Know Your Numbers: The Business Case for Investing in SEO

Search sits at the core of online behavior.”

People spend more time on the web than they do watching TV, and whatever it is they’re putting into the search bar is a clear expression of intent – and what they want is content that is going to educate, inform and solve a problem.

statictis

While more than 76% of organizations intend to spend more on content marketing in 2016, there are still many who are behind the times in search optimization spends. SEO is all about optimizing content so people can find it, but actual budget allocation continues to be lopsided.

Leadership may clearly understand the role content plays, yet fail to see where SEO has a functional part of the process.

That’s why it’s imperative to get the C-suite engaged.

Despite the fact that organic search is the indisputable leader in driving traffic online, it remains one of the lowest funded priorities in operational development and marketing budgets.

Search marketing often snags the bulk of those budgets, despite the fact that organic search consistently delivers a higher rate of lead to close conversions over paid, referral, outbound marketing and even social.

hubspot-search-marketing-statistics

But that’s what leadership often wants from marketing effort – the fastest ROI. Too often those in charge of financial spends look for short and immediate gratification rather than an investment in the long game.

Because of that, we’re at a point where search budgets are upside down.

According to SEMPO’s research, SEM budgets averaged about 11% for SEO and a whopping 87% for PPC. When you look at heatmaps of Google’s SERPs, it’s easy to understand this logic.

google-heatmap

Things get even trickier when mobile SERPs are taken into consideration. A 2016 study by Mediative found that over 92% of clicks go to an area above the 4th organic listing (including paid ads, Google’s knowledge graph and organic positions 1-3).

google

Don’t let that discourage you. The facts are in your favor when presenting SEO as a sound investment. It’s just a matter of communicating that investment in a way that leadership can understand and process.

It’s all in how you present it.

Stay Away from the Technical Details

Most technical SEO professionals rank search up there with the things they personally geek out about, but trying to sell corporate leadership on what you can do can be your biggest downfall.

Even high level SEO professionals still fail at communicating effectively with leadership, especially CEO’s and top level decision makers.

They dive into details that mean nothing to the suits – things like:

  • Link profiles
  • Canonical URLs
  • Missing ALT tags

It happens. You’re not in sales. You’re in SEO, so it’s natural to lean on what you know.

But a technical discussion with a non-technical person builds a technical barrier. This is not the time to dazzle the corporate leadership with the terms of the trade. You have to focus on what they are familiar with and what they understand.

That means you communicate with data to prove value.

Hype and industry trends mean nothing until they align with competitive edge and the profitability of the company. You need a more calculated approach to get leadership to invest in SEO.

Think Like a CEO

Depending on where you fall in the great chain of corporate hierarchies, you may or may not know the company’s overarching business strategy.

If you don’t know, then find out.

The more you know about how and what leadership is thinking, the better you can position your case for a greater investment in SEO.

Generally speaking, the higher up you go on the organization chart the more future-focused leadership is going to be. If it’s spring, then your CEO already has their mind on what’s coming up next year and likely into the following.

A pitch for improving rank and SEO investment for the next month isn’t going to move them much.

When you want to pitch a bigger investment, know the company strategies and goals more than a year out.

Position the recommendation and opportunities to show them how it will sustain the growth goals of the company within that strategy.

company
Source: BrinkNews

Rely on Data to Demonstrate SEO Performance

If you want to appeal to bottom-line focused leadership teams, you need to focus on performance and the ROI of what you’re suggesting. Those two things will be heavily scrutinized – and that’s exactly what you want.

Getting executives on board lies in demonstrating a quantifiable improvement in metrics that matter to the bottom line.

  • How improvements in SERP rank correlate to traffic and visibility
  • Provide proof that quantifiable growth in traffic results in more conversions and revenue

You’ll need a little bit more than the data alone to sell it though. This is where you start to play the varsity level C-suite game.

keyword-referral-metrics
Source: Kaushik

Clearly Define How Success is Measured

Glossing over and highlighting the benefits of SEO may not be enough to demonstrate its value, in which case it’s smart to present a strategic outline that details what you want to accomplish, how you plan to get there and how you’ll measure success.

That means referencing KPIs and milestones like:

  • Targeted keywords and their SERP positioning
  • Current rank
  • How URLs appear in search
  • Competitive comparison
  • Events that can/did impact search performance (as in, past search algorithm updates)

Keep in mind that, with any presentation, a CEO is always asking “why”. You need to focus on the value and how everything you’re presenting solves pain points. Do so with brevity in mind.

Brevity is critical in making a presentation. Present the value, the opportunities and solutions using the Moses Rule – 2 slides, 5 bullets or less each (think the Commandment tablets).

Don’t distract them from the value you provide by offering too much data.

Even better, if you can present the most critical information in a single sheet, you can keep their focus on the value.

Leverage Loss Aversion

They may be higher-level leadership but they’re also people, and people are more likely to take action to prevent loss than to initiate growth. Scientists proved it through multiple studies that included research into loss aversion with humans as well as monkeys.

(I’ll avoid drawing any comparison to corporate leadership and primates here…)

The point is, people hate to lose. Leverage that loss aversion like crazy.

Loss aversion is a common marketing tactic intended to drive conversion when presenting information:

  • Gain approach: “This approach to energy conservation will save us $3,500 per year.”
  • Loss approach: “If we don’t use this energy conservation method we’ll lose $3,500 per year.”

Nothing changes in the math, the numbers are the same, but you’re showing what can be lost by not making the investment.

Say something like:

Every day we’re losing business to (competitor) because our customers can easily find them in search instead of us for (insert product/service). We’re losing (insert sales/revenue data) every day.

Here’s an example of loss aversion done well:

loss-aversion

Meet Their Objections

In 2012, only 44% of shoppers began a purchase by searching online, and of those people, 70% were clicking on organic listings over Adwords ads when looking for products. You can bet those numbers are much higher today.

Despite that, even if leadership is aware of that kind of data, they’re still going to have some common objections like:

  • SEO doesn’t work
  • The results are unpredictable
  • It’s too expensive
  • It requires a lot of dev changes on the website

Prepare responses for common objections relative to your company so that, when those objections are brought up, you have data driven counter points.

online-marketing

Scare Em’

It might seem counterproductive, but if you have the opportunity and need to do so then share some SEO horror stories. It sounds extreme, but it can be beneficial if you identify what other organizations have done wrong in the past, then present what should have been done to ensure it won’t happen to your company in the future.

There are plenty of examples to draw from, such as the 2011 Google penalty applied to J.C. Penney as a result of their widespread link buying campaigns (which took them over 90 days to recover from – a substantial hit to online visibility and revenue).

google-penalty

The same year, Google uncovered multiple ways in which Overstock crossed the line, including the creation of valueless websites designed to link back to their domain as well as other link buying campaigns similar to J.C. Penney and offering discounts in exchange for links on .gov and .edu domains.

If there are any objections revolving around the unpredictable nature of SEO and potential penalties, then presenting awareness of those issues and clear knowledge of SEO best practices can ease discomfort around the concept.

Find a Cheerleader

There are going to be other people in your organization who understand the benefits of investing in SEO. Chances are good that someone on the leadership team is aware of or can be easily converted to support your ideas and strategies.

Get them on your team. The more you have backing up your initiative the easier it will be to sell it to the c-suite.

If you can’t find someone on the executive team then look for SEO ambassadors in other departments who can reinforce the concept, including:

  • Content editors and publishing teams
  • Social media teams
  • Marketing leads
  • Web design teams

Focus on those who have the most rapport and sway with the leadership team to maximize impact.

To you, the benefits of SEO are clear. To your C-suite, you may be just another line item in the budget.

Take the time to prepare appropriately using the strategies above, and you won’t have to worry about the important search work you’re doing becoming the line item that’s cut.

How did you convince your executive team to make a bigger investment in SEO? Share your tipping point in comments below:

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Aaron Agius

Aaron Agius is an experienced search, content and social marketer. He has worked with some of the world’s largest and most recognized brands to build their online presence. See more from Aaron at Louder Online, their Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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