If you’re immersed in a particular industry it can be difficult sometimes to see outside of your own bubble. At theMediaFlow we’re a very small, self-funded SEO agency and because of that we’ve always gotten our business entirely by referral or by incoming enquiries from customers who have found us through search or by reputation. In all those cases of course we’re “preaching to the converted”. What I mean by that is that our customers come to us already aware of the benefits of investing in SEO. Forgive me then for forgetting that in many businesses and in many sectors, SEO is still relatively untried, unknown and yet to feature on the marketing agenda.
Last week I chaired a number of round table discussions at Econsultancy Digital Cream B2B. A recurrent theme from participants to the Integrated Search discussions, was the difficulty in quantifying and justifying budget for organic search, when already using paid search. Paid search is instantly quantifiable, with clear and immediate ROI data. In organisations that may have some history, are primarily “bricks and mortar” or may have numerous and diverse routes to market; organic search may seem like an intangible spend in comparison. Of course that’s not the case, so I thought it would be useful to present some solid data-driven cases for investing in SEO for those using paid search.
Organic Search Is a Lasting Investment
A good SEO campaign, delivered by a good SEO agency is a lasting investment. Particularly in a business to business environment you’re likely to be producing specialist products that serve a particular business need. Whilst your competition may be tough comparatively within your industry it ain’t car insurance, and provided that your website is fairly solid and your business has a story to tell, there is no reason why a good SEO agency cannot significantly improve your visibility in organic search as a lasting investment. Whilst click-thru rates on organic search results have been declining compared to paid search over the years, most recent studies show that at 52% of clicks this is still the majority. That means that if your budget holders will only approve paid search budget, there’s an additional 52% share of clicks that your business is not even in the running for. My fellow SEO-Chick Julie Joyce of Linkfish Media recommends graphing the rising costs of PPC for your main industry keywords over time so you can quantify the rising costs of participating purely in the paid search pool. This is quite a powerful argument to consider an investment in SEO as this is a much more lasting spend.
Of course saying that “SEO is a lasting investment” is all well and good but of course your financial director needs more than the assurances of someone who has made a living out of this for eight years. If you’re already spending on paid search you already have some great data on the keywords that work and convert for your business, plus the ability to demonstrate how click-thru rate increases based on the position of your paid listings. You can either be super cautious and use an average click-thru rate for your paid listings to demonstrate the additional share of clicks available once you have attained the top three spots, or if you happen to already have some organic search presence (perhaps in the less competitive “tail” terms for your sector, or on your brand terms) then you can use Google Webmaster Tools data to look at the organic search click-thru ranges on any terms in which you are already ranking well for.
PPC and SEO Work Best Together
In addition to the “me too” benefits to be had from also participating in SEO, there’s some solid case study data on the additional bump in performance metrics across both paid and organic search, when both are used in conjunction. My fellow SEO-Chick Hannah Smith of Distilled agrees that paid and organic search work better together, and pointed me to a talk delivered by Melanie Mitchell of Digitas speaking at Mozcon 2011. In the session Mitchell said that contrary to some conventional wisdom, rather than “switching off” PPC when you rank #1 for a core term there’s actually more bang for the buck to be hand in continued participation in both organic and paid search. In fact in the study she referenced “32% CTR and 420% increase in brand recall when doing organic and PPC together.”
Whilst paid search may deliver instant ROI and quantifiable performance data from the get-go this is a constant click-level cost, which is ongoing and increasing. In most cases if your business has never embarked on a programme of organic search marketing, then the investment required will often tend to decrease over time as the bulk of a lot of technical and on-page optimisation activities will take place in the first months. Your ongoing spend will therefore be related to the technical marketing aspects of organic search, such as linkbuilding, getting your content in front of the right online sources and audiences, and dovetailing your social media presence with your social media strategy. Although it will differ from sector to sector in most B2B sectors the first six months of an organic search campaign will be negative in terms of ROI, as your site begins to gain traction in the search engines, however by around six months onwards your investment will begin to return and to grow significantly for often the same rate of monthly spend. In fact a good SEO agency should be able to help you quantify spend vs return once they know enough about your business, competition and target keywords though beware any agency that offer guaranteed timings, positions and ROI; as that’s just not scientifically possible.