Jun 11 2012

Why Should I Invest in SEO, What ROI Can I Expect?

Category: organic seoTom Shivers


Recently a colleague of mine who provides virtual CIO services sent me some intriguing questions about how he handles or screens SEO partners.

"Why should I invest in SEO, and what ROI can I expect if I invest with Capture Commerce?"

“If you can demonstrate irrefutable ROI, and if you're willing to stand behind the numbers, I don't see how my clients can lose.  If you can't go that far, I'd like to at least see some kind of traffic results guarantee, like one unique visitor for every x dollars spent.  Also, there are so many SEO spammers, and I think that causes people to be suspicious of the industry in general.  How will you give my clients confidence that you're delivering solid traffic and not jeopardizing their reputation by spamming/scamming the system?”

“I need irrefutable ROI”

Some have asked for irrefutable ROI, unfortunately that only happens after the decision is made to invest, the proper strategy defined and implemented effectively. Then, the irrefutable results begin pouring in. It’s like any worthwhile business pursuit:

  1. A desire is expressed
  2. A decision is made
  3. Faith in the purpose grows
  4. Persistence to realize the purpose overcomes obstacles
  5. A group is formed to devise a plan
  6. The plan materializes into organized and specific actions

I’ve worked with scores of businesses on developing and implementing SEO strategy and over the years I’ve found that businesses who are committed to success and treat their SEO partner as part of the team and collaborate, always do well!

When I hear “no, we can’t do that” over and over after my recommendations, I’m thinking, “You’ll need a fat budget for this project.” This negative response often forces critical items to be outsourced to someone who may not be very intimate with the industry or how the business wants to be positioned within their industry – which takes more time to bring them up to speed on the project. These type businesses can succeed if they can work through the “3 steps forward, 2 steps back” cycles that slow down momentum at critical times.

So as you can see, ROI is greatly affected by the leader and the team involved in executing the plan.

“I need a traffic results guarantee”

Most people think that SEO is about top rankings or getting tons of traffic to their website, but that is not a great approach. Those who put too much emphasis on rankings or tons of traffic will be disappointed with SEO almost every time. Conversion is what SEO, paid search, social media and every traffic source must be measured by; otherwise, the money runs out and the project cannot be sustained.

By conversion I mean the traffic to your site is delivering business objectives: the phone rings, products sell, forms get completed, prospects ask good questions, email lists grow, foot traffic (the front door swings and the cash register rings), etc.

If the traffic to a site is converting, it’s because the business and SEO team knows the target audience and their buying process well enough to align it with the business’ selling process so that the action the user wants to take is intuitive and easy. This then sustains SEO and breeds success; in other words, conversions are tracked and adjustments are made accordingly.

SEO traffic that feeds the conversion funnel is your guide in every phase of the process. There are no short cuts here.

So, instead of looking for a traffic results guarantee, which is meaningless unless a SEO professional is intimately aware of your business, look for deliverable guarantees such as:

  • Targeting appropriate search terms
  • Producing a content development plan
  • Developing and implementing a natural link building strategy
  • Programming web analytics to track results
  • Search rank reporting
  • Setting realistic rank expectations and timeframe
  • Recommendations to increase conversions

“But there are so many SEO spammers”

There are many fine SEO professionals, but the SEO industry does have its bad apples. Those not familiar with how search engines work today can be mislead by non-professional practices. What makes this worse is that some of the techniques these “SEOs” use actually work, but only for a few months – or until Google changes their algorithm.

I recently met with a reputable business who has been one of the leaders in it’s industry for years, but lately they have noticed that the ease of access to their competitors via the search engines has reduced the number of referrals they now receive. So, they are finally ready to do something about the problem.

Before the meeting, I checked out their blog and found lots of fake comments. I simply assumed that they had not enabled the WordPress Akismet plugin that deals with spam comments automatically. But, during our meeting I learned that they had hired a SEO company to write fake comments on their blog.

Wow! What a disconnect. Someone in the company did not think through the implications of the SEO provider’s actions, namely the reputation of the company when prospects see all the ridiculous blog comments.

So, what I’m saying is even well run companies are vulnerable to unprofessional SEO – usually due to an uninformed employee.

How can you be confident that you are engaged in SEO techniques that are not just above board today, but always will be, no matter how search engines like Google change their algorithm?

This is the question SEO professionals ask themselves and each other regularly. And this was the topic of a popular blog post I wrote last year: Top SEO Skills for Today and Beyond.

In the article I touch on the main skill set for SEO professionals:

  • Possesses an analytical mindset
  • Empathizes with search engineers
  • Possesses a good understanding of markup
  • Understands the history and future of SEO
  • Understands conversion
  • Able to create a site to rank for a competitive keyword
  • Able to create scalable link building strategies
  • Able to easily generate content that is link worthy
  • Able to judge the value of a link
  • Able to measure competitor keywords, traffic, etc.
  • Able to measure social activity

In case you missed it, some of these are attitudes as well, and very important attitudes to possess if you are responsible for SEO. A SEO professional who does possess this skill set is confident that no matter how Google or SEO changes, he/she will always be on the competitive edge.

Reputable SEO professionals actually help businesses become less and less dependent on Google; this may sound strange at first but think it through. Perhaps it’s a topic for another time.

“How do I know if a SEO is delivering solid traffic and not jeopardizing my reputation by scamming the system?”

There are too many scenarios to go through here, but here are some guidelines and warning signs:

  • Get familiar with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
  • Pay careful attention to how a SEO does link building, if it seems like an easy approach to get lots of links, it probably is
  • Guaranteed rankings of any kind is a scam
  • Submitting your site to X number of search engines is a scam
  • “We have Google’s SEO certification” or “We have an insider at Google”
  • “We need to install this link directory on your site”
  • “We’ll have you on the first page of Google by this time next week” – this is really Adwords, not SEO

Most SEO professionals do not provide guarantees about rankings or end results for good reason: no one controls Google’s algo but Google. What search marketing pros can guarantee is a strategy and implementation that has proven to bring good rankings and results in the past.

If you cannot picture a successful end result while conversing with a SEO provider, then just move on and find one you can feel confident working with. You might consider these tips as well:

  • Talk to business partners and trusted vendors about who they would recommend.
  • Look up your local chapter of SEMPO (Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization), this organization is known for keeping members who are above-board.
  • Ask for case studies and make sure they outline before and after results. The more detailed the ROI data, the better.
  • Ask for references, especially those outlined in the case studies… and then contact the references.

If you are still struggling with your options, it might be a good idea to learn SEO yourself. Here are some great resources for beginner SEO:

How will you give me confidence that you’re delivering solid traffic?

Here’s the deal. If you pass the above tests I outlined:

  • You are committed to success and your team is open to collaborate
  • You want conversions more than you want top rankings
  • You understand the skills and attitudes that make a professional SEO
  • You can sniff out a SEO scam
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