "should" work for you is another factor that plays into the theory that SEO doesn't work. If you truly want to benefit from SEO, then you absolutely must do your due diligence to seek out a reputable agency (or build a well-qualified in-house SEO team), ditch your preconceived notions of SEO, and just trust in the people you have hired to do the job. You can check statistics along the way to see how they're doing, but ask around for references initially. Find out who your colleagues have used for their interactive marketing endeavors. I'm currently working on an article that will help you flesh out qualified candidates, so stay tuned for that.
So, if you're a CEO or a higher-up, you should only care about rankings to the extent that they generate leads and conversions. If your SEO agency/guru doesn't offer keyword research as a part of the plan (even if you give them a whole bunch of keywords you think you should rank for), then you're most likely going to waste your money -- even if they get you ranking. If that one keyword you've always thought wanted to rank turns out to be a dud, just accept it and move on! I'm telling you now to *let go* of the keywords you personally *think* you should be ranking for if your qualified SEO agency/guru tells you that there's absolutely no worth in it (which should be a lot less difficult for you to do if you put in the due diligence to seek out the right candidate to fulfill your SEO needs).
Now, having said everything above, higher rankings do equate to higher traffic -- but higher traffic doesn't necessarily equate to a higher conversion rate. At the end of the day, your Web site is still the make-or-break factor. It needs to flow and be navigable in such a way that will be facile for prospective customers to make a purchase,fill out their information, or whatever your conversion goal(s) may be. Here again, a good SEO will help you figure out why you're not converting even if you start enjoying massive amounts of traffic! If nothing else, it is for this reason alone that SEO is a perpetual process and one that you should figure out a way to budget for, for a considerable span of time (6-months to a year, at least). Some people budget for SEO indefinitely because a really good SEO can make adjustments to keyword priorities, landing pages, content, et al to allow you to capitalize on as much of the traffic as possible.
To conclude, you need to seek out an SEO you can trust. What would it take for you to trust someone? Is it references? Is it through the opinion of others who you trust? Whatever it is, find an SEO you can trust, then ditch your preconceived notions of SEO (that is, if you really don't know what it's about beyond what you've read here-and-there on the Internet) and allow them the space to maximize your ROI! SEO is a very, very legitimate process that WORKS when done correctly, and allowing someone to do what they *know* is best for you based on extensive keyword research, competition analysis, on-site analysis, etc... well, let's just say that the gains have the potential to be astonishing.