Converting SEO Non-Believers: How To Overcome Objections And Get The Budget
Columnist Clay Cazier shares his advice for getting buy-in from those who don't see the value in search engine optimization.
Whether it’s a boss or potential client, we’ve all encountered the non-believer — one who discounts the importance of SEO or, moreover, the necessity of investing resources into search engine optimization.
If you have never encountered one of these dark souls, count yourself lucky; for those of us who have, quotes from industry studies and promises of top rankings aren’t going to be enough to win the day.
Thankfully, years of experience have taught me a few ways to break through common pushbacks (e.g., “IT has got it covered,” or “We would get that traffic anyway.“) or persuade those with the general preference to spend on other channels (like SEM or print).
Let’s start with the most obvious method of converting non-believers before we work toward the less conventional methods. Analytics data sits at both the beginning and eventual end of all cases for SEO investment.
At the very least, SEO advocates should absolutely arm themselves with:
- Year-over-year growth (or decline) in organic traffic and revenue, over time. (Month-over-month data can be dismissed as seasonality.) Organic growth means the brand must protect and maintain its position. Declining organic traffic and revenue means investment is needed to prevent continued loss.
- Organic traffic and revenue’s contribution percentage to total website traffic and revenue. Establish the importance of SEO/organic traffic, compared to SEM and direct activity. Try to get a feeling for what level of investment has been needed in those other channels (particularly SEM) to establish their contribution.
- Referral traffic and revenue. Try to ascertain what portion of referral activity is from SEO link building and content distribution efforts. Those should truly be “credited” to SEO.
- Impact of first-click vs. last-click attribution. Google Analytics, in particular, has made this comparison relatively easy. Most people credit the channel with the last click as the one that produced the revenue. Often, SEO may introduce a consumer to the brand’s site but, once familiar, the consumer may navigate directly to the website or enter through an SEM ad triggered by a brand search. Make sure you at least know how viewing revenue through a first-click attribution model compares to viewing it as the non-believer is used to viewing it: as last click.
Even with these numbers in hand, there are those who are not swayed by the organic channel’s traffic and revenue contribution.
As noted in the opening paragraph, it’s more common than you think for people to say that those numbers are from branded traffic the site “would have gotten anyway” or that any/all non-brand organic traffic and revenue is granted purely at the whim of Google (and whims are something you monitor but don’t invest in).
Google Search Console
Sometimes, getting information straight from the horse’s mouth can help convince decision makers that SEO warrants investment.
There’s no better evidence that action is required than Google telling you they’re not happy with your site.
Go into Google Search Console and check Messages and/or Manual Actions (under “Search Traffic”) — any warnings there? Go to Crawl > Crawl Errors — is the site full of broken pages? Go to Search Appearance > HTML Improvements — lots of duplicate or missing title tags or meta descriptions?
All of these fundamental issues, when called out by Google, can help spur action. This approach is particularly effective for the “IT’s got it covered” pushback line.
SEM Cost Of Clicks
Using the Search Analytics “Queries” report within Google Search Console, retrieve a list of keywords driving clicks over the past 90 days. Export the data to a spreadsheet and remove branded keywords.
What’s left will be a list of non-brand keywords that are not attributable to brand searches driven by TV or print campaigns. Arguably, these are attributable to SEO investment in the past.
Take that list of non-brand keywords and clicks and run them through Google AdWords Keyword Planner tool to get a Suggested Bid. Clicks multiplied by Suggested Bid = the approximate the value of that SEO traffic if you had paid for it via SEM.
You can make an even better case if you can hone that list of non-brand keywords down to ones the SEM team gave up on because of bad SEM ROI.
Dissect The SERP
The methods above may be ones you’ve already explored or that the non-believer has ignored. Although a numbers-based argument should be enough to make the case, sometimes it takes an approach that speaks to the decision-maker on a more visceral level.
Careful dissection of what appears within search engine results pages (SERPs) can be an effective means of doing just that.
Branded Search Results
Do a quick search of your brand name — or your CEO’s name — and note the results returned that are not under your company’s control. Seeing negative information or competitor pages on page one of the search results may motivate your non-believer to invest in reputation management (which is, ultimately, an investment in SEO).
Presence Of Local
Many people outside of SEO do not realize how much the SERP has changed in the recent past. A huge number of searches — even those that do not include geography like a city or state name — return a “local pack” and local business listings.
This is particularly true for mobile search. If your brand has a brick-and-mortar presence but has not invested time and resources in local optimization, this can reveal a glaring hole in your ability to serve online and offline customers.
Presence Of Answer Boxes
Search Google for a popular question about your products or services. It’s likely an answer box will dominate the top of the non-paid search results.
Like the previous suggestion for showing local dominance over the SERPs, seeing that traditional organic listings have been replaced with optimized question/answer content may spur an “aha” moment in your non-believer.
Presence Of Influencer Content
Just as local listings and answer boxes have drastically changed the scope of SEO activities, the prominence of influencer-based content within organic rankings has also grown over the past few years.
Conducting a complete SEO campaign and controlling organic listings for your brand’s top search terms now means that forging relationships and distributing content must be a part of your team’s tactics. Just because your website has a good technical foundation and top landing pages are optimized does not mean it’s time to funnel budget elsewhere.
Competitive Share Of Voice
I’ve worked with many attorneys in the past. One particular client pointed to a competitor at the top of the SERPs and said,
“He’s an idiot. How’s he up there?”
I laughed and explained that (particularly in 2005) Google didn’t know that he was an idiot. All Google knows is that his website has good, optimized content that’s highly relevant to the search term.
This impressed upon me that no matter how logical or statistics-driven non-believers may be, they often have an innate desire to beat the competition and hate to see someone out-ranking them that they feel does not “deserve” to be there.
My best piece of advice to those having trouble in getting or keeping SEO budget is to build a list of non-brand keywords and compile a Google organic share of voice report to show which competitors have the most top listings for that group of keywords.
Your non-believer is likely to clearly see that “pretenders to the throne” have more visibility than his/her brand. This play on competitiveness (and to a certain extent, ego) is often a big motivating factor in funding SEO activity.
It’s no secret that revenue generated and numbers showing potential upside are often enough to secure budget for ongoing SEO activity. In some cases, though, you may encounter a decision-maker who doesn’t believe SEO is worthy of investment.
I hope the advice above will give you a few alternative means to approach these non-believers, secure the budget needed and show the value of the organic channel. What advice (or war stories) can you share?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.