While looking through a client’s Google Analytics account this morning, I saw something beautiful. I’ve seen this beautiful thing hundreds of times before and yet I rarely slow down enough to really take it in. I call it the payoff — it’s the moment when all the months of investment into an SEO campaign finally crystallize into results, taking the form of a steady stream of new sales leads.
While it’s not uncommon for leads to start trickling in during the first few months of the campaign, even perfectly-executed SEO takes at least 4-6 months to kick in. Somewhere around that time frame, there is a spike in traffic and the steady, up-and-to-the-right climb begins. From there, new leads begin coming in on a regular basis and the recoup of the initial investment in thought leadership services ramps up. The goal is for this payoff to ultimately result in an ROI in the range of 100% – 300% in the first year, 500% in the second, and 1,000% in the third.
So how do you know when you’re seeing a pay-off on your SEO campaign?
SEO Campaign Results, Visualized
What I find fascinating about the moment of payoff is that it looks remarkably similar across industries, whether our client is a software consulting firm or a beauty product supplier. The only difference is the scale, as the software consulting firm might need to close 1 new contract per month to see excellent ROI, and the beauty product supplier a few dozen.
In order to see the results of an SEO campaign, you need to be monitoring leads, which is typically accomplished by tracking Goals within Google Analytics. A “goal,” of course, can be any desirable action, but in this context I’m interpreting it to mean a qualified potential customer contacting your company.
The left side of the graph below is what your leads might look like during the first few months of an SEO campaign, before Google’s trust for your thought leadership content kicks in.
Nothing special, right? This is essentially the way the lead graph looked before the SEO campaign started. That’s because Google makes you earn its trust for a while before granting your site higher search rankings. As much as it may test your patience, you simply need to trust the process and keep blogging consistently during this time.
You’ll know that the payoff has arrived when an unusual-looking climb in leads takes place. It’s not typically a sudden lurch, but rather a gradual-but-healthy increase in gradient. It looks something like this (note that this is taking place over a 3-4 week period):
About a month later, just as you’re getting excited that you’re on a climb that will continue forever, things tend to level out a bit. You’re still getting more calls than before, but the number isn’t increasing every week. In the right-most portion of the graph below, you can see that, while a new level of leads has been reached, that level remains somewhat consistent for several months. However, after that, a new rise takes place that lasts about twice as long as the last one (5-8 weeks).
When the Payoff Doesn’t Come
If you have a proven product or service and you’re doing everything right in your SEO campaign, the payoff always comes. I’ve covered how to do everything right extensively in a past blog post. But if you’re still not seeing results, I can guarantee that you’re not doing at least one of the things below:
Unappealing product. Let’s get this one out of the way first – if people aren’t reaching out because your product isn’t appealing to them or is overpriced, there’s nothing SEO or any lead generation campaign can do. However, I’m assuming most of the people reading this article have an established company and know that their product has an audience.
Not posting regularly. Probably the most common reason why the payoff doesn’t come is that businesses don’t publish their content on a weekly basis. Remember what I’ve said in many past blog posts: you get a special boost in rankings and traffic if you show Google you’re not just a commercial entity but a news publisher. So make sure you’re posting every week! You can, of course, post less frequently, but if you do, results will come more slowly and the pattern may not match the graphs above.
Titles aren’t tight and/or don’t include bullseye keywords. Another common culprit for why businesses don’t see the payoff from their SEO campaigns is that their titles aren’t transactional in nature. If you’re publishing articles with titles that would be appealing if a person came across it in a newspaper, but aren’t tailored to the way they search on Google, you’re missing the basic building blocks of SEO.
Your content isn’t true thought leadership. In one of my most popular blog posts last year, I differentiated the different types of content. You want readable, interesting content rife with personal anecdotes, helpful charts, attractive graphics, and even video content if appropriate.
You’re not conversion optimizing your landing pages. When doing SEO the right way, it’s important to remember what’s actually taking place: people are looking for answers on Google, your page pops up to educate them, and they expect to leave afterwards unless something catches their attention. That something is your conversion optimization. You want to give potential customers exactly what they were looking for to satisfy their curiosity (usually that means a simple answer, chart, graphic, or thoughtful explanation), and then include a hook — a “but” to go along with that simple answer, an extra item in the chart they hadn’t thought of before, and a way of explaining things that makes them realize your company is the expert and they should probably get in touch.
The Road to the Payoff
If you haven’t yet embarked on doing SEO the right way — which has been successful since the early 2000s and is not likely to change because of how simple and organic it is — I encourage you to start. It takes time and effort, but ultimately provides you with a lead generation source that you own and control. In contrast, advertising is like renting your leads; while great when it’s yielding more than its costs, it’s subject to constant change and rising rates.