Selling SEO Projects Against PPC Campaigns

Choosing the right SEO goals and getting buy-in are two important pieces of selling your SEO project. Another aspect, whether you’re a consultant or work in-house, is selling your project when competing for budget with PPC campaigns.

The Easy Part of Selling PPC

A few factors make pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising projects attractive to budget managers. The biggest overall factor is that the model is familiar to them. It feels very similar to traditional ad spend, and even has some advantages:

  1. There’s a fixed connection between money spent and return. In other words, you spend some money, you measure the orders you get, and you do a ROI calculation. Any budget manager can get excited about direct response models that show a clear profit.
  2. There’s very little delay in PPC. Set up your campaign in the morning and start getting visitors to your site from it (and orders) tonight. From the point of view of an advertising budget, that’s hard to beat.
  3. It’s easy to set up and implement tests and tweak your results. You can test and tune your campaigns very easily because of the responsiveness and measurability of the medium.

In short, not only is it similar in concept to traditional advertising, it’s better. That’s a hard thing to sell against.

The Hard Part of Selling SEO

Now let’s look at what makes SEO a difficult sell:

  1. You usually don’t know when you will get initial results. One month? Six months?
  2. You can’t state with precision the size of the impact your SEO campaign. Ten percent traffic increase at six months? Thirty percent? Fifty percent? You just don’t know.
  3. Will there be an impact on conversion rate? Will the new traffic convert better or worse than the traffic you were getting before?

Worse still, the search engine algorithms could change in the same timeframe and obscure the impact of your campaigns. It should be noted that highly experienced SEOs can scope some of these factors out and give some shape to the campaign’s potential return, but it’s much harder than in the PPC world, and the accuracy will be lower.

Selling Your SEO Project

There are many reasons why SEO is a better investment than PPC, but the most compelling one is this: SEO drives more than 75 percent of all search traffic and PPC drives less than 25 percent. In short, your opportunity is more than three times greater.

Another big consideration is that PPC campaigns are getting increasingly competitive. More studies show the brand impact of search. Other studies show how search interacts with other marketing channels (e.g., someone may discover you through a paid search ad, but buy from you offline, or vice versa).

The result: the windfall profit days of PPC are either gone or disappearing. Over time, you can count on PPC profits to shrink, as those who are willing to take lower margins spend more, and those who see brand benefits become willing to lose money on their campaigns (when measured in a direct response model).

In contrast, a company may decide to invest $10,000 per month in an SEO project, for a fixed cost of $120,000 per year. It might take many months before initially breaking even.

This may seem marginal, but SEO builds on itself. As you keep doing the right things, traffic continues to grow. So in the next six months they may double or triple their money, as traffic continues to grow from that original baseline.

Some argue that being in the top spot in the natural search results for key trophy terms tends to have a high degree of brand value too. The argument is that many users simply assume that it’s in the top position because it’s the best, or at least one of the best.

My instinct is that there’s a lot of merit to this notion, but I haven’t seen a study that measures this. If you have, please post it in the comments for other readers.

Willie Sutton, the bank robber, put it very well. When asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.” And so it is with SEO. There is more money for Web site publishers to make in SEO than with PPC, and the risks of marginalization are a lot lower.

You can always focus management on the compromise — get some instant gratification with a (smaller) PPC campaign, and invest in the future of your business by investing in SEO. It could well be the best money they ever spend.

Submissions are now open for the 2009 Search Engine Watch Awards. Enter your company or campaign before July 17, 2009. Winners will be announced at SES San Jose.

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