Marketing Strategy Blog

The ROI of SEO


Google announced a few years ago that it handles 100 billion searches a month. That’s 1,200,000,000,000 searches a year! Groupon recently released a study suggesting that organic search traffic is responsible for about 64% of all website traffic. Given numbers like these, marketers see SEO as the second best method for generating high-value leads, ranking below only email marketing, according to a 2014 survey by DialogTech. And therefore it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 63% of marketers were planning on increasing their SEO budgets in 2014 (Source: Econsultancy).

This shows marketers understand the importance of SEO. But many of them can’t answer the question, “What is the ROI of my SEO?”

Think Real Estate

To calculate the ROI of SEO, you should look at your numbers over a long period of time, minimally one year. SEO is like investing in real estate. You wouldn’t purchase a house or piece of land and then to expect it to increase in price the next day or next week or even the next month. Over the long-term, real estate is a smart investment likely to experience significant growth over time.

And during such time, you need to keep feeding the beast. You wouldn’t run only one display ad, shut it down and then decide whether advertising was effective or not. Similarly, you wouldn’t write only one blog post, stop, and then decide whether blogging was effective. So how in the world can you expect SEO results unless you nurture and enhance your SEO presence continually?

Going back to the real estate analogy, if you purchase a house and then ignore the maintenance needed and refuse to make any enhancements like renovating the kitchen, you’ll eventually wind up with a house that is dilapidated, unattractive and has a significantly lower-than-market property value. Guess what happens to your SEO if you decide to ignore the need for maintenance and enhancements?

Think Rankings vs. Conversions

Many folks judge SEO results by rankings, but that metric is far from an ROI calculation. There are many keywords for which your company could rank towards the top of Google Page One, yet not see a penny from. To determine a truer picture of ROI, marketers should also tie-in traffic, conversions, as well as the top-of-the-funnel contribution in a prospective customer’s path to conversion.

You may rank in Position One for keyword “X” that drives 1,000 visits in monthly traffic and 30 downstream conversions, but in Position Seven for keyword “Y” that drives 10,000 visits and 300 downstream conversions – which would you prefer from an ROI perspective?

Or you may rank lower for generic, more competitive keywords, yet kill it on longer-tail, more qualified, more targeted keywords more likely to result in conversions and revenue. Long-tail success, which is typically easier to achieve, can lead to some serious return on your SEO investment. And along similar lines, remember that with Google Hummingbird, you need to factor in the results from related keywords and analyze the group as a cohort in order to gain a truer, holistic picture of your SEO ROI for such group. It doesn’t take a math nerd to begin to understand you need more numbers in your ROI calculations than a mere ranking.

Think Attribution Through the Funnel

Google Analytics is a good place to start with your ROI calculations. It reports the marketing channels that are driving your traffic, leads and revenue. At the most basic level, Google Analytics will track the last-click. Understanding this is the bare minimum for any business.

But how did other searches, channels, or ads impact the last click? In a typical purchase funnel, the buyer goes through the phases of research, then validation of preference, then purchase, and then repeat purchases after that. To ignore “influencers” in the purchase funnel is to shortsightedly reduce your bottom-of-the-funnel conversions.

Google Analytics’ Multi-Channel Funnels answers those questions by showing you how your marketing efforts combine to create leads, conversions and revenue for your business. For example, many customers may convert on a branded term in Google. Multi-Channel Funnels allows you to see how the customer interacted with your brand previously, such as from a generic search, blog post or display ad. For products and services with a higher price tag, it would often be ridiculous to expect a purchase during the prospect’s initial brand touchpoint, and therefore filling the top-of-the-funnel is critical to seeing downstream conversions. Companies with larger marketing budgets can use more robust types of attribution software like Visual IQ, Adometry or C3 Metrics.

Think of the budgeting possibilities!! You are now armed to create a more thoughtful and efficient marketing budget.

Think ZMOT

Once you are looking at your ROI from the perspectives explained above, it’s time to focus on Google’s Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). ZMOT refers to the point in the buying cycle when the buyer researches a product, often before the seller knows. Just think, how does someone at a company decide to hire an intellectual property lawyer? They may search for online attorney reviews or read advice articles at first. ZMOT is the moment when the buyer poses a question that they want answered online, like “Which attorney should I hire?” These types of moments occur across the Internet and across people’s devices. Businesses need to answer that question, no matter when or where that moment happens.


SEO is an important marketing vehicle for many companies. Through the use of data covering longer time frames, cohort analysis, the buyer’s path to conversion, attribution and understanding your customers’ ZMOT, you are better able to determine the ROI of your SEO efforts. Continually develop new SEO strategies based on your ROI calculations, and you’ll have the biggest, baddest, most kick-butt SEO plan your business has ever seen!

Power SEO