Blog Post

The ROI of SEO


Search Engine Land recently posted an article about the ROI of SEO and we've talked about this in the past in a Weekly HubFeed. Chad and Adam thought that it would be a good idea to talk about this in light of this recent article. Watch the Daily Brown Bag to learn about our view of how the ROI of SEO is calculated.

Also available on YouTube.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hello and welcome to the Daily Brown Bag. Today, we're going to be talking about the ROI of SEO I'm Chad Hill and I'm joined by Adam Stetzer.

Hey, good afternoon. Thanks, Chad. Welcome to the Brown Bag. Today we're talking about a piece on Search Engine Land that was written by David Waterman yesterday. And, Chad, this thing has really kicked up a lot of dust. It's pretty interesting. It's entitled SEO Should Not Be Held To An ROI Target. And just from that title you can tell it's fairly provocative. And what Waterman is saying here, he just said that SEO ROI should not be required to meet a specific target, because... Two major points to his argument; one, it's not a marketing channel per se, and I'm going to explore that in a second; and secondly, it's not an investment, it's a requirement. And I want to ask you to talk a little bit about his thoughts there. Though as imagined the author got quite a lot of responses taking issue with this position, that SEO is not a marketing channel, that it shouldn't be held to a SEO ROI target saying that SEO, you know, isn't an investment.

Let me explore a little bit, sort of his argument on why he said it's not a marketing channel in the traditional way that we would define that. I think that's kind of interesting, Chad. He said that because organic search, and particularly Google with the lion's share of the market there, is trying to provide the best match to search queries, that that's not really a marketing function, it should be seen as a marketing channel, 'cause it's more of an informational matching function. You know, another way he put, the C.E.O. is this sort of layers of checks and balances that helps a business owner understand if their website has, and if that is what identified by the search engines, and then manifest in the search results. Again, achieving those things not being akin to traditional marketing activities.

And the last point he makes here in saying this is not a traditional marketing channel, is that it's just such a layer of different parts and pieces to make SEO work together. It's not a standalone marketing channel the way we think about it. It's a very integrative activity, and that furthers his argument that we just shouldn't label this a traditional marketing channel.

Yeah. And I think his second point really was that, you know, SEO is required, it's not an investment; that everything is tied to the, you know, the organic health of your website. He also says he compares SEO to a residential building inspector, where you have to, you know, it's required to essentially maintain your website and it's, again, much like required for your online brand integrity. And I don't think I really know anyone that would probably argue that SEO isn't required, because, you know, we all know the power of the referral traffic that you can get from search engines, so most people all agree, SEO ROI is required.

But I think there are quite a few people, and many of the commenters did challenge him on whether or not it should be held to a SEO ROI target. Because, after all, it really... most anything in a business has some level of a ROI target, or at least some metric that we're using to measure the financial impact in the business; whether it's saving cost, or whether it's driving more revenue. So, in that particular case, if you think about that, you know, even building a website in many cases, is held to a ROI target. When you build website you say that we're gonna convert more traffic, therefore it will drive more revenue to the business.

Another one basically talked about, again, everything in business ultimately does have a goal. So, I think that really what Waterman was talking about, one of the points he made that was interesting, is that, you know, maybe it's not so much that it's time to challenge our old SEO ROI thinking, and this is where it gets kinda really interesting, and really think more in line with the way Google sees SEO ROI, and of course we all know that in all the Webmaster guideline videos that are put out, you know, SEO ROI and the practice of SEO ROI is altruistic, starting with publishing great content that the internet will benefit from. But it's not about, you know, getting traffic to your website that converts in a revenue for your business.

And I think it's interesting that Waterman brings that up, because, again, most marketers would really disagree with that. And I think we would as well. Because, again, we here at HubShout are very much more in the camp where, looking up where we would look at measuring, having measurements on as many things in your business is a smart way to do your business. So, the final thing is in, how do we measure SEO ROI here at HubShout? The four things that we always talk to customers about are looking at your organic traffic, and whether or not that's going up or down over time, as you're working on content marketing, and working on search engine optimization. The other thing we look at are rankings. So, I know, again, that's difficult, but there are places to get that. And Webmaster tools are a third party products that provide ranking data, and even show you how that's changing overtime. Even Google provides this information to Webmasters.

Another one is entrances. How many, how broad is your website; how many pages are receiving organic referrals? But in the one that we always, that always sorts of ties back to, and it's the most important, is what about leads, what about revenue to your business? And I think that's the really important one for a lot of people. The way that we deal with that often is we look at the value of the services that you're paying, and try to equate the leisure getting from organic SEO ROI to sort of back into a cost per lead from your SEO ROI. And, again, that's really what most of our clients when you ask them what they care about, they care about phone calls, they care about web leads. And so, if you don't have that in the equation, I think many of them are just going to skip this, you know, required, but in their minds, probably optional investment because it doesn't speed dollars and cents to them. So, Adam, what do you think?

Well, I think it's an interesting issue. I mean, it's fascinating, Chad. We heard similar discussions evolving around social media, first it went charged out and said it was a silver bullet, and then they realized it was quite hard to show SEO ROI. Recently we've been hearing people say, "Yeah, forget searching for return on investment, and just assume you have to do it." But I wonder, as I was listening to you talk, Chad, that if in the end the answer isn't both, and that they're not mutually exclusive; yes, SEO ROI has become so important that it is required; and, no, it is not a typical marketing channel, but that doesn't mean it's not part of the marketing.

And in the end, even things that are very required for business, such as real-estate and other, you know, basic parts of your sum cost, still ultimately want to measure the return, where the money is going and cost per buck. So, I wonder if this is, you know, a controversial way to come to the answer that's really all of the above. But, we've been interested in your comments on whether search engine optimization should be held due to rigid return on investment, metric and criteria. Drop us a comment. We'd love to hear from you. And we hope you'll subscribe. So, we'll see you back in another Brown Bag real soon.