How To Prove The Value Of SEO Without Drowning In Data


We’ve come a long way as an industry.

Since our humble beginnings in 1995 – arguably the birth year of SEO — to the serious identity crisis we’re in today, it’s sometimes easy to forget how much progress we’ve actually made in making this a “legitimate marketing tactic.”

We’ve moved past the hat identifiers and (most of us) have given up spam tactics. We’re better than keyword stuffing and keyword density, over-optimized anchor text and the mentality that “links aren’t for driving traffic, just providing link juice.”

The number of people that call SEO a Jedi magic trick are dwindling every day, but that far from means they get it. They may recognize SEO as important, but when it comes to allocating budgets or making business decisions about the website, it’s usually the first thing to get pushed to the side.

That just means we have to fight harder to prove SEO’s value – and thankfully, we have the data to prove it. Now, it’s about using it correctly to tell the right story.

Drowning In Data

The amount of data we have available to us as SEOs is both helping and hurting us. On one hand, we have more actionable proof that what we’re doing drives more traffic, engagement and revenue than most marketing channels out there. Entries, visits, instances, page views, bounce rate, exit rate, pathing, conversion rate, AOV, revenue – each is important in their own regard, as they each tell a slightly different story.

The problem is that we have no idea what to do with it, so we end up reporting on every number available, which is both meaningless and will fall on deaf ears.

No one likes data as much as SEOs (especially the C-suite), so if you go into a meeting armed with 15 different numbers, you’ll be on the receiving end of a handful of blank stares. Reporting on everything is meaningless. Just because you have the numbers doesn’t mean you have to use them.

Isolate & Dominate Your Base Metric

The best way to avoid this data puke (hat tip to Avinash Kaushik for coining the phrase) is isolating your most important metric or metrics and only reporting on that. Most of the time, that’s going to be:

  • Organic revenue
  • Visits compared to last month
  • Visits compared year-over-year

Regardless of whether things are up or down, some of your stakeholders are going to want to know why — and that’s where you can either keep your supporting metrics in your back pocket or put them in an addendum to your main report.

A good rule of thumb whenever you’re reporting is to start with the highest level possible (revenue and visits) and then drill down to the metrics that support that story.

Relate Back To The Overall Business

Every marketing segment gets stuck in their own world, and far too often we search marketing professionals only think about SEO. We view it and report on it myopically, without thinking of the overall business impact.

Now that you’ve isolated organic visits and revenue, the next step is comparing that to overall traffic and the other individual traffic-driving channels. Saying that SEO accounted for $20,000 in revenue in great, but showing that SEO accounts for 45% of your total revenue is an even more powerful statement.

The same goes for the reverse if you’re showing the negative impact of what happens if you stop doing SEO. Don’t just show loss of ranking or traffic and how that affected just organic search. Show the bigger picture – how the lack of SEO has impacted the whole business — and you’ll have an easier chance of fixing the problem.

Remember: SEO Extends Offline

According to its annual multi-channel shopping survey, PWC found that 88% of US respondents first research online before buying a product, where they’ll either buy it online, buy online and pick up in the store, or go to the store and then pick it up.

SEO plays a key role in that. If you’re not ranking while people are researching, you’re immediately out of consideration for when they decide to buy the product offline. Customers can’t buy what they can’t find, so whenever you’re showing revenue, don’t forget to mention the assumed offline impact that SEO brings for the online researchers.

Getting hard data on those numbers is murkier, because alas, we can’t have cookies following them and tagging their source code when they’re note wired into the Internet.

How else can you prove SEO’s value to your overall business?

(Stock image via Used under license.)  

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