What’s the ROI of SEO, exactly?

Website owners are told that SEO is a fundamental requirement, if you want to generate positive return on your efforts. The advice is general, fuzzy, and usually left to the experts. But what if I want to actually measure the return on this supposed requisite investment? What if I need to decide whether to outsource the effort or to invest in in-house talent development? For these decisions I may need something a little more concrete, such as an understanding of the SEO-ROI connection.

Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”)
SEO encompasses all facets of making a website or a brand visible and readily accessible to the consumer through unpaid search engine tactics. A website’s SEO components may include the following:
  • Metadata
  • Strategic Keywords
  • Internal Links
  • Reputable External Links
  • Anchor Text
  • Site Map
  • Content Structure
  • Load Time
Branding SEO components may include the following:
  • A facebook status update that connects the consumer to a product promotion page
  • A tweet that connects followers to a new blog post
  • A linkedin post that connects job seekers to a career site
Although this has not traditionally been considered a part of the SEO landscape, this communication type appears in search results independent of the originating social network. Moreover, search results are now impacted by the number of shares and the amount of traffic generated by a link or site so, it would be remiss if we did not consider such results as a part of the SEO landscape.
Finally, the people portion of SEO is as large or as small as you make it: a professional SEO or a person who is assigned to implement or perform SEO in the website or branding capacities. Regardless as to whether the responsibilities are outsourced or in-housed it’s a better sell to stakeholders when the monetary value can be assessed.
Return on Investment (“ROI”)
If I am a non-web based business with occasional SEO needs deciding between outsourcing and developing the talent internally, the considerations may have less to do with the actual expected profit generated versus the differential in the expected future expenditures. However, if I’m a web dependent business I’ll want to know what metrics should be monitored to capture the value of the SEO efforts. Fortunately, ROI is a measure that explicitly captures a project’s value regardless of the perspective. It is flexible enough to use as an initial indicator of value as well as for ongoing analysis, as a synthesis of several metrics. ROI also provides a basis for the comparison of one investment versus another.
There are four key areas to assessing the ROI of SEO, no matter who executes the technical or branding SEO efforts:
  • Pagerank is the value that search engine algorithms assign to your webpages. Monitor ranking by site, page, or link and see if you hit your target, e.g. top 10 search results.
  • Traffic patterns can be monitored by referring site as well as geographic location. For branding and promotional efforts, the success of a specific link should be monitored concerning the volume of visits generated, which triggers consideration of link/site popularity. 
  • Keyword searches should be performed regularly for the top five keywords. Monitor the results and note the changes in position, positive or negative, for each keyword. Furthermore, track the search terms used by visitors. Note which are used most and note the trends for favored keywords that diverge from your organization’s current top five. 
  • Bounce Rate: Always scrub against the bounce rate data. It will help to determine if a chosen keyword association is detracting from SEO-ROI. It will also help to pinpoint the degree of effectiveness of traffic generated by branding and promotional links.
Monitoring performance is never an easy task. The right configuration always depends on the organization’s structure, goals, tactics, budget, etc. However, the exercise is well worth the headache - establishing value puts the organization on the right track and gets the needed stakeholder buy-in.

About the Author

Maisha Smart, MBA founded Finance and Marketing to help small businesses excel, by bridging the gap between finance and marketing processes. Some of her favorite activities include fine arts, a good debate, and social engagement.

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