Is ROI Overrated? SEM Synergy Extras


Why do I do what I do? What’s the benefit? If I build links on the Web and no results are measured, is there a return on investment?

In my interview with link builder and social media marketer Julie Joyce on today’s SEM Synergy podcast, one concept kept popping up. Seems obvious when I say it out loud, but it’s a concern that can haunt an online marketer’s practice and put continued efforts at risk. In short, it’s hard to measure the value of links and social media.

“That is extremely tricky. And the way we tend to do business, I don’t have to deal with that, but it’s going to come up because I can’t measure links that happen due to things like that. A lot of my clients don’t give me access to analytics anyway. I don’t really have a way to measure anything other than what I do. So, I would love to have an answer to that question because I think it would be great to be able to attribute a link that happens in 6 months to the action that precipitated it, but I truly don’t know how to do it.

Here’s an idea: maybe ROI doesn’t hold as much value as we seem to have assigned it.

Defining ROIMarketing strategist and thought leader David Meerman Scott wrote about ROI last week. He talked about the danger of relying too heavily on ROI calculations to the detriment of engaging consumers and users. It doesn’t make sense to paralyze a business due to ROI-focused myopia when losing sight of the big picture: heightened visibility and branding.

Meerman compares Amazon pioneering the ebook marketplace and Borders’s hesitance to go digital leading to its demise. Amazon couldn’t have calculated the return on investment of its bold, blind foray into uncharted territory, but as Meerman says, “[s]ometimes vision and guts trumps the business school ROI approach.”

Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting we never quantify the value of the work we do. For example, Julie and I talked about our shared belief that quality content is the heart of good marketing. She speaks to questionable nature of links for the sake of ranking, looking instead to conversions:

“I think, definitely, you can build links to just about any site, especially if you’re going to buy them. That might rank you, but it’s not going to make you sell anything, or convert, or anything like that. We do have a lot of clients who just mainly are interested in the rankings. I just think that’s an extremely simplistic way to think. If they don’t have good content, nobody’s going to care. They can rank number one and they may get tons and tons of hits, but what’s it really going to get them. Somebody who’s down at number 10 may have great content, but doesn’t have the rankings, doesn’t have all the links, but they’re still possibly going to sell more just because the site’s better. So for that reason I think content definitely is [important]. Like I said, you can rank without it, but I just don’t think it’s sustainable at all.”

So on the one hand, don’t get so caught up in calculating ROI that you lose sight of the true objective of caring for customers. At the same time, remember the efforts you exert in marketing should be moving you toward business goals. Those are just a couple things to think about regarding the value we can attribute to our work on the Web. Thanks to Julie of Link Fish Media for sharing your experience and advice on the show today!

Virginia Nussey is the director of content marketing at MobileMonkey. Prior to joining this startup in 2018, Virginia was the operations and content manager at Bruce Clay Inc., having joined the company in 2008 as a writer and blogger.

See Virginia's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (4)
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4 Replies to “Is ROI Overrated? SEM Synergy Extras”

I think as an industry we have become fixated with trying to quantify digital marketing channels. Maybe this is as a direct result of more marketers taking up SEO and social media marketing etc. Back when I first started with SEO it was all about the rankings and consequent traffic, but the industry has matured and quite rightly we are now trying to measure a return on digital expense. But the danger is losing focus of what is important – improving exposure and the bottom line. The fact is that it is sometimes too difficult to attribute a sale to an online marketing activity, there is an element of faith in believing what you are doing will help your online business. It’s funny because in the UK there are still people that feel uneasy about handing over cash to an Internet Marketer and yet they are happy to spend hundreds on Yellow Pages, leaflets and brochures which are inherently difficult to measure.

Virginia Nussey

Agreed, and such a common contradiction your yellow page example is. Thanks, Eddy :)

I agree with a lot of the sentiment of this article, that you can’t ONLY look at ROI, especially in places where it is nearly impossible to calculate. But you should still try to ballpark it, or at least justify it, still including important business figures to put it in perspective.

The purpose of even using ROI is simply to help you determine what is working, so that you can cut things that are not beneficial to your business. You still need to do that same thing with SEM and social media, the difference is that the ROI metric is not quite as exact. So in these cases, other metrics can/should be used in addition to ROI. So in that sense, yes, maybe ROI is a little overrated.

Virginia Nussey

Thanks for putting the issue so succinctly, Brian. This is essentially what I was talking about, along with the warning not to let ROI calculations keep you from trying your hand at something new. :)


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