CoinsI was in a meeting recently with a web design agency. We were discussing a new site, and how we would be generating leads, when he made the following comment, “Of course, you want to get lots of that free organic traffic.”

I thought to myself, I’m not going to hire this guy. He has no idea what he’s talking about. Why did I think that? Because SEO is not a one time, set-it-and-forget-it operation. Growing organic traffic takes a lot of work. Lots of staff and agency time. That costs money. It is far from “free.”

Getting a lot of great organic traffic is a weekly job, maybe even a daily job. It’s not just about keywords on your website anymore. It’s about having great content. Having great content takes a lot of work. You’re either paying for your employees’ time to research it, write it, edit it, and lay it out, or you’re paying a third party agency to write it, and then you edit it, and then lay it out. Or perhaps you’re recruiting experts to guest blog for you. In any case, producing the content to get that organic traffic takes a lot of time and money.

Secondly, you want people to link to your content. Getting people to link to your content is also a lot of work. This is so called offsite SEO. You need to spend time researching who the influencers are. Guest blogging on their blog. Placing articles in niche publications that have a strong domain authority. Making sure that your content is relevant enough for them to agree to link back to. This may, in fact, be somebody’s full time job; or perhaps, as we do, you might pay an agency to do it.

Then, of course, once you write great content, you want to promote it as much as you can. There’s a great Whiteboard Friday by Rand Fishkin talking about content amplification. This is both paid and organic amplification. We’ll leave paid aside for now, but, again, organic amplification takes a lot of time. It’s almost like a sales job. Finding influencers, currying favor, asking them to link to your content. Asking them to guest post on your domain, and then in reciprocation, on their domain… you get the picture

Why is it important to know that organic traffic isn’t free? I think there are two reasons. First, as an individual marketing practitioner, if you are operating under the fallacy (or, at best, this outdated mindset) then your competitors are having a field day within your content domain. Don’t let this happen to you. Make sure you’re investing enough in maintaining your SEO. Otherwise, it simply won’t last and you will tumble down, down, down the SERPs.

Second, you’ve got to make sure that whoever controls your budget understands what you need. Hiring people to write, though perhaps less expensive than hiring developers, is still expensive. You need to find good writers. You need to find good editors. You need to find good layout people. Perhaps you need to find good graphic artists to produce an infographic that really crystallizes what you’re talking about. This costs money, and your CEO, or CFO, or your VP of marketing needs to understand it. So, dispelling this myth that organic traffic is free, it’s in your best interest to get the money that you need.

The last thing I’ll say is this. I invest in almost every marketing channel you can think of as a head of marketing, but I see the writing on the wall. I’ve woken up and smelled the coffee. Paid distribution and advertising, while necessary, are not as effective as they used to be. If you’re not investing in organic content, and promotion via SEO, you’re going to be behind the eight ball.

So don’t be that person. Educate your team. And if you ever hear an agency tell you that organic traffic is free, I want you to think twice about hiring them.