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The Challenge Of Justifying Enterprise SEO
It all comes down to money.
Face it: You can talk about executive buy-in, cultural shift and managing expectations. But if the C-Suite doesn’t see a return on investment, SEO is dead within the enterprise.
So you need a way to measure and justify SEO activities.
To do that, you must deal with two challenges:
- Attribution: SEO generates organic clicks. Visits that start with organic clicks often end with exits. Especially on big sites that aren’t always retail-driven. Somehow you have to close the attribution loop.
- Illustration: Whatever data you deliver has to speak to the reader in 5 seconds. If it doesn’t, you’ll fail.
These are the gating problems for SEO in any big organization. Everything else falls into line, if you can solve them. Demonstrate that SEO generates $$ and:
- SEO becomes an IT team priority;
- The creative team gets clear direction from the top;
- Content suddenly becomes a worthwhile investment;
- You continue to get paid.
Small Organizations, Too
I know what you’re thinking: Ian, you just described the issues any company faces, big or small.
Well, not exactly. The CEO of a small company has the luxury of going by gut feel now and then. Chances are, she’ll meet the SEO team periodically, peek at the rankings and the traffic reports, and make decisions based on how she feels about SEO efforts.
In a big organization, though, the CEO can’t do that. She doesn’t have time to look at the SEO campaign. For her, SEO is a line item: Dollars out, dollars in.
In a small organization, good SEO data clinches an ongoing argument. In a big one, it is the argument.
Say you’re running an e-commerce site. You sell pliers. All of your customers search for ‘pliers’, see you in the rankings, click your organic listing and then make a purchase right away. That’s an easy analytics problem: The first click generates the sale, which is an easy conversion to track.
In that case, attribution is a cinch, because each sale is 100% attributable to your organic search result. In rainbow-farting unicorn world, all your analytics are like this.
In reality, they’re not. Your data’s messy as heck. A typical sale may happen like this:
- Frank finds you via a blog, visits your site, and leaves.
- Frank searches for your product by name, clicks on a paid search result, visits your site, and leaves again.
- Frank searches for your product by type (‘pliers’), finds your organic ranking, visits your site, bookmarks the page and leaves.
- Later, Frank clicks the bookmark and makes his purchase: $300 for gold-plated pliers
If you’re using first-click attribution, the blog gets all the credit. If you’re using last-click
attribution, ‘bookmark’ or ‘direct’ gets all the credit. SEO (and PPC) are left out in the cold.
You need to prove that SEO was part of this transaction path. Lucky for you, analytics providers know your pain:
- Google Analytics’ multi-channel funnels let you see where other channels ‘assisted’ in a sale.
- Coremetrics shows 30-day attribution for all channels, so that you can see sales attributable to clicks in the last month.
- Omniture and others have varying levels of support for attribution, as well. Some require manual setup, some don’t, so talk to the provider (and get proof!) before you choose one.
With full attribution, you can see where organic search impacts paid, for example:
The above diagram alone might persuade a VP of marketing that, no matter how many sales they get from PPC, they still need SEO, too.
But you still have to persuade the CEO. And there’s another problem.
Attribution: The Lead-Based Site
Up to now, I’ve talked about e-commerce. But what if your site’s totally based on lead generation? If someone visits your site, fills out a form, ends up in SalesForce or Siebel CRM software, and then goes to a completely different team at the company, attribution gets harder.
If visitors just pick up the phone, it gets even more difficult.
But you can still do it.
To make this work, you need three pieces of data:
- The number of Web leads that become customers.
- The average lifetime value of a customer (LTV).
- The referring source, even if it’s a phone call.
If you’ve got a form on your site, track each form completion as having generated a lead. Then the math is:
Leads generated * lead-to-customer conversion rate * LTV = value generated
So, if you generated 10,000 leads, and 10% of those leads become customers, and each customer has a $100 lifetime value:
10,000 * .1 * 100 = $100,000
If 10% of those leads came from SEO, then SEO was worth $10,000 in cold, hard cash.
If this is all generated via phone calls, then you don’t have a form to track. Instead, set up multiple phone lines (you’re an enterprise, you can do this). Change the phone number on your site based on the referrer (organic, paid search, etc). Then track calls as they come into your CRM software. Now you can track each call as a lead, and use the same formula.
A lead-based site is trickier than an e-commerce site. But it’s still totally possible to track and justify an SEO investment. You just have to do the math.
Illustration: The CEO’s Attention Span
I’m a CEO. I have the attention span of a spastic gnat. Between clients, finances, meetings, and whatever I choked down for lunch rumbling its way through my digestive tract, I may or may not have 5 full seconds to give your data.
And I manage a teeny, tiny little company.
If you’re going to make a strong argument to the CEO of a big, big company, think about speed limit signs:
Designers make these signs communicate their message while you whip by at 60kph or 50mph. They’re simple. They’re clear. They grab attention. That’s it.
Do the same with your SEO data. You did all the work on attribution. Now, illustrate it. Use the simplest possible diagram, and whatever you do, don’t rely on a spreadsheet, ’cause no one’s going to read it. I’m no artist, but I’ve found something like this can work:
It works because:
- The numbers are right there. Total sales. Last click sales. ‘Assisted’ sales. Worst case, you need provide a key as to what those values mean.
- It’ll work if projected. My smallest font size is 30 points. So if someone decides to grab my chart and throw it into (gasp) Powerpoint without asking, it’ll still be readable.
- It tells the whole story. I could leave out the total sales. That would be prettier. But I don’t want to make anyone do any math.
- It saves the explanation for later. Don’t worry about specific keywords, or SEO changes, or the like unless you’re asked. Do provide that data to the VP or marketing or your direct supervisor/client.
It Ain’t Easy
Yeah, this is pretty complicated. It requires math and stuff. But, if you want to earn the big bucks on the big sites, you need to work on it. Get going, and justify!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.