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The Return-on-Investment of Search Engine Optimization

(updated 2021) 

Website owners may hear that search engine optimization is a foundational requirement, if you want to generate positive return on your efforts. Unless you are technically savvy, an expert, or otherwise interested in the internet of things, the advice is typically generalized and without much instruction. This leaves most of us passing it off to an expert. Even so, you should know the value of your investment, and the trade-offs of outsourcing over developing in-house talent. For these decisions, you may need something a little more concrete than a passing understanding of SEO, including the SEO-ROI connection.

Search Engine Optimization (“SEO”)
SEO encompasses all facets of making a website or a brand visible and readily accessible to the consumer through unpaid search engine tactics. A website’s SEO components may include the following:

• Metadata
• Strategic Keywords
• Internal Links
• Reputable Outbound Links
• Inbound Links
• Anchor Text
• Site Map
• Content Structure
• Load Time
• Comment Management
• Paid Advertisement Links
• Web Crawler Management

Branding SEO components may include the following:

• A Facebook status update that connects the consumer to a product promotion page
• A tweet that connects followers to a new blog post
• A Linkedin post that connects job seekers to a career site

This communication type appears in search results independent of the originating social network.1

Additionally, search results are also impacted by the number of shares and the amount of traffic generated, so it would be remiss not to include these results as a part of the SEO landscape.  

”Acquiring new customers is important; but maintaining current loyal customers is arguably even more important: It costs less to market to and to maintain loyal customers, a 5% increase in retention increases profits by at least 25%, and loyal customers contribute up to ten times more to the bottom line than irregular customers.”

- Lifetime Value of a Customer

Return on Investment (“ROI”)
Whether you hire a professional or assign an internal resource, it’s easier to gain buy-in from stakeholders when the added monetary value can be conveyed.

If you are a non-web based business, with only occasional SEO needs, the choice between outsourcing and developing the talent internally, may be fairly easy decision. In the long-run, it will cost less to outsource and get occasional maintenance, than to pay a salaried specialist. Also, the cost to implement would be so nominal, you probably would not concern yourself with the nuances of deriving an estimate of the expected profit generated by SEO, versus the expected future cost for SEO. But, if you're a web dependent business, the choice to outsource versus develop talent, is not as evident. You'll need SEO updates as industry changes, and you'll want to know what to expect, and how to determine the value of the SEO efforts. In addition, if you are product based business with frequent website updates, you will want more regular monitoring to ensure that SEO settings remain optimal.

Fortunately, ROI is a measure that explicitly captures a project’s value. It's flexible enough to use as an initial indicator of value, as well as for ongoing analysis. ROI will also provide a basis for comparing the value of several projects, such as the expected benefits of implementation compared to the cost to outsource and the cost to develop in-house talent.

There are four key areas to assessing the ROI of SEO, no matter who executes the technical or branding SEO efforts:

• Pagerank is the value that search engine algorithms assign to your webpages. Monitor ranking by site, page, or link and see if you hit your target, e.g. top 10 search results.
• Traffic patterns can be monitored by referring site as well as geographic location. For branding and promotional efforts, the success of a specific link should be monitored concerning the volume of visits generated, which triggers consideration of link/site popularity.
• Keyword searches should be performed regularly for the top five keywords. Monitor the results and note the changes in position, positive or negative, for each keyword. Furthermore, track the search terms used by visitors. Note which are used most and note the trends for favored keywords that diverge from your organization’s current top five.
• Bounce Rate: Always scrub against the bounce rate data. It will help to determine if a chosen keyword association is detracting from SEO-ROI. It will also help to pinpoint the degree of effectiveness of traffic generated by branding and promotional links.

Monitoring performance is never an easy task, and is subject to the organization’s structure, goals, tactics, budget, etc. However, the exercise is well worth the headache. Establishing value puts the organization on the right track and helps to get the needed stakeholder buy-in.

1. "Although this has not traditionally been considered a part of the SEO landscape."
This text was removed, because eight years latter, this is commonly considered for SEO. A long time ago, I was ahead of the curve on this stuff!

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