It's no secret that SEO is a marathon not a sprint, or as I threw out on #SEMrushchat whilst drinking mojitos on vacation (or holiday to us Brits):
However, quite often CEOs and higher level executives expect this channel to move as fast as some performance marketing tactics do. In a previous post, I discussed how “brand marketing” is harder to measure than “performance marketing." SEO actually falls somewhere between the two.
Let me first define my theories:
Online, this is the strategic process of building branded search volume and brand awareness. The most successful tactics used to grow brand awareness harness both online and offline strategies – with both above-the-line and below-the-line marketing used in harmony to increase awareness of a brand, product or service.
Most campaigns are based around brand messaging, communication factors and market positioning. The most effective brand marketing campaigns understand how to tailor the messaging around how the audience interacts across different channels. You only need to take a look at how BuzzFeed is structured to understand how important it is that content is repurposed around what will work best for different audiences and formats.
Let’s take the John Lewis Christmas campaign as an example. It worked across social, TV, search, paid, display, outdoor, you name it.
Another example would be the Coca Cola “Share a coke with” campaign. Using offline methods on the products, people would take to digital, in this case social, to share/ tag pictures of them with a named bottle of coke.
I believe what happens after this point is the future of ‘proper’ search. You create your own search volume. Take a look at the trend below showing “share a coke” search volume. SEMrush also picks up this data…
Google Trends Screenshot:
SEMrush Trends Screenshot
Brand campaigns are harder to measure from an ROI perspective, but by measuring branded search volume or campaign name search volume, you can start to see how it’s building.
This is the process of tracking an ROI ratio working on a cost per acquisition or cost per lead basis.
The strategy behind this largely depends on what you can afford to pay for a new customer or lead. In online retail where I tend to specialize, I first understand gross margin and average order value. This then gives you clarity into the cash margin for acquisition.
For example, let’s say I sell wallets online. My wallets sell for an average order value of $100 (they’re damn good wallets!). To produce a completed wallet (excluding staff or overheads) it costs me $25. Therefore it gives me $75 cash margin to acquire a new customer profitably.
Using performance marketing tactics such as paid search, paid social, affiliate marketing and shopping feeds, I can set my agency or in-house team a target of a CPA (cost per acquisition) of $25. This would mean $25 for the product and $25 CPA leaving me $50 profit to run through the company. It would also mean a 4:1 ROI ratio on my marketing spend.
Get this model right and it doesn’t matter how much you're spending, you know you’re making the dollar back to grow!
Why SEO Sits Between the Two
It’s very hard nowadays to track a true ROI ratio without using advanced attribution modeling. I like to do things simple and quick, so I can focus on growing my businesses. However, using landing pages to monitor keyword visibility and organic traffic growth, alongside either e-commerce tracking or goal conversions, you can start to build an ROI ratio.
Now for the tricky part! If you’re using content marketing to acquire links and social sharing from an SEO’s perspective, it becomes more about the long-term plan for visibility, retargeting and inbound marketing, rather than a direct ROI or CPA ratio.
SEO sits between performance and brand marketing because some landing pages or content pieces will attract traffic only forcing bounces. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but some will see metrics such as bounce rate and conversion rate negatively change.
How Do You Prove That SEO is Worth the Investment?
When all is said and done – proving the value of SEO to data-driven CEOs and other purse string holders within an organization is a challenge. The key to successfully overcoming this challenge is education and transparency and giving that education is a burden that falls across everyone from in house marketing managers to agency owners.
As I said at the beginning of this article – we’re running a marathon, not a sprint. This means that results aren’t going to come over night, but clearly taking people through the process will help them understand how long term value is going to be achieved.
The availability of tools like MetricsMate that offer on-the-fly data analysis mean transparency is easier than ever to offer. This makes it easier to quantify the value of ‘rankings’ and ‘organic search visibility,’ but everything has to be reinforced with education. It’s the biggest challenge we face as SEOs in the modern climate – but it holds the key to proving the real value of SEO as a service.