Planning, Budgeting, and Measuring an SEO Campaign

snake-oil-old-bottleWhen it comes to SEO, many business owners just don’t know enough to truly understand how to plan an effective SEO campaign. They don’t know the difference between white hat, black hat, or raspberry beret. Unethical spammers take advantage of this every day, with a barrage of emails pitching business owners on SEO services with “guaranteed first page results” on Google.

I can understand the appeal of these emails. Most business owners just don’t have the time to do their own SEO and run their business, too. Since Internet marketing is mostly a mystery to those outside of the industry, why not buy the “bargain brand”?

Unfortunately, I see the collateral damage from “cheap SEO” all the time. One of my firm’s specialties is Google penalty recovery. Most clients that get whacked by a penalty had no idea what their SEO company was doing. They are mad, frustrated, and angry, because they “didn’t do anything wrong.”

That’s where the tough love comes in. I have to remind clients they are ultimately responsible for the companies working on their behalf to follow the Google webmaster guidelines. Of course, most never knew there were any guidelines, before their website disappeared from Google’s search results. The only thing they did wrong was place their trust in a firm that ultimately destroyed their organic search traffic and in some cases, their business. That’s the hidden expense of “cheap SEO.”

Failing to Plan = Planning to Fail

The cliché is true – without a plan, it’s impossible to track progress or measure success. There is no “one size fits all” marketing plan. Every website is different and each has its own unique challenges. When developing a plan, one first needs to establish goals and objectives. The next step is to determine the best path for reaching those goals.

The key thing to remember about digital marketing is that it is an ongoing process. The need to check your website for technical issues, add content, and acquire links never ends. Equally important to understand is that is that unlike PPC, it takes time to see results from SEO.

Even though every plan is unique, the wireframe for a successful SEO campaign generally includes some or all the following elements:

  • Foundation Check (SEO Audit): Check a website for technical health as well as potential SEO problems or shortcomings. Once you have a handle on the problems, develop a corrective action plan. The plan should be specific, time-phased, and measurable.
  • Backlink Audit: I’m a fan of being proactive in this area. Don’t wait for a Penguin update to wipe out your rankings in the SERPs or an “unnatural links” warning to hit your inbox. The best time to perform a link audit is BEFORE you have a problem.
  • Keyword Research & Keyword Selection: Modern SEO is so much more than ranking number one for a trophy phrase. That said, incorporating highly searched and relevant phrases into your website optimization plan is still important. Plenty of great guides are available right here to help you with your KW research.
  • On-Page Optimization: At minimum, pay attention to:
    • Meta Tag Optimization
    • Important html Tags
    • Keyword Optimization
    • Link Optimization
    • SEO Co-Citation
    • Image Optimization
  • Competitor Analysis: The best way to stay ahead of the competition is to fully understand the competition; specifically their strengths and weaknesses. A comprehensive competitor analysis will provide that knowledge.
  • Content Marketing: This should be considered a perpetual task and ideally will follow a dual track. Part of your strategy should be focused on attracting links and creating content designed for that purpose. Equally important is creating “Hummingbird food” – useful resources that provide information that’s relevant to your niche and a searcher’s query.
  • Link-Building: Link-building the right way in 2015 is hard. I suspect that’s the reason that so many people like to declare link-building as ineffective or less effective as in the past. It’s an excuse to get out of doing the heavy lifting. If links didn’t matter, Google wouldn’t have an algorithm devoted to routing out the bad ones (aka penguin). Backlinks = Rankings, Rankings = Traffic – Deal With It
  • Social Media: This is another task that should be run with a dual purpose; specifically, audience building and social media marketing. Keep in mind that social media marketing requires genuine human to human interaction in order to work.

Your Budget

How much should you expect to spend on SEO? The amount varies, but hiring a top-level SEO company to execute a comprehensive digital marketing campaign, will require a minimum budget of $2,500 to $5,000 month. If you’re a small business focused strictly on local SEO, prices are generally much less. Some companies will offer an entry-level “trial package” at a reduced price, with no commitment, to give clients an opportunity to test their services. I personally like this approach, as it takes a lot of stress out of the decision making process, by minimizing risk.

Not everyone can afford a monthly retainer for a top-level SEO. More importantly, no one can afford a “cheap SEO” that breaks Google webmaster guidelines. That said, there are cost-effective options available. The most common option is a one shot – hiring an SEO company to do a single task that can provide value. An SEO audit, for example, can provide a business owner with feedback and actionable recommendations. Keyword research and content creation are also available a la carte through some agencies. If you don’t have the budget for a one shot, do it yourself.

Define Your Goals

The only way to know if you’re getting a good return on your investment is to have some kind of metric for evaluating your Web traffic. Regardless of your budget, you want to be getting a good ROI. During your initial planning, you need to decide how you’re going to measure success. When talking about SEO, many people immediately think of success as being at the top of search result. You might use ranking as ONE form of measurement, but don’t make it your only or most important metric.

Instead of measuring on your ranking, measure on a real-world statistic. If you were evaluating an offline marketing campaign, you might look at things such as increased sales or an increase in the number of customers. You can use these metrics online, too. One goal might be to see your sales increase by five percent every month for a year or to gain 50 new subscribers to your email newsletters.

There are two important factors when looking at measurements: make it something that is measurable and make your goal reasonable. It’s very hard to measure something like interest in a product — you don’t know if people viewing the product website are truly interested or not, and even if you have some kind of way for people to say they’re interested, you don’t know that everyone who is will click that button. However, you can very easily measure unique visitors, purchases, and page views.

After you’ve embarked on a brand new SEO campaign, don’t expect a huge spike in organic traffic, right away. Keep the measurements for your first year reasonable and attainable. Digital marketing is a marathon – not a sprint.

Measuring ROI

Following is a formula, often used incorrectly, to measure return on investment (ROI) for organic search:

table-organic-search

Most business models rely on customers buying from them more than one time. Smart companies have a philosophy of retaining a “customer for life.” Failure to calculate the lifetime value of a newly acquired client distorts the true ROI. The proper way to calculate ROI, assuming a repeat customer model, follows:

table-2-organic-search

As you can see, one variable can make a HUGE difference in properly calculating ROI.

Takeaway

Digital marketing continues to offer one of the best ROI’s of all marketing channels. If you can’t afford a reputable firm, then you should do it yourself. Don’t let your company be destroyed by “cheap SEO.”

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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