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Long-term SEO: Proving the value now
How can you help clients understand the value of SEO initiatives when the results may take weeks or even months to pan out? Columnist Casie Gillette shares her advice.
Last month, my colleague Derek Edmond wrote a column here on Search Engine Land discussing how to improve your value as a strategic SEO partner. The post included suggestions around reporting dashboards, software knowledge and industry-specific networking.
What I liked about the piece was the implication that to show value, we have to do more than just provide recommendations. But it also got me thinking about the value of the recommendations themselves.
If you search “show SEO value,” you’ll get a slew of posts discussing how to use data and reporting to make your case. Yes. We should do that. But what if the data isn’t in your favor just yet?
How do you show the value of long-term SEO recommendations in the short term?
Before we get into the actions themselves, let me clarify what I mean by “long-term SEO.” To me, this refers to things that generally take a longer period of time to have an effect on SEO progress. This includes subdomain transitions, link-building programs, Schema recommendations, HTTPS implementation and more.
Take HTTPS as an example. As search marketers, we know there is long-term value in transitioning to a secured site. The web is moving in a more secure direction, users want trust, and heck, Google has stated it’ll give preference to secured pages. That’s a big deal!
From an impact perspective, however, the site likely isn’t going to see an immediate uptick in search traffic. And with an HTTPS transition requiring time, resources and money (and potentially causing issues), selling the investment isn’t easy. Especially when the business (aka client) wants to ensure they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck.
So, what can we do? I’ll be honest: the answer will vary from business to business, but I think there are a few ways to help show the value of long-term SEO strategies and get additional recommendations pushed through.
Aggregate case studies
About a year ago, a client asked about moving their blog from a subdomain to the main domain. I was all for this. After all, we know the importance of the main domain, and we’ve seen several case studies out there showcasing the impact the change can have.
Unfortunately, other things arose, we didn’t push, and nothing happened. However, when the conversation came up again, we took a different course of action.
This time, we put together a recommendation that included case studies, potential impact and a strategy for the transition.
Guess what? They are currently in the process of moving it. Hooray!
One of the nice things about the search industry is the sharing of information and the willingness to help one another. Plus, let’s be real — there probably isn’t anything you are doing that hasn’t already been done.
If you’re looking to show value in a longer-term strategy, do what it is you do best: search! See what has already been said and what the results show. Ask your network questions, and I’m willing to bet there’s someone who can give you answers — and potentially the “data” you need.
If you can put together some real information around the strategy, you are more likely to get the recommendation pushed through and buy yourself some time from a performance perspective.
Bonus tip: Take a look at what competitors are doing. If you can show that 75 percent of your competitors have implemented the recommended strategy and are performing better than you, that’ll usually get the attention of those in charge.
Put together a use case
I’ll be the first to say that hreflang implementation has, and continues to be, a real thorn in my side. I have nightmares about no return tags.
The problem started a few years back when I spent actual days creating hreflang XML sitemaps for all 30 of my client’s geo-specific domains — domains that didn’t contain the same pages and were continually changing. Yes, I realize this is a bad strategy (now), but at the time I was determined to get the sites targeted properly, and I was going to do it in one swoop. Go big or go home.
As you can imagine, it didn’t work as well as I’d hoped: errors were triggering, search results didn’t change and the client had a lot of questions. I’m also sure it left doubt in their minds when I wanted to try something different.
What I should’ve done is started small and created a testing ground. Instead of building sitemaps that mapped every page on every domain, I should’ve started with the 10 main pages that are included on every domain and gradually rolled it out to other sections. It would’ve allowed me to prove the value… and likely left everyone less frustrated.
If you are trying to prove something has value, create a use case. A client is much more likely to test something on a small scale, and if you prove results, it’ll be much easier to get large-scale buy-in.
Remember we talked about HTTPS above? Wired.com documented their HTTPS transition that started in April of this year and was completed mid-September.
As they noted in the final blog post, “We decided that a staged rollout, where we convert one section at a time to HTTPS, would allow us to take on smaller amounts of risk at a time. With each section migration, we could evaluate the impact of the change.”
If you read the post, you’ll realize it was a pretty smart idea.
Sell the small wins
You know what I love about paid search and social? Immediate results! You know pretty quickly if something isn’t working, and you can adjust, test and test again. Unfortunately, we know SEO doesn’t work that way, and results can take a lonnnng time.
Which takes us back to our problem at hand: how do we make sure the business sees the value of our long-term SEO recommendations when the tangible results (traffic/revenue) aren’t there yet?
Sometimes it’s about the small wins. When looking for ways to show organic improvement, I like to take a look at the following:
Search query data
Each month we document impressions, clicks and queries from Google Search Console. There are certainly useful keyword data/content ideas in there, but I like to see how the overall impression and query data grows.
For example, if we’ve created a content strategy around a competitive keyword, traffic probably isn’t going to improve, and the average position isn’t going to change much. Search Console data can, however, show us if long-tail queries and impressions around that keyword/phrase are growing.
If they are, we know our strategy is having an impact, and we can show the client, buying us some time and helping credibility.
There are a number of things I like about SEMrush: one is the ability to look at organic keyword visibility both now and in the past to see how it has changed.
Ideally, as your site improves, so does your overall search visibility. How many keywords are you showing for now vs. three months ago vs. six months ago vs. 12 months ago?
Similar to Search Console data, this doesn’t necessarily translate to traffic or conversion increases but does showcase performance improvements.
To me, conversion rate is a too frequently overlooked metric in organic search. It can be tough to measure as a whole because different sections of a site target different parts of the funnel, but when broken down properly, conversion rate can provide some key insights.
A year or so ago, we began an SEO program with a company that was targeting a very broad set of keywords. While they had visibility around said terms, we really didn’t think they fit well with user intent.
In putting together our on-site content strategy, we recommended switching out the existing targets with a keyword set geared more toward their audience. We knew this would result in a traffic decrease, but we were confident that it would pay off in the long run.
Once the changes were made, boy, did organic traffic drop quickly. The client wasn’t super-psyched, and we needed to be able to show the execs value in that recommendation sooner rather than later.
About a month after the change, we were able to see that yes, organic traffic had dropped, but conversions didn’t change, and conversion rate went up. A couple of months later, they were also able to see that MQLs (marketing-qualified leads) actually increased.
Some of the biggest challenges for any agency (search or otherwise) are getting buy-in, driving execution and being able to show your value as an organization. For SEOs who are working on a long-term strategy, that last piece can be extremely difficult.
Just remember, when making your case, look to the things you know. Find real examples, create your own examples — and focus on the small wins when you can.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.