SEO has its roots in the tech community. Early search engine optimizers were web developers, small business house owners, and forward-thinking consultants trying to create their websites visible within the search engines and centered on tweaking markup language to create their sites a lot of search engine–friendly. As search has matured over the years and brought its place at the marketers’ table as a legitimate sales and brand development channel, SEO pros have increasingly been asked to focus on the business side of the practice—to evolve on the far side the code and Microsoft stand out jockeys of the first days of the observe (though let’s be clear, Excel still serves some very valuable functions in SEO work!). The benefits of specializing in SEO as a business are:
- It legitimizes the practice of SEO. Talking regarding canonical tags is nice for chatting at AN SEO conference, however talking regarding organic search share can re-examine higher within the C-suite. In many companies, winning the C-suite battle to get budget and purposeful support is that the solely thanks to extremely succeed long-term in SEO.
- It bridges the gap between the practice of SEO and the impact on the business. Focusing on the business aspects of SEO will enable you to be clear about the ROI you are getting from organic search. Translating SEO-centric metrics like rankings and traffic to revenue and bucks attained permits you to tie a tangible business impact to your efforts.
Understand Your Market Opportunity
Most SEO consultants probably cannot say with certainty what ranking in the top search positions for their keywords is (or would be) worth to them in terms of traffic and revenue. However, you should never set out to develop a new product or launch a new service without first understanding the business case/market opportunity, and organic search should be no different. Understanding the market opportunity prior to editing even the first tag is important, because it will help you to:
- Understand what SEO is potentially worth to your organization. It will give you an idea of what organic search visibility is worth to your business and answer questions like “How much organic traffic could we potentially procure from higher organic positioning?” Answers to these questions will guide the SEO process, including budget, and infrastructure investments, and will help you make the SEO business case to the rest of the organization.
- Track progress as you go. Building a market opportunity benchmark prior to embarking on SEO will enable you to measure progress as you go and demonstrate the ROI of SEO in real, quantifiable metrics that will resonate with the company stakeholders.
A market opportunity assessment in organic search shows the current visitors captured for your keywords, versus the potential opportunity were you to rank in a top position. There are various tools available on the Internet that can help simplify the process.
To conduct a market opportunity assessment:
- Isolate your top group of non-branded keywords. Determine your target keywords based on their perceived conversion potential. The number of keywords may vary based on factors such as your SEO maturity or vertical market space and can range from around 50 for those just starting out on up to several thousand keywords for those farther along in organic search.
- Gather search volumes and rankings for your keywords. Find out what your current search volumes and rankings are for your targeted keywords.
- Use a click-through rate (CTR) curve to identify the potential for new visitors. A CTR curve shows the expected percentage of clicks based on the search position of the keyword. Plugging your current search volume and rank into a CTR curve can give you a general idea of the number of new visitors you can expect to get by moving up in the search rankings.
- Scale that across your total traffic. The first three steps of the analysis give you a sense of the traffic gain you can get for your top keywords, but it is likely that you have many other keywords driving traffic to your site. If you have an opportunity to double the traffic on your top keywords, you likely also have the opportunity to double your overall non-branded organic search traffic volume.
- Check the CPC values for your keywords. Using a tool like SEM Rush or Search Metrics, or the Google Keyword Planner (https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner) from within your own Google AdWords account, run some numbers on the current market value of your keyword targets.
Get Buy-in Across the Organization
Now that you’ve done an opportunity assessment and know what you will be working toward in organic search, it’s time to internally publicize the opportunity and obtain buy-in across the organization. For SEO efforts to be successful in any organization, active participation from many parts of the business – across nearly every department -is an absolute necessity. From C-level executives approving budget, to the IT department implementing web and infrastructure changes and content writers using SEO best practices,
organizational buy-in is as critical to successful SEO as information architecture and tags.
To obtain organizational buy-in:
- Get people excited about SEO—then scare the heck out of them. Show people the opportunity in organic search that has come out of your opportunity assessment. Make them aware of what’s being missed out on by not performing well in organic search. Then, make them aware of where your company stands relative to the competition, and identify competitors who are currently cashing in on the opportunities you are missing out on.
- Keep the SEO opportunity foremost in people’s minds. Make posters outlining the market opportunity and hang them on the walls. Speak about it often, and generally socialize it in the organization. The more you can keep the opportunity front and center in people’s minds and keep them excited about it, the better.
- Create a service-level agreement (SLA) with stakeholders. To formalize the working relationship with organizational departments and increase their buy-in to SEO, sign an SLA with them that defines how quickly they will respond to requests and the metrics that will be used to measure success.
Lay the Groundwork
Once you’ve obtained buy-in from the organization, it’s time to position yourself to succeed. We’ve heard of many instances of chief marketing officers (CMOs) who have dipped a toe in the water with SEO but labeled it “black magic” or ineffective because the company’s website has failed to skyrocket to the top of the search rankings for the high-volume, highly competitive keywords they’ve targeted in 90 days or less. To avoid problems like this and to lay the groundwork for SEO success in your organization, it is important to do two things:
- Set the appropriate expectations. SEO is a long-term strategy where you are likely to see incremental improvements that may start slowly at first. Focus expectations on gains in non-branded search traffic and conversions from that traffic, not on rankings. Many marketers’ only exposure to search marketing is the world of pay per click, so it is important to educate them about SEO with its unique characteristics, and its differentiators.
- Show early wins. The temptation may exist to go after high-volume, highly visible keywords right out of the gate, but ranking for competitive keywords can – and does – take time. It is better to initially target less competitive keywords that can result in quick wins (what we call “low hanging fruit”), while simultaneously developing a long-term strategy for more competitive keywords. This will help keep people engaged and believing in the opportunity in organic search.
To help set reasonable expectations and report on your organic search progress in the most effective way possible:
- Make a distinction between milestones and success metrics. The fruits of your labor can take some time to materialize in organic search results. To maintain organizational buy-in and gauge your progress before traditional success metrics such as conversions kick in, report on key milestones such as number of indexed backlinks, changes made to the website, and recommendations made.
- Report on SEO metrics as business metrics. Report on SEO like you would any sales effort, by continuously reporting on your search pipeline and the competitive landscape. Create a mission around SEO: you might strike a gong when certain milestones are hit, or install TVs where you can show regularly updated traffic and conversion stats.
- Be a businessperson. Understanding when to use technical SEO tactics is important, but speaking the language of business the C-suite understands is critical to the ongoing success of SEO in most organizations. Expand your horizons beyond Excel and analytics and learn to speak the language of dollars and cents—this is what executives will notice and understand.
Motivate Resources That Don’t Share Your Goals to Help You
As mentioned above, succeeding in SEO requires support and buy-in across your organization. Many SEO efforts are dependent on non-SEO team members in the company to get things done, often relying on resources across numerous departments who may not be trained on, or oriented towards, thinking about SEO. Finding ways to work with others to get things done is key to SEO success.
To most effectively work with resources organization-wide on SEO tasks:
- Show how it will benefit them. Trying to get content creators to use targeted keywords in content can be a losing proposition. If you demonstrate conclusively, however, how it will benefit them—that they will reach a wider audience with their content—they are much more likely to buy in, implement changes to their content development process, and commit to the effort over time.
- Recognize contributions to organic search visibility. Recognize when team members do something that contributes to organic search success, such as optimizing a press release or tweaking an XML Sitemap. At one Fortune 100 company, the Director of SEO handed out an award every quarter to the individual who had contributed most significantly to organic search visibility.
- Become an SEO evangelist. Evangelism is just one more on the long list of job requirements for the SEO pro. One of the more important tasks is walking the halls, spreading the gospel of SEO. Buy the IT person breakfast, the PR director lunch, and the content writer dinner. Get people excited about organic search and then be sure to keep them that way!
Progress Through the Stages of SEO Maturity
Now that you have organizational buy-in and appropriate resources to execute, how do you go about scaling your keywords and continuing to drive organic search traffic to your website? Our observations over the years have shown that organizations often move through five distinct stages when it comes to SEO. Each stage is characterized by investments in budget, strategy, and metrics appropriate to the stage’s maturity level. Organizations should continuously be striving to move into the next maturity stage until they are at the “Compete” level and are actively competing to best the top firms in the search rankings. The stages are:
- In the first stage of SEO maturity, the organization dips its toe in the water and focuses on low-hanging fruit, optimizing for a small set of initial keywords. At the same time, they begin efforts to move their top target keywords on page 7+ of the SERPs into striking-distance positions on pages 4 or below, so they are primed to move into top-visibility positions in later phases. In the “Try” phase, the majority of the budget is spent on personnel, with a portion allocated to engineering/production. A minimal investment is made in SEO technology. One employee is assigned to SEO part-time as part of his regular duties.
- Invest. In this stage, organizations begin to expand their coverage, moving into more competitive keywords with higher search volumes. Average ranks begin to improve as keywords optimized in the previous stage begin to move into page 2, 3, or 4 of the search rankings. Organizations now begin to invest in some link-building activities and content creation and start to expand their investment in SEO technology. One or two employees are assigned full-time to SEO.
- Measure. In this stage, to maintain investment in SEO, it becomes critical for organizations to begin showing ROI and tying SEO metrics such as rankings and traffic to business metrics such as conversions and revenue. In the “Measure” stage, rankings continue to increase as the organization becomes increasingly SEO-savvy, beginning to invest in continuing education. Several full-time employees are assigned to SEO, along with specialized outside consultants.
- Scale. In this stage the organization organizes and prioritizes, beginning to look at organic search from a holistic perspective. A organic search pipeline develops as SEO starts to be treated as a sales campaign organizationally. Many more keywords move into top-visibility positions as investments in link building and content creation are increased. Several employees remain assigned full-time to SEO along with outside consultants and specialists.
- At this point in the SEO maturity cycle, you are ready to catapult yourself into organic search success by moving from relying on internal “generalist” SEO professionals with outside consultant specialists to building internal teams of specialized professionals. From content writers who write search engine–friendly content to link developers who focus on leveraging that content to acquire strategically important links and keyword jockeys (Microsoft Excel experts adept at discovering hidden opportunities through spreadsheet analysis) to the project manager that pulls it all together, you are now ready to become a lean, mean SEO machine and drive to compete with the best the SERPs have to offer. This is the final stage, In this stage the organization makes additional gains in organic search visibility such that it begins to look at its share of search relative to the competition. Budgets stabilize, while mature SEO technology is in use company-wide. In the Compete phase you are building internal teams of SEO professionals.