One of the most common questions that new SEO clients ask is "How long will it take to get us to page 1?". The more marketing-savvy clients may take this question a step further and ask "How will page 1 rankings affect my website's traffic or my brand's visibility?". Neither of these questions has a truly simple answer, but in most clients' minds, success in an SEO campaign means achieving that top organic spot. Once they reach that number one spot, however, most businesses begin to question whether SEO is a necessary continued expense. They assume that their site is now fully optimized and will continue to rank well no matter what they do moving forward. In reality, that's simply not true.
Rankings & Traffic WILL Slip
So what exactly happens when you stop SEO? Do you immediately drop out of the rankings? Does traffic to your site begin to sink right away? The short answer is: no. The long answer is much more complicated. During the first few months, you may notice that your ranking stays relatively consistent and as a result, your traffic will likely remain the same as well. Unfortunately, this pattern is usually short-lived.
Consider the following examples courtesy of Search Metrics:
You'll notice that for a period of time after SEO services are discontinued the traffic remains relatively consistent. In fact, you may even continue to see small amounts of growth depending on the SEO strategies you were previously utilizing. Nevertheless, decline in rankings (and consequently decline in traffic) is inevitable. After only a few months of no longer refreshing your site with new, well-optimized content, traffic WILL begin to slip. This process won't occur at the same rate for every brand, but it will occur in some form or another. More locally-focused services brands may continue to see steady traffic for a longer period of time due simply to name recognition and the continued need for their services. Retail brands and other non-locally focused businesses will almost certainly feel the effects of stopping SEO much sooner.
Why Does Traffic Fall After Stopping SEO?
You may be wondering what causes this sharp drop off in traffic once you stop SEO. The answer is surprisingly simple: you'll likely stop ranking in the top results.
Sites that rank in the top organic spot (or in the local pack & featured snippets) receive the highest amount of visibility. In turn, the top ranked sites tend to have the highest click through rate. This pattern is well-documented and follows an exponential decline. Advancedwebranking.com provides a helpful tool for visualizing the importance of maintaining top organic rankings; the following graph displays how click through rate changes based on a site's positioning in the organic SERPs in the US.
As you can see, there's a noticeable difference between even the first few spots in the organic SERPs. To most people, the difference between ranking number one and number 3 may be trivial, but in practice, this small change could have a serious effect on your website's traffic.
Why Do Rankings Decline After Stopping SEO?
Lack of Fresh, Relevant Content
Google and other search engines value fresh, relevant content; sites that are updated regularly are proven to dominate the organic rankings.The logic here is that the more you add new content, the more Googlebot (and other crawlers) will return to your site to index that new content, and thus the more chances you'll have of your site appearing in the SERPs.You need to provide value to your visitors and the easiest way to do that is by providing them with the content that they're looking for. We've all heard the now-cliche statement that "Content is King", so it's no surprise that when you stop focusing on crafting quality content, your rankings (and in turn, your traffic) will decrease.
The Competition Doesn't Stop
SEO has become a widespread practice that every successful business invests in. The most successful SEO campaigns learn from their competition and adapt accordingly. If your site dominates the SERPs, it shouldn't come as a surprise that your competitors are following close on your heels, watching your every move, and trying to come up with new and innovative strategies to outrank you. When you stop SEO services, you give your competitors the opportunity to overtake you.
Panda. Penguin. Possum. Pigeon. These aren't just animals that happen to begin with the letter P. They're also the names of some of the most recent Google algorithm updates that have seriously affected not only which sites rank and which sites don't, but also the strategies that SEOs must utilize to ensure that their clients reach that coveted top organic spot. Google and other search engines roll out new updates to their ranking algorithms every day. Some of these updates are minor and don't affect the rankings much, but others, like Penguin, change SEO best practices entirely. The strategies and practices that may have previously helped your site dominate the SERPs can be made obsolete in an instant. Without an SEO specialist continuously working on your site, you leave yourself susceptible to these types of changes.
Easy to Revert Back to Bad Habits
So, What Happens When You Stop SEO?
SEO is like going to the gym. Skip a few days and you won't notice an immediate difference in your performance. Stop going entirely and you'll find that you're no longer in as good of shape as you used to be. SEO requires constant attention.
When you stop SEO, you'll notice a drop in rankings and a drop in traffic. Whether you've hired an SEO agency or you've taken a more DIY approach, there's simply no way around it. SEO is a necessity for any business looking to be successful online and should be considered an unavoidable part of your business's monthly expenses.