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Justifying SEO to Your (Skeptical) Boss

Article updated October 19th 2020

So, as a member of a Marketing Team or someone who's responsible for marketing a small business how do you convince your skeptical higher-ups to invest in SEO when they don't see the value in the channel? To help you get the buy-in and support of your superiors, we've put together the 7 things you need to do when justifying SEO to your boss..

In fact, a small survey of small businesses by an SEO firm found that more than half (54%) don't have a budget for SEO and 38% assume they can spend between $0 and $100 per month and see "major SEO results".

At the same time, a full third (33%) still think it's "very likely" they'll rank on the first page of Google search results.

There's the potential for a major disconnect between expectations and reality when it comes to budget.

So how do you convince your skeptical higher-ups to invest in SEO when they don't see the value in the channel? To help you get the buy-in and support of your superiors, we've put together the 7 things you need to do when justifying SEO to your boss.

Frame SEO as an Investment

Based on the survey results we referenced above, there's a good chance your boss thinks SEO is something that "just happens" naturally. Often for free. So something you will likely have to do is get your skeptical bosses into the frame of mind that SEO is an important investment that pays dividends in the future.

It can be difficult to overcome the certainty of the PPC mindset where increased budget = increased traffic when you're talking in the (all too often) vague "maybes" of organic traffic. Non-digital marketers often underestimate or fail to recognize what SEO requires in terms of investment of:

  • Time: Search engine optimization often happens in a matter of weeks, if not months. Research conducted by Ahrefs found that the average age of Google's top-ranked pages is more than 2 and a half years, and only 22% of pages appearing on the first page of Google are less than a year old.
Bar graph showing the average age of top Google search results
  • What's more, only 5.7% of content on the web gets into the top 10 within a year of being published and those that do manage to make it still take, on average, 2-4 months.
  • Effort: There's a lot of automation that goes into running a Google Ads or social media campaign. With SEO you can automate certain things on the technical side like canonical tags and noindex tags, but for the most part, SEO takes a certain minimum amount of sweat equity. Creating content, optimizing it around target search keywords and promoting your website to build links all has to be done by a person.
  • Money: Along with time and effort, SEO also requires a tangible investment. If you don't want to do it yourself you should set the expectation to pay an SEO freelancer or consultant a $500 - $1000 monthly retainer while using an agency could very likely run upwards of $5000 a month (per Ahrefs' research). You can dodge those high costs by doing it yourself. But your business still needs to invest in the right tools to continuously track, analyze, optimize and promote your website.

On the plus side, investing in the right SEO tool will actually help mitigate the time and effort investment by facilitating

Once you've reframed the idea of SEO from something that's free and effortless, you're ready to get into the nuts and bolts of justifying that investment to management and bosses.

Talk About End Results, Not Process

Once you've established a shared starting point and basic vocabulary it's time to take the next step and prove the value of SEO from a business perspective.

Probably the biggest challenge you'll face here is that you can't describe a direct cause-effect relationship between pretty much anything in SEO. So you can't tell your boss "if we build 3 links we'll improve our rankings by 4 positions." It's just not possible.

You'll have to get a bit creative in connecting these dots, but there are some methods you can use to demonstrate the potential impacts of SEO on your business. And you can bring some numbers to the table to help make your case.

Start with one of your website's so-called "money page" "” a page where users can convert and actually generate revenue for your business. Depending on the business, this could be

  • A product or category page
  • A page with a lead submission form
  • Your contact information page or page with directions to your local business
  • A page where customers can book an appointment

Once you have this URL, calculate its conversion rate (you'll need an analytics solution set up for your website to do this) by dividing the total number of visitors by the average number of conversions in a month. Using monthly conversions is important because most keyword research tools give data on a monthly basis.

Then, do a small bit of keyword research to come up with some keyword ideas for your money page with search volume estimations.

Studies have shown that CTR for the top branded search result is around 35% percent for branded queries and just below 30% for unbranded keywords.

So now, all you have to do is take 30 or 35% (depending on if you're using branded or unbranded) of the estimated search volume of your example keyword and then multiply that by your money page's conversion rate.

This will give you a (rough) estimation of how many sales or leads you can generate with SEO.

So the formula looks like this:

(money page's average monthly conversions/money page's average monthly traffic)(sample keyword's estimated monthly search volume0.35) = total estimated potential SEO conversions per month

You can even put a rough dollar value on it by multiplying the estimated monthly conversions by the average revenue generated by a website conversion.

Even the most skeptical boss will find it hard to argue with dollars and cents.

Focus on the compounding benefits of SEO

The great thing about SEO is that, unlike other (paid) channels, the benefits you reap from your efforts will build upon your past results without the need to keep paying more money. So with SEO, your business' ROI will actually go up as time goes on.

Good SEO maintains consistent traffic to a page over time, so if you spend money in the first month, that's actually going to be the lowest ROI you'll see. As your page moves up rankings you should see conversions and revenue increase without additional marketing spend.

Compare this with channels like Google Ads, Google Shopping, display advertising or social media. You can drive traffic to your website using these channels as long as you're willing to pay for it. And while more budget can mean more traffic, as soon as that budget goes away so do those website visitors.

With PPC campaigns, that results in short-term spikes and long-term, well, nothing:

Analytics graph showing and initial traffic spike with the tail of nothing

Using the average US ecommerce conversion rate of 2.63%, this PP campaign likely generated between 2 and 3 conversions. Which isn't bad but, as you can see, cutting off the ad spend cut off all the traffic. So that stream of revenue has disappeared.

Compare that with a page that ranks highly for its target keyword and doesn't spend a single penny on Google Ads or Facebook.

Analytics graph showing continuing traffic from SEO

Disregarding the fact that this page gets double the amount of traffic, you can see that this page will be generating new conversions week after week. Without additional investment. So not only is revenue going up, so is ROI.

Once your website starts ranking multiple pages, those compounding benefits will only multiply:

Analytics graph showing continuing SEO traffic for multiple pages

Demystify SEO

The first step to make sure everyone is starting from the same place in terms of general knowledge of the subject matter and understanding some of the unique SEO vocabularies we use.

This is an important baseline to establish. If everyone's not on the same page to start, it's really hard to get them on the same page by the end.

Dispel common myths

Since Google operates in a black box and changes its algorithms behind closed doors, it's inevitable that a lot of myths and misconceptions spring up around what's "good SEO" and what's "bad SEO". In order to get enthusiastic buy-in from your boss, you need to do some work to dispel these myths.

Some common erroneous ideas people have about SEO to keep in mind to address:

  • SEO is about trying to manipulate Google. SEO is actually the exact opposite of trying to manipulate Google. It's all about making sure your website is high-quality and relevant to your topic.
  • SEO is unnecessary; if we build it they will come. SEO takes effort and investment to pay off. You can't expect to create a website, publish a few blog posts and watch the traffic come rolling in.
  • Ranking at the top of search results is a money-printing machine. To truly be effective, SEO has to be part of a holistic marketing strategy in order to rank for the right keywords and convert all that traffic you'll get.
  • SEO is pointless because Google will just change their algorithm and crush you. If you're using sound, legitimate SEO tactics to optimize your website and content, changes to Google's ranking algorithms won't impact your site nearly as much (and could even benefit your marketing).

Clearing up jargon

One of the main hurdles to overcome is defining and describing what SEO is and everything that goes into "doing SEO" for people who don't know much about it already. This is perhaps the most crucial step you'll take because trying to convince someone to invest in something they fundamentally don't understand isn't a recipe for success.

Plus, if you jump right into your pitch and start throwing around technical terms and industry jargon, your boss is going to shut down and disengage from the discussion. You could even help make up their minds to never invest in SEO.

The first place to start is to establish a baseline of "what is SEO and what does it mean for your business?"

Here at WooRank, we like to define search engine optimization as:

"SEO is the strategies and techniques used to rank highly in search engine results for keywords used by a website's target audience in order to help a business achieve its goals."

Or you can use a more real-life example.

Think of a business like a pizza restaurant. A business like that has a website in order to help people get into the restaurant or order something for delivery.

SEO is about continuously improving a website in order to connect customers who want to get pizza with that business' website where they can either place an order or get the information they need to visit the restaurant.

Bring Up Your Competitors

Once you've established the value of SEO, make sure to point out that even if your boss doesn't want to invest in the channel, the business' competitors certainly do. So all the value that you just established is going to be reaped by someone else.

Studies on search behavior have estimated that around 75% of searchers don't make it past the first page of Google search results, while a full third of SEO traffic doesn't make it past the top spot. By refusing to invest in SEO, all those potential customers (who are already looking for you) are headed right to your competition.

Check out this data from WooRank's Keyword Tool for a jeweler and diamond wholesaler in New York City:

WooRank Keyword Tool data for high-value low-ranking keyword

For this business, these are 2 high-value keywords: they're going to be used by people looking to buy diamonds in our jewelers' location. They represent dozens (or more) in-store visits or new leads per month.

But because this shop owner isn't investing in SEO, the business is losing out on all that potential business to its 2 competitors.

Even if your boss isn't sold on the dollar value of SEO, losing out in search results to a competitor hurts you another way.

Go Beyond "Just" SEO

There's a lot you have to do well in order to have SEO success:

  • Build a well-structured website with good internal linking and pages that are enjoyable to visit and use
  • Research, plan and create high-quality, useful and unique content that meets your users' needs
  • Promote your website around the web so people can find your content and brand and visit your website

And many bosses don't want to invest a lot of time, effort or money into optimizing a website for something they have no real control over. However, if you read through that bullet list one more time, it looks a whole heck of a lot like what you should be doing anyway.

Position it this way:

  • Keyword research is the same thing as doing market and customer research
  • Building links and local citations is just promoting brand awareness and generating referral traffic
  • Publishing blog posts, guides and other articles is regular old content marketing, the same as contributing an industry publication or sending out a newsletter
  • Getting Google reviews for your local business is just like getting testimonials from customers and putting them on your website or offline advertising

In this light, doing SEO will bring value and benefits to all aspects of a business' cohesive marketing strategy.

Talk About the Whole Sales Funnel

There's a chance that after you've shown all the work you've done to prove the dollar value of SEO your boss will say "Well, we rank first for all of our branded keywords already. So job done."

This is the exact opposite of what you wanted to happen.

This is where you can point out that most people start their buying process with a search online. Which means that there are keywords for every phase of the sales funnel.

In fact, you can show how targeting search intent with SEO can put your brand in front of customers at each part of the funnel:

Sales funnel mapping to search intent

If your business is only focusing on the highly transactional and/or branded keywords, that's a lot of potential new customers you'll miss out on and a lot of revenue you'll leave on the table (for all your competitors who are doing SEO will pick up for themselves).

Get Into the Details

Once you've shown how SEO has the potential to bring value to a business and all the ways SEO is great in a more general sense, it's time to get into some details. The final step to getting full buy-in from your bosses is to explain what resources you'll need to achieve all these great goals and how you'll go about doing.

Present your leaders with a tangible game plan that specifies:

  • Specific business goals by which you'll measure the success of SEO. Establish the metrics and KPIs you'll track over time.
  • What deliverables you'll put out in order to achieve your goals as well as reports you'll produce and present to your boss to justify all these SEO efforts.
  • Specific tasks you'll complete to achieve your goals and a timeline for when those tasks will be complete.
  • The resources you'll need to complete those tasks in the proposed timeline and to achieve your goals. Resources can mean money, time, people or tools.

The key here is to speak the language of management.

At this step, you should also consider running a small SEO test as a proof of concept. Consider publishing a page, building some links and showing an increase in traffic.

Nothing will convince bosses quite like being able to point at real-life results you can achieve with SEO.

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