What is the value of SEO to our business?
B2B marketing executives all over the world are asking themselves this question. And many are having trouble coming up with an answer.
They are not SEO experts. They’re trying to figure out the best way to generate leads for the business. They’ve trained themselves to question and measure the value of every marketing initiative. This is a beneficial perspective to have, but there are some nuances to SEO that make its value a bit more complicated to understand.
Why the Value of SEO is Harder to Understand Than Other Digital Marketing Channels
1. It’s Challenging to Estimate How Long It Will Take to Create a Specific SEO Result
In general, the more data you have as a marketer, the easier it is to forecast how long it will take to earn a specific result. This is why SEO results can be more challenging to forecast than paid results – there’s less direct data available.
Most advertising platforms will spoon feed you some data to optimize your campaign around. That’s the expectation since you are paying for the opportunity. Facebook will provide you with a relevance score. Google Ads will share a quality score. In SEO, you get nothing. Your page shows up wherever it shows up, and it’s up to you to figure out why.
The SEO professional must reverse engineer the search result page and come up with a hypothesis about why the page is ranking where it is. This process requires both a scientific and creative approach.
- scientific, to be able to analyze data from various tools
- creative, to be able to understand the perspective of of your target audience
This is the mentality of a standout SEO professional. It’s why the title of the most popular SEO textbook is, “The Art of SEO”.
Are there certain variables that are predictable indicators of ranking? Of course. Most SEO professionals would agree that examining how the keyword is used on the page and what links are pointing to the page is a great place to start. But Google uses hundreds of different ranking signals. And those ranking signals are often weighted differently, depending on the industry and the specific search. Search Engine Land even published a periodic table of ranking factors to help professionals keep track of them all.
This less-than-straightforward nature of an SEO program makes it harder to scope out than an advertising campaign. A good SEO professional can provide a somewhat accurate estimate of the time and effort it will take to produce results, but it won’t be a guarantee. This can create hesitation in a marketing manager’s decision to invest.
2. SEO Results Are Often Not Immediately Available
Of course, there are exceptions to this statement. An SEO professional can often create some results in a week by updating title tags or adjusting internal links in a specific way.
But for the most part, the most impactful SEO initiatives are going to take months, at least. Maile Ohye, a former Google executive, has recommended giving SEOs 4-12 months to produce results.
It can be hard for marketers to understand why this SEO process takes so long. Four months to a year can seem like an eternity to a marketer that is used to seeing the results of their digital advertising campaign in days or weeks.
3. Measuring the Full Value of SEO Can Involve Advanced Web Analytics Skills
Digital marketers often measure the success of a channel by how many conversions it produces. This is most often done through a last-click attribution model. Although this is the simplest form of measurement, it often provides a limited view of your marketing channel performance. Some channels get undervalued. This is especially true for B2B brands investing in SEO with longer buying cycles. A study done by Slingshot SEO revealed that organic search was the most undervalued channel, by as much as 77.25 percent.
Marketers have known for a long time that most users engage with a brand through several channels before converting. But this doesn’t change the fact that tracking these engagements requires a specific skill set. Marketing teams that don’t have someone with this skill set often default to a simpler attribution model. This, in turn, lowers the perceived value of SEO.
It’s helpful to keep these common reasons why SEO is undervalued in mind when considering an SEO investment. It’s the first step towards appreciating the full value of SEO.
Why Is Investing in SEO So Valuable?
The only way to understand the full value of investing in SEO in the context of your business goals is to speak with an SEO professional you trust.
With that said, here are some general reasons why SEO is so powerful compared to other channels.
1. Results Are More Permanent Than Other Channels
The benefits of your site ranking on the first page of Google for a relevant keyword will outlast the investment in SEO you made to earn that position. This is the primary difference between SEO and advertising.
When running a digital advertising campaign the results only last as long as the investment is being made. When you stop spending on ads, your website traffic and conversions stop too. You don’t own those ads, you are leasing them from the advertising platform.
In comparison, when you invest in SEO and build valuable content on your site, you are creating more permanent value in an asset you own online. You will reap the benefit of that well after your budget is turned off. This is how you can build equity in your business online. As Eric Enge would say, it’s how you build a sustainable competitive advantage.
Ranking #1 in Google isn’t necessarily permanent. SEO is not a hands-off, set-it-and-forget-it digital marketing solution. But there is a reason Google is ranking your page #1 for that keyword. You’ve done something to earn it. You’re probably providing the most relevant solution to the user’s query, and are the most authoritative result. If that’s the case, it’s not in Google’s best interest to displace you.
Unless Google shifts some algorithm factors that aren’t in your favor, or a competitor overtakes your position, that is where you’ll stay. Both of those outcomes are possible, but if they don’t occur, you will continue to reap the traffic and business benefits of ranking in that position.
2. The Value of SEO Compounds Over Time
As you invest in SEO and earn higher rankings in search results there is momentum in your favor to build on those rankings. That momentum comes from people being able to discover and share your content with ease.
To illustrate, let’s walk through an example. Let’s say a user is looking for some data to justify a certain software choice. The user searches on Google for that piece of information, and you have a page on your site that is ranking as a top result. There is a strong possibility that user will click on your result.
An ongoing study by Advanced Web Ranking shows that the top result earns 33 percent of the clicks from the entire search result page (as of August, 2018). If the user wants to share the content they find, by default, you are also the most likely piece to be shared. Search engines that pick up on this sharing (through links or social media) will assign your result more authority for solving users’ queries.
Simply put, being the top result in Google gives you several advantages. Not only are you the most likely to earn the user’s click, but you’re also in the best position to reinforce your authority as a top result. This is momentum.
3. SEO Is More Credible Than Advertising
SEO is a form of earned media. Google has validated the fact that your site is the top result for a certain topic. This 3rd party validation gives your business credibility. In this way, SEO results are digital PR.
Rand Fishkin captured the power of this earned credibility in his famous Tweet.
Best way to sell something – don't sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, & trust of those who might buy.
— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) February 4, 2015
Final Thoughts: Could SEO Be Your Competitive Advantage?
Now that you understand the value of SEO, and why so many marketers undervalue it, you can examine your competitors in a new way. Do they undervalue SEO? This might be an opportunity to overtake them and build separation in the market
Is this possible in your industry? What would it take? There’s no way of knowing without seeking the advisement of an SEO professional you trust.
But regardless, it’s a question you need to answer. It could be the investment that unlocks a whole new tier of growth for your business.