Acquisition Marketers And The SEO ROI Dilemma

After over 12 years practicing the art of SEO, and selling SEO services to clients, I thought the industry had reached a stage of “acceptance”.

But there is still a very smart group of people out there that are doubters – The Acquisition Marketers.

SEO Personality Types

Company executives and owners have varying degrees of sophistication when it comes to understanding why SEO is important, or why it should be an important part of the marketing mix. I would break down the most common personality types as follows:

  • Me Too – My competitors are doing it, I will too.
  • The Rank Hound – I want to be #1 for my favorite keyword because I know it’s important (without any proof to back it up).
  • The Small Portfolio Ranker – I understand that there are a number of relevant keywords that appear to drive business for us, let’s attack them as a group.
  • The More, The Merrier – Capturing the long-tail is an important part of driving relevant visitors to our site, and they are more likely to be buyers.
  • Doing Great, Just Need A Bit More - Our SEO is performing well for us.  It would be nice to push it up a notch or two, what’s the latest and greatest?
  • Been There, Done That – I’ve hired consultants before, and we just haven’t see the results we needed.

The “Been There, Done That” group is the closest to The Acquisition Marketers in terms of mindset. For the most part, these are sophisticated marketers, who use tight measurements to determine where to spend their marketing dollars.

ROI Focused Marketers Still Doubt

Stock image from Shutterstock, used under license

The surprising part for me in recent weeks is that there are many Acquisition Marketers who still doubt that investing in SEO is even worth the effort. And, they have not even given it a try.

In some sense, it’s the “paralysis by analysis” conundrum. As SEO practitioners, we have all been faced with the question of “what’s the ROI?”

In my last article, 10 Quick & Dirty SEO Success Metrics, I made the case that tracking SEO success can get messy when you look at attribution tracking, and that you may have to resort to some more basic measurements to prove success.

It is exactly this messy success tracking that makes Acquisition Marketers hesitant to invest in SEO.

The Case For SEO As An Acquisition Vehicle

So, here’s my case for why SEO is a necessary piece of Acquisition Marketing:

A well-executed SEO strategy requires crafting and generating valuable content, promoting that content, and finding ways for trusted resources to link to that content. It takes time to see organic search results.

In this process, the most likely scenario is that “The Rank Hound” will be disappointed, and the “The Small Portfolio Ranker” will begin to have doubts, but may see some positive signs.  “The More, The Merrier” will see the breadth of keyword traffic begin to expand, and will be happy to see that progress.  But, even “The More, The Merrier” will begin to question if the right tail keywords are bringing in traffic.

However, this entire SEO process is moving the acquisition dial in the right direction!

Acquisition benefits include:

  • Purchase Influencing. Quality content that is generated is positively influencing buyer behavior. Whether or not the content is found via a search engine (at the beginning), the content is still pushing website visitors closer to being buyers. By “content”, I don’t just mean written text (which is of course valuable) – great content will take many forms, including video, images, graphical depictions (including infographics), webinars, contests & promotions, local search assets (e.g. Google Places), and many other forms of great, creative, and convincing content.
  • Awareness. Visits from long-tail keywords, even if not the best-converting keywords, are building brand awareness, and planting the seed that your site is there for them to come back to. You may see this traffic come back to you in future visits in your analyitcs as “Direct/Bookmark” or search queries for your brand name. But, it was the initial visit, for a very specific phrase that even gave you the opportunity for that second visit.
  • Creating A Voice. In order to promote the content, you need a voice. That voice is a combination of social media engagement, PR, and traditional link building. These traffic channels, and communication processes, will be there even when Google changes the search game on us all again. People will be finding you not just via search, but through good-old-fashioned communication. But, you did the groundwork, in part, to improve SEO results.
  • Competitive Keywords Will Come To You. Your quest for ranking for the best-converting, and more competitive, keywords will provide results. It will just take more time than many Acquisition Marketers are typically comfortable with. But, without making the investment in organic search, your competitors will keep taking your customers away from you.

As organic search traffic, and traffic from related sources, flows in, Acquisition Marketers can do one of the things they do best – test and optimize the user experience to capture customers and prospects, and build marketing lists to nurture with care.

Every Industry Evolves & Requires Convincing Doubters In Order To Grow

As I was drafting this article, I was bouncing ideas off of a trusted adviser, Mike Schultz, from the Rain Group. Mike’s specialty is sales training.

As I talked about my surprise at still finding so many “doubters” who have not yet invested in SEO, Mike drew an analogy to how even “mature” industries need to be re-introduced to how to sell their own services. He talked about how roughly 20 years ago, law firms began to revolutionize the way they market and sell their services (even though lawyers have been around for centuries).

It became evident, that if a competitive law firm did not engage in more aggressive marketing and demand generation, then not only were they leaving potential business on the table, the perception was that they were behind the curve.

While the SEO industry is far from mature, it is true that the speed of adoption has been at a much more rapid rate than many other marketing channels. In fact, Brian Halligan and the rest of the Hubspot team, have proven how fast a new marketing concept, such as inbound marketing, can take hold.

So, my hope is that the sophisticated, ROI-driven Acquisition Marketers will take note of the broad benefits of SEO, and invest time and money in building organic search as an acquisition channel. Even when ROI measurement is not immediately available.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Search Marketing Toolbox


About The Author: is the founder and former president of KoMarketing Associates, LLC, a search engine marketing firm based in Waltham, MA. You can learn more about what he does at and can follow him on Twitter at @akomack.

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  • Ralph

    This is a great summary of arguably the biggest challenge faced by “SEOs” and I particularly like the way you have listed the Personality Types.

    The biggest challenge for me has always been securing both the right budget and then maintaining and managing expectations. Even if you tell people that their investment could take 6-9 months to start showing an ROI, they will still start hounding you in month 2 and from then on in, it is a monthly battle to keep them on side until things start happening.

    I recently came across the Fly Wheel which I think is a brilliant way of explaining this and which I intend to use in my next strategy/budget meeting 2 weeks from now.

    It would be a huge bonus to see how you and others reading this post are presenting their SEO forecasting because this remains a finger in the air assumption based on calculated assumptions based on past experience etc.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Hi Andy,

    Brilliant summary of the types (and thought process) of various SEO clients. I have been in the SEO/internet marketing industry for 12 years, 6 of which have been working with clients and running/building my SEO firm. I have always been intrigued also, not only by the types of clients, but also about where our best and most loyal clients come from (through referrals and our own inbound marketing efforts).

    A few months ago, I wrote an article on my blog that went through some of my observations of some of the traits of non-good client (yes, the client is not always right), feel free to take a look:

    On another note, it is always amazing to me how client sometimes just don’t get it (the long term, brand building, content marketing, trust building factors of white hat SEO)….

    Take Care,

  • George Michie

    This is a super piece, Andy. Even in paid search, where the responsiveness to management is much quicker and more controllable, because it is a data driven business it takes some time (more if the data comes in fast; less if it’s low traffic) to get the program humming along efficiently. We too have found that expectation management is challenging when “hypothetical time” becomes “actual time”.

    I will say that having some sort of ROI expectation isn’t crazy, and the greater the “I” the more important it is to have some concept of “R”. To my thinking, the folks that charge $50K+ per month for SEO services should be monitored VERY carefully for positive results, however they may be measured.

  • George Michie

    Oops! More time if the data comes in slow, less if it comes in fast. Mondays…

  • Bud Verde

    Wow! What a load of acronyms: SEO, ROI, VERY, ‘R’. You people must be so smart that clear communication is unnecessary. Very impressed.


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