SEO is a powerful and resilient marketing channel that holds great potential for many businesses. Like any marketing channel, however, it isn’t for everyone and it’s certainly not a magic bullet. You should be careful not to naively believe that you should be investing in SEO for your business without compelling rationale. Doing that will leave you vulnerable to a long, expensive road that may never lead to ROI and result in a negative perception of the channel that could have been positive if the right questions were asked and expectations set upfront.
The specific tactics and mechanics of SEO may be mysterious to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t responsibly explore the channel by being clear about your goals and asking pointed questions to reveal whether or not your prospective partners are the right fit. Consider the following questions to inspire productive discussion between you and your prospective SEO partners and increase the likeliness this channel results in tangible value (😉) for your business.
1. Why is SEO an Opportunity for MY Business?
No two businesses are the same. Don’t put up with generic answers about how SEO is a must for every business. It isn’t. Winning is never impossible, but SEO is an established digital marketing channel and, like any marketing channel, should be assessed relative to your goals, your existing situation, and your competitive landscape. Your partner should be able to tell you what competition in this channel looks like for you and where and how they intend to help your business secure a valuable place in the market.
*Note that a comprehensive view of your competitive landscape takes significant effort and may not be part of a standard sales qualification process. Some partners may suggest an introductory engagement to explore the SEO opportunity for your business (we do). Still, an experienced partner should have some general thoughts about your market space.
2. How Will Results Be Measured?
You don’t care about implementing SEO best practices; you care about your specific business goals. Make it clear that the goal is not to check boxes or achieve a state of SEO best practices. An experienced SEO organization knows that their work and value is measured against business-driving results. That doesn’t mean just watching keyword rankings change. You always have the right to ask that your partner connect the dots (at very least in theory) from the work they are doing to the final impact to your business goals.
SEO Goal Metrics Should Be Sequentially Tracked Thus:
Keyword Ranking Improvement Mission #1 is to get keywords ranking in positions where people can see your content. Don’t look at traffic (except to baseline) until keywords are in traffic-driving positions. This is usually middle to upper page 1 of search results, sometimes lower page 1. Page 2 (position 11 or higher) doesn't yield clicks and thus isn't enough to move your focus from ranking position to the next metric, website visitors.
Incoming Organic (SEO) Traffic to Ranking Pages Once keywords are ranking in positions that are commonly seen by users, then you can expect users to find those rankings and click through to your website. Now it’s appropriate to consider website traffic from search a meaningful KPI.
Conversions Resulting from Organic Traffic Once you confirm that users are seeing your pages rank and then are clicking to visit those pages, you next want to know if the users are taking meaningful actions on your website. If you’re an eCommerce business, you can directly associate traffic with website transactions and revenue. If not, you’re likely looking at leads or signups. There may be partial conversions in between, like visits to a product detail page. What's important here is to follow the trail and see if the traffic you're driving is valuable.
Sales / Revenue Resulting from Organic Leads An experienced SEO partner should know that even #1 rankings and thousands of new visits and conversions from SEO doesn’t necessarily mean you’re closing new business. However, this metric is ultimately on you to communicate to your partner. If your partner doesn’t have visibility and collaboration here, they can’t adjust course to aim at the kind of traffic that drives quality leads.
3. What Defines an "SEO Strategy" at Your Organization?
The word “strategy” can be used casually in many marketing discussions and SEO can become particularly convoluted as to what comprises an SEO strategy. Implementing SEO best practices is not a strategy. A strategy should incorporate an understanding of your customers and identification of the keywords they use, an understanding of existing competition standing in your way, and a plan of necessary actions to overtake or avoid competition to drive results for your business. Results will vary but you’ll know a good answer when you hear it.
4. How Often Do You Assess the Efficacy of Your Strategy?
Strategies may prove to be ineffective; your partner may need to pivot. The early stages are all about learning the nuisances of your business. That takes time. However, it’s not permissible to run without a built-in system for stepping back from the existing strategy to put a critical eye on whether or not it is still the best path forward. Timelines can vary by partner but this is a healthy expectation to set for all parties.
5. Why Do You Believe in SEO?
SEO is a unique, esoteric universe of search engine know-how that also requires creativity and an understanding of consumer psychology. Why and how your partner got involved in this world is sure to unearth some interesting history lessons and the opportunity to bring the conversation to a personal level.
Some Expectation Setting
So as not to inadvertently throw my fellow ethical SEO practitioners under the bus and frame the channel unrealistically - a few expectations to set.
Be Reasonable with Goal Setting
Don’t expect specific guarantees or hard numbers on what kind of returns you should expect - especially early in an engagement. Any responsible partner knows that this channel - like any other - is subject to many variables, particularly the actions of your competition. This makes SEO goals a moving target. This is no different than any other marketing channel operating in a marginally-competitive market space. Holding your partner to inflexible numbers will discourage liberal conversation and the inevitable need to absorb a loss and pivot to more promising areas.
Be Patient and Flexible
SEO is an experiment, an inexact science, and an investment. The good news is that when you find a creative, ambitious partner you get a leg up on the competition who hopefully has become complacent, already achieved their goals, or just aren’t keeping up. Give your partner the flexibility to try, fail, and pivot. Again, stress the need to establish a time to step back and have a candid conversation about what’s working and what isn’t.
SEO Takes Time and Investment
As a developed channel, it’s nearly impossible to find an area of SEO where no one else has thought of using the channel. That means if you’re trying to break into SEO, you will have competitors to dislodge. They may have been investing for years to earn their place. You can overtake them and the upside is that defending the top of the hill is less arduous than climbing it, but you still have a hill to climb. Don’t expect SEO results to come easy or without sustained effort and investment. Whether the top of the hill is worth it to your business is for you and your partner to decide.
If you'd like to hear our answers to these questions and more, contact us.