Making the Case for SEO ROI

by Stephen Pitts on July 30, 2014

SEO - keep calm and measure roiThere are few specific industry articles that I have been asked about more than the recent article from David Waterman on Search Engine Land – “SEO Should Not Be Held To An ROI Target – Here’s Why”.

In the article David makes two particular points to justify his cause: 1. SEO is not a marketing channel and 2. SEO is not an investment; it’s a requisite.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
- William Bruce Cameron

Now, let me be clear, the intent of this post isn’t to bash this article or David. He makes extremely valid justification to his perspective and I don’t necessarily disagree with any of his points but I don’t view them as a valid argument for his premise that SEO shouldn’t be considered a marketing channel. So, I wanted to dig in a bit.

Since I disagree with the premise, I think I will unpack it in reverse, so here we go:

2. SEO is an investment and its not a requisite.
Let’s approach this one from back to front as well. Requisite (noun) is from the Latin word “requisitus” which means ‘deemed necessary’ and is synonymous with necessity and essential. Personally, I think there is a lot of merit to this argument, however, not all aspects of SEO are required. Just like having a website, some might consider it a requirement in this day and age, however, it actually isn’t the case.

A website (can be) a huge investment, not always from an out of pocket expense, but it typically takes either an investment of time and/or money. Now, IMO if you are going to make the investment in building and managing a website, it only makes sense that you would want SEO components built in and in a position that it can be easily managed, but like the cost associated with building and hosting a website, there is a cost associated with building in the SEO management components as well. There are a number of technical considerations that are typically deemed as SEO that should be incorporated into the management portion of the website. I don’t recommend that these be calculated in the ROI evaluation of SEO, but the general cost of operating the website.

Just like any investment, you should measure the return on that effort, measuring the ROI for owning a website or investing in SEO. If the return doesn’t outweigh the cost, then it doesn’t make business sense to take on or continue carrying that cost.

Case in point: My personal investment on this site of both time and out of pocket costs (domain name, hosting, etc.) doesn’t produce any revenue despite having a Google AdSense block on this blog, but my return is not financial. One of these days I just might make back the out of pocket costs (maybe), however, my return is still there because it isn’t financial.

1. SEO is a marketing channel
Once again, I don’t recommend that you invest in building, hosting and managing a website without considering SEO as a valuable way to gain traffic. That doesn’t mean that you are aggressively focusing on SEO components (content and authority development) to increase traffic and conversions. This is where I draw the line from a management expense and a marketing expense. For instance, if you are a retailer and have a website with your product catalog, getting new or removing discontinued products on your website I would consider a management function. However, if you have a new category that you are expanding into and need to build content that would support acquisition from organic search and want to aggressively seek competitive rankings within search results, you will likely be putting much more effort than simply imputing a new product into your CMS, I would consider this a marketing function.

Measurement is the key to understanding if you are successful, whether that be keyword rankings, traffic or conversions. Without understanding the return we receive from the time and money we spend on a particular task, we might have a better place to devote our precious time and money.

David makes some great points in his article, I encourage you to go and read it. I also think that SEO should be top of mind for all website owners, but I also understand that we should weigh the value from different activities we choose to employ when owning a website.

Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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