When applying search marketing budget, it's important to think of search engine optimization (SEO) traffic as a long-term investment strategy. Too often, however, SEO is underfunded.
Let's look at four reasons why, plus advice to overcome these issues.
1. Short-term Goals are Hurting Long-term Success
Directors and product managers are typically judged by quarterly growth. Frequently, the efforts of a SEO campaign can take 12-18 months (especially for new domains) before any palpable results are felt, meaning marketing managers are less likely to invest in these endeavors for sustained periods because:
- They haven't seen results.
- SEO doesn't meet their more immediate short-term sales/bonus goals.
This is a typical case of misaligned incentives hurting the long-term growth of an organization. Many organizations are unknowingly engaged in a critical authority race that could shape the level and depth of organic traffic they receive for the next 10-20 years.
The pros and cons of pay-per-click (PPC) versus SEO have been well documented so there's no need to rehash in depth. But what few mention is that PPC prices are subject to the number of players in a given space. As that number rises in a given vertical over time, so will the cost-per-click (CPC), meaning that a profitable ROI driven paid campaign today might be a brand awareness campaign tomorrow.
Google has confirmed that CPC costs are trending above inflation year over year. This combination of factors makes SEO risk mitigation, diversification, and an investment in ensuring affordable long-term traffic.
2. Executing SEO Work can turn Nightmarish
Bureaucratic organizations can be nightmarish to navigate, especially for SEO efforts that will inevitably cross silos. These efforts often can be misconstrued as a Napoleonic play to obtain more editorial control within an organization.
Additionally, overtaxed tech teams have been known to be less than accepting of SEO changes.
Especially for domains with strong authority, one of the most critical aspects of expansion is the building of new content. Building website content can range from joyous to tumultuous, but usually lands in the vicinity of terrifying.
Depending on the agility of the organization, your neatly optimized content will likely need between 250-3,000 review cycles, redlined notes from attorneys you didn't even know existed, and half the organization rolling their collective eyes.
Unfortunately, these organizational constraints are forcing SEOs to cut corners where they get to play with their meta and rel=nofollow tags, but don't actually get a whole heck of a lot accomplished.
The solution to overcoming this problem is simple:
- State your case.
- Model realistic results.
- Obtain buy-in from critical actors in individual settings.
- Incorporate their ideas.
- Give credit (it costs nothing).
- Deflect praise when your efforts are successful.
3. Marketing Managers Are Floating Adrift in the Jargon Sea
This is potentially a result of the established search community getting a bit bored with the fundamentals of search. To be fair, farmers can only blog about the incredible importance of sunlight and water for so long before it gets a bit mind numbing.
The search community is consumed by complex (or at least complex sounding) problems and solutions that are also relatively low impact (e.g., canonicalization tags and XML sitemaps).
As a result, marketing managers and decision makers are getting lost in a laundry list of tasks without clearly understanding the positive effects SEO will have on the site. Contrast this to the alternative of pumping another $20,000 into PPC (where the ROI is more predictive), and the decision for the marketing manager becomes relatively simple.
For any marketing manager beginning an SEO initiative, start by getting an audit and strategy from a trusted vendor. Make sure the vendor identifies and prioritizes problems based on potential impact, along with a range of potential lift. This will empower marketing managers with the cost and potential return of the work performed, further stripping SEO engagements of nebulous clouds.
4. Organic Search Traffic Isn't Properly Valued Over Time
It's important to properly report the value of organic search traffic, especially when compared to PPC. One unique benefit of organic traffic is that, unlike PPC, there is long-term value in the traffic. This is especially important in verticals such as law, health, or education that frequently see CPC averages of upwards of $10/click (in a branded/non-branded mix).
Imagine your initial investment in a new domain is $5,000 (including design and content). After 6 months of traffic, your website sees, on average, 80 high quality visits from a search engine.
To a casual observer, this low level of traffic might appear to be a catastrophic failure. However, when extrapolating these results over a 3-year period, the investment suddenly seems much more sound.
80 visits (x) 12 months = 960 unique visits
Maintaining this average over a three year period = 2,880 expected visits
Expected CPC = $1.74
Compare this to a competitive PPC space ($10/click), and the traffic is 5 times more cost efficient than paid search.
The search volume might be low, but suddenly there is a scalable solution in place to create more organic search traffic.
(Author's Note: I understand these calculations are a bit oversimplified. It's important to remember that PPC traffic frequently converts at higher rates, which would impact the calculations specifically.)
Experiment, track over time, and then do your best to apply dollar values to that traffic. The results might be quite surprising.
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