Corey Morris is the President of Voltage–an award-winning digital agency focused on marketing, websites and branding.
Are you fully invested in digital marketing, just starting out or feeling skeptical? I get it if you’re in any of those camps, especially when it comes to an organic channel like search engine optimization.
SEO has been a discipline and has been around for going on three decades. It has been a thing since before Google was a search engine. However, it is still filled with mystique, high expectations and big frustrations for many.
I’ve been involved in digital marketing since 2005 and SEO since 2008. Over the years, something that hasn’t changed is hearing stories of companies being burned. I hate that part of my industry: hate it. I love seeing good companies and people succeed. As someone on the agency side, that means my people and company also succeed.
As SEO has matured, it has also in many ways become a sort of commodity. There are so many agencies, platforms, companies and consultants making claims that they do it (and I’m sure they do). The challenge is doing SEO well and meeting goals.
My ask is that we all look at SEO as an investment. My team can’t provide a prospectus like a big mutual fund might, but stick with me—we can use industry-leading tools and expertise to do audience research and create the best strategies and projections possible.
Like any investment, there are reasons to expect a return on that investment. We’re not just doing it because we know we should—we’re putting money, time and effort into SEO because it will have a return for us. Follow me on the seven factors that impact SEO’s return on investment.
1. Look At SEO (Like Any Marketing Channel) As An Investment
If you’re working with an agency or have in-house roles and resources, you’re spending money. That money goes toward salaries, vendors (who I hope are more like partners), tools and technology, and more to lead and support SEO efforts.
That investment should show ROI. Sure, there are some investments that might be able to provide immediate returns with a day-trader mindset. SEO is not one of them. This is a hold-and-build investment. We’re playing the long game here. Know that there are wins and losses, but in the long run, with the right investment partner (internal or external), you’ll get there and will keep compounding and reinvesting.
2. Dedicate Resources
Okay, you’ve read down to the second point and you’re excited about the investment and ROI potential. Now we need to have a bigger conversation. We can’t just hand this off to the marketing equivalent of our financial advisor, give them money, come back in six months and expect to see the ROI.
SEO requires people, tools and resources. Some of those resources are other departments or partners in the areas of copy or content, creative, UX and IT. That’s on top of the SEO strategy and implementation expertise you need to have.
Be ready to invest fully in all of the resources you need for SEO. They often go beyond SEO titles and will be more holistic than you might imagine.
3. Factor In Hard And Soft Costs
You should have both people and technology. Even in-house teams might need a decent software budget to get the tools required to do the job well.
Be ready to pay an agency (people plus tools) or your own team (again, people plus tools) and unlock what they need in terms of investments. Also, as I noted above, be prepared for the need to leverage other disciplines and for the associated hard and soft costs of those.
4. Learn The Basics (Or More)
You don’t have to master the trade or obtain a full set of technical skills. However, it is important to go deeper than just your business metrics and objectives. By knowing the basics of how SEO works, you can better relate to your team or agency and keep expectations in alignment.
Things rarely go according to plan (sorry), so when they go off track or you have to adapt and be agile, you’ll be better tuned into the what and why. I recommend at least getting acquainted with 101-level resources like those you can find on Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, or Google.
5. Engage In The Process
No one wants to guess what you want or if you feel like they’re meeting your expectations. Whether you’re a CEO, marketer or operations person, you should work collaboratively with your SEO team. You have the power to help unlock resources, provide approvals and help keep things on track.
You don’t want your team or resources guessing or going down a long-term path that you might be able to help them expedite.
6. Don’t Be Unreasonable
Again, remember this is a long-term channel. You’re going to sink real money into this before you see the return. Much like a long-term financial asset, you’re in it for the long haul and end return.
Pausing, changing strategies or pulling out of the effort early could lead to bigger losses than having the right team and sticking with the investment long-term for the payoff.
7. Expect Your Team To Care
I have asked a lot of you in terms of making sure you get the ROI you want and deserve. You’re likely asking a lot of the team doing the work. You want them to care at a comparable level to you.
Don’t settle for apathy or a transactional relationship. You’re investing. Much like your financial advisor, you want someone to care at a fiduciary level about performance, your goals, and ROI and not just to check the boxes or “do” the work.
I believe SEO works best when you do it with an investment mindset. Looking at it as a channel, agency function or something that vendors do can limit its potential and lead to underwhelming results.
Understand the aspects that help drive SEO ROI and how you can shift your own expectations and mindset to get the most out of it over the long haul.