Avoiding the SEO ‘Fiscal Cliff’ – Justifying Investment With Metrics that Matter


With 2013 upon us, and a fiscal meltdown promised by both sides of the political spectrum, many brands have been looking at tightening belts and wallets during the first quarter as they play a waiting game on consumer sentiment and spending.

By the time this article publishes, the holiday season will have been either a resounding success for online marketers, or a doomsday proposition only imagined by Wall Street pundits and Mayan mathematicians (if we’re still here to read this).

Fighting For Continued, Increased, or New SEO Investment

For in-house SEO personnel, business development folks, agency teams and individual online marketing shops, the start of 2013 may bring the worst kind of New Year’s resolution: smaller budgets, contract renegotiations or more discussion around the viability of the SEO channel itself.

Although overall marketing budgets may indeed take a hit, savvy SEO folks should answer the following questions to be prepared with ample justification for optimization projects, as well as an understanding of whom to race to the budget pool.

Who are Your Competitors?

Forget the folks who appear in the SERPs, your competition is other marketing channels, technical projects, and drains on financial and human resources.

Be aware of overall marketing budgets and budget allocations.

What Metrics Are Your Competition Tracking?

Understanding paid search, traditional advertising, and social media goals of success can gain the savvy SEO leverage by demonstrating better metrics either through cost savings (look we’re cheaper!) or improved revenue per dollar spent.

In the old days of SEO, traffic and ranking improvement easily justified investment, but those metrics are difficult to argue against CPA, ROAS, CPO, impressions, reach reports or those cost analysis spreadsheets paid search and advertising folks leverage to justify budgets.

Luckily, similar analytics data is available to SEO practitioners as well, giving opportunity to offer “apples to apples” comparisons of metrics that matter to budget negotiations.

Learn the lingo and understand the success measurements other channels are measured against. Hubspot offers a good overview of valuable channel metrics.

What Are Online “Metrics That Matter”?

With apologies to JFK… “Ask not what your analytics can do for you; demonstrate what you can do with your analytics.”

Ensure page goals, action based goals and ecommerce tracking (if applicable) are in place, and dashboard reports are readily available for organic traffic first. Compare the same metrics across all online channels by building custom segments and automating reports.

Google Analytics checklist:

  • Define objectives – what has potential value to the business
  • Allocate relative value (e.g. a “click for directions” is worth $1, a “contact form fill” $5, a transaction is the value of the transaction etc.) – compare other channel’s cost per lead or cost per acquisition/action
  • Set up goals in Google Analytics
  • Set up dashboards and/or reports
  • Set up custom segments by channel

Google has a great explanation of goals and step-by-step setup instructions.

If you don’t track, you can’t measure, and if you can’t measure, you can’t justify!

Is Offline Advertising Your Competitor or Best Friend?

SEO efforts competing for offline dollars has historically been tough, as comparing success metrics has been fraught with challenges.

For example, recently jostling for budgets, a client asked how much an additional $20,000 would equate in organic traffic and conversions. At the same time we were informed $50,000 was allocated to a freeway billboard. When asked about billboard traffic and conversion generation, they responded with, “Well, that’s different!”

Your offsite content is an online billboard! Savvy SEOs can use offline measurement to justify offline marketing dollars allocation for content outreach and onsite content optimization.

Content outreach should consider offline-equivalent metrics:

  • Daily visits
  • Site/page impressions
  • Visitor frequency (via return visitor ratios)
  • User demographics
  • Page views (impressions)
  • Query impressions in Google Webmaster Tools
  • SERP display/impressions (what shows up and how often)
  • SERP rankings (brand visibility)
  • Site visits (calls or offline visits)

Think beyond traditional SEO metrics to grab a share of the normally larger offline budgets.

Don’t be an SEO Lemming!

The SEO fiscal cliff is avoidable, budgets are available, and December 21, 2012 wasn’t the end of the world:

  • Be aware of overall budgets.
  • Learn the lingo.
  • Understand channel success metrics.
  • Track. Measure. Report.
  • Think beyond SEO metrics.

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