SEO-ROI 100: Remedial Course in Measuring SEO-ROI
Last week two great articles were posted that, at their core, really want to discuss the issue of exactly how to measure and how to prove your SEO efforts are actually providing an ROI.
Link Economics 101 by Stephen Spencer and The Business of SEO by Todd Friesen (a.k.a. Oilman) both talk about externalities involved in SEO business management, but the heart of both these articles is really about how to demonstrate the value, and subsequently the return on investment, you bring to the table with the professional SEO services you provide. (You should probably read these articles before moving ahead)
Stephen’s article focuses on the off-site aspect of SEO, link building, and trying to capture a solid way to measure those efforts toward the client’s ROI. While Todd’s article focuses much more heavily on justifying the cost of a professional’s SEO program.
Everyone Just Take A Deep Breath and Move One Step Back
Both articles need to take a step back and think about the root cause: ROI. It’s the “What am I getting out of this” syndrome. And it’s a fair question, in which measurement certainly plays a major role. And the bottom line you get out of both of these articles is old SEO defense of, “we just know, ok?”.
Pinpointing ROI at an advanced level would be great if it could actually be done, especially in Link Economics. Which is why I think it it was time for a remedial course in demonstrating SEO-ROI. There are still plenty of ways to show your work is providing more profit now (with SEO and SEM strategy implemented) than it would have otherwise. Think of it like this:
We find/acquire several high-powered links (under the assumption that you have a solid linking campaign already), but those services we provided weren’t cheap. Client X wants to know how that money is going to turn into increased profit, and to Stephen’s point, it’s almost impossible to tell you, Client X. Not unless you are expecting referrer traffic from the link, in which case, we’ll have metrics.
Honestly, how do you think ad agencies get away with charging ridiculous amounts? There’s no possible way they can link/measure the success of a spot that airs at a specific time, on a specific channel, directly to sales. That just can’t be done. But they do use tons of extraneous data and extrapolate the value to the brand and the bottom line the ads they created generated. And that’s exactly what search marketers need to do.
Every Time a Butterfly Flaps It’s Wings, An SEO…
It’s really chaos theory at it’s finest (a butterfly flaps it’s wings in Nicaragua = a man buys a lotto ticket at an out-of-the-way gas station and hits it big).
Example: The Miller Light plant has had a slight machinery malfunction that causes 10,000 less cases to be shipped out. No one except Big Brass and floor employees know this.
Let’s say you provide SEO services to Budweiser. You’ve implemented an on-site change (let’s assume you tweaked a title tag and found a one incredible link, willing to provide you with highly targeted text). Two weeks later you see a spike in site traffic and conversions, in conjunction with sales of Bud and it’s counterparts increasing 20%.
You could claim that this was all because of your onsite tweak, but it really has to do with the Miller plant shipping out 10,000 less cases. Miller ran out much quicker, and, therefore, people bought more Bud. It’s nearly an identical situation with search engines. It could be something that has been implemented months ago just now taking effect that has either pushed or plummeted search traffic and conversions.
Get Back To Basics: Extrapolate and Make Connections
An SEO can still demonstrate value and ROI, and more than just by claiming we “hit the machine in the right spot”. How you ask? Simple. Show the numbers. Ladies and Gents, that’s what they are there for. Analytics are not only a tool for mining great data to optimize sites with, they’re your best friend when having to demonstrate to a client your value.
In a time-starved world, I know it’s pain in the ass to spend an extra hour/two hours building up data reports that proves you’ve been adding to the bottom line. The key is to relate everything back to conversions. Using keyword data, to show clients the increased traffic and conversions on those words. Using geographical data in relation to keywords and conversions in order to create new, more effective strategies for certain geographical segments. Just stay away from SERP positions. They’re crap. They fluctuate incessantly; they’re whimsical. Once you get locked into that bit with your clients, you’re toast. Focus on conversion/lead/sales generation. That’s your home.
There are customized reports with analytics, so use them. You can build out any number of reports pulling lots of disparate information together. It’s a temporal exercise, people. You have to be able to think and strategize not only on the clients behalf, but yours too. But ethically. If you drown and rinse your numbers for a cleaner view, someone is going to know. I’m not suggesting that you come in with junk-numbers and no reasons. There’s always a reason and that’s what they pay you for. Find and rectify it.
Get Your SEO-ROI Proof-Positive
SEOs, in my opinion, need to get back to the basics of ROI proof-positive. It’s somewhere between Stephen and Todd. Just as with ad agencies, it’s not possible to show causality on every front and for every tactic, but there is plenty that can be shown with a little elbow grease, and you can justify cost through these data by extrapolating and making connections.