Understanding Value From SEO Efforts

I hear this all the time from prospects…”How will I be able to measure success of an SEO effort?” Or otherwise, “How do you determine the value?”

Back 10 years ago, we might show “success” based on a ranking report, or a list of things we’ve “done” as an agency.

Today, it’s different (and better). We should be understanding the real value of marketing efforts (including SEO) and helping our clients to understand that value. In reality, what we all want is return on investment (ROI). We want to make more money than we put into an effort, keeping in mind that time IS money.

When it comes to PPC, I think most people “get” this. For some reason, this logic goes out the window when it comes to SEO. Perhaps we have ourselves (our industry) to blame. Too many people burned, so there are too many people suspicious of SEO “value.” I don’t know.

For a client, recently, this proved to be the case.

Years ago, I was approached by a company and asked to present to their executive team on why they should consider my company for SEO services. Once in the conference room, the question was asked, “Mark…tell us what we should do.” I paused. I then responded, “Do you want me to tell you what you should be doing, or do you want me to talk with you about SEO, and why we might be a good fit for that?”

A bit confused, the client said, “I guess I’d like you to tell us what we should do.”

“Redesign your website,” I responded. “It’s awful.”

For those of you who know me (including my lovely wife), you know that I have trouble with being a bit over-the-top candid. Please do not ask for my opinion, unless you really want my opinion.

I helped them to understand that achieving “top rankings on Google” is not a goal. At the end of the day, they should be concerned about driving quality conversions that their sales folks can turn into money.

The end result was that they agreed, redesigned their website, and engaged in an ongoing SEO effort (along with the implementation of a sound analytics strategy). They also learned to quantify the value of the leads that they were receiving, by understanding the conversion rates of leads-to-sales and average net profit from sales.

Two years later, things are looking very positive. The company has gone into acquisition/growth mode. I arranged a call to speak with the client about the upcoming renewal of our SEO efforts. She said, “Mark, I cannot express to you enough how much I think of you and your team…”

For some reason, I felt like a “but” was coming.

I was correct.

The client continued to tell me that she had some difficult choices to make, as she was asked to make the budget “go further” this next year.

She determined that off-shoring the work would help her to “get more done.”

For about the same amount of money that she had been paying to us on a retainer, she could get (from this off-shore agency) SEO analysis and reports, social media management (Facebook/blogging and LinkedIn content/management), 10 white papers, print ad design, eight newsletters, and trade show graphics.

She was “only” paying us for SEO and analytics services.

She shared her revelation as if to say, “Can’t you see why I would make this jump?”

I said to her, “Get ready…I’m pretty hot…but here comes my opinion on the subject.”

“Are you seriously basing ‘value’ on the list of stuff that these guys are willing to do? Can’t you see the REAL value that we have created, over the course of the past two years? These valuations are based on the numbers that you provided to us, so they should be accurate/good, right?”

“Yes,” she responded.

I went on…

I mean no disrespect to those in India who practice SEO (for real). But, I also know that there are many in off-shore SEO who are not “really” practitioners of the craft, and I also know the model. Prior to founding my current agency, I was the president of another firm who had a number of employees (contractors) off-shore. We paid them anywhere from $300 to $400 per month, most of the time. I mentioned to her that you could assign all of these things that she had mentioned to one person, and that – very likely – this other agency was going to profit a lot more than I ever dreamed of profiting from the effort. They may provide a lot of tactical execution, but do I think that they’re going to provide any strategic direction? Do I think that they might actually do more harm than good, because they may feel compelled to “get links” (typically not very good links, coming from off-shore efforts) and that the real value that we had grown might actually take a hit?

Aside from all of this, are they seriously going to outsource their “face”/brand off-shore? Social media marketing handled by folks in India? White papers? Blog posts? Newsletters? And graphics? (I don’t know that I have ever seen quality design come from India, but I would love to see folks share comments/examples, if they have any to share.)

It is very possible that the money that this (now former) client pays into this firm could equate to fewer leads, less value, and actually cause harm to their brand.

Value is not derived, necessarily, based on a “list of things that are done.” It’s understanding what needs to be done, prioritizing the important work, and making sure that the right work is done in the right way.

For this client, I have asked them to read an article that I had published a couple of years ago, “Selecting an SEO Firm, the What, How, and Who.”

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