The Great Misconception: Measuring ROI for an SEO Campaign

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Teaching hundreds of CEOs about SEO each year, I get a chance to see how all kinds of leaders think about the subject. There are some that swear by it — others, like the owners of construction companies and OEMs, that don’t see the point — and those that simply don’t know enough to have an opinion. One of the questions I get a lot is “How do you measure ROI for SEO?” I find this question intriguing because the way a CEO thinks about my response says a lot about him. Here is my response:

“ROI for SEO cannot be measured in a clear-cut way. If SEO is done properly, it’s a mixture of creative, inspired content; PR-style link-building and social sharing; and conversion optimization. It’s brand development, content marketing, PR, business development, and analytics all rolled up into one. That means it makes a huge difference to your business, but it’s not going to fit neatly into an Excel spreadsheet. Why? Firstly, Google hides most organic keywords, making it impossible to create a direct relationship between a particular keyword and a new sale. Secondly, when you publicize a brand to the extent that true thought leadership-style SEO does, it leads to lots of new branded searches (i.e. people typing the company’s name into Google), which are rarely attributed to an SEO campaign. And thirdly, many intangibles occur when SEO is done as it ought to be, and those are even more difficult to measure. For example, the content we create often leads to our clients getting invited to speak at conferences. Our campaign doesn’t necessarily get credit for the results of that engagement, which could be substantial. So as I said, at the end of the day, SEO done correctly is far too creative a pursuit to measure perfectly. The good news is, it can be measured broadly, in terms of organic traffic and the resultant new sales, biz dev opportunities, and employee attraction. I believe that if you keep your eyes open, you will see that SEO can be the most beneficial online marketing program you ever do.”

A CEO’s reaction to this explanation is usually either a) “Well yeah, but I need it to be measured the same way our direct response / PPC campaigns are measured” or b) “Holy crap, it sounds really powerful! Tell me more.” I respect the first response because I firmly believe that simple math is the backbone of every successful business. But I also find it short-sighted, because it doesn’t take into account the power of creative marketing services, which is that they lead to EXPLOSIONS. A direct response or PPC campaign may be a worthwhile investment and it may be perfectly measurable, but it will never lead to exponential increases in a business’ recognition. It will never lead to virality. It will never double a small or medium sized company’s revenue in 12 months. That is the domain of pure creativity tailored to the way people find information nowadays.

I love SEO because it is exciting. Because it has transformed my own business and those of my clients. And because it keeps me up at night, planning the next content campaign that will lead to tens of thousands of new visitors arriving via Google.

SEO is the Word of Mouth of Online Marketing. It allows people who are doing research online to stumble upon your website, viewing it as the recommendation of an objective and trustworthy third party — Google. When executed as an inspired thought leadership campaign, SEO can change your business – just don’t try to measure it out of existence.

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  • DK
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    “SEO is the Word of Mouth of Online Marketing” – perfect descriptor… thank you! Have squirrelled away your blogs RSS feed in my aggregator and looking forward to reading more of your wisdom 🙂

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