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Dear C-Suite, Wondering About the Value of SEO?

by Christopher Hart, February 17, 2009

In conversations with potential clients, I have often heard bottom-line, just-the-facts questions such as these:

  • How long will it take before I see results?
  • What is the ROI of search engine optimization?
  • What is the business value of SEO?

In order to explain the true scope of the questions being asked and why such questions about the value of search engine optimization are so complicated to answer, I will draw parallels between a typical executive's traditional work experiences and the new online business environment.

How Long Will It Take Before I See Results?

The Traditional Business Experience

Think back to the first days of your first job, or for that matter, your first days at any new job. Remember how overwhelmed you may have been, not knowing where anything was in your office or who to go to for each issue. Then, just as soon as you thought you had the hang of things, you discovered that seemingly simple decisions were made more complicated by office politics. Choices that appeared obvious turned out to be misaligned with the company environment, market conditions or an executive's point of view. Eventually, through the course of conversations and trial and error, you slowly got into the flow of things. You became more prepared as you adjusted to the new environmental conditions. These adjustments allowed you to make quicker, more informed decisions.

The Online Business Experience

The standard answer for how long an SEO campaign will last is "forever". Search engine optimization is something that must be done as long as you're doing business online. But, to answer the more pressing question of how long an SEO campaign must be in place before results occur, an executive must ask a number of questions of themselves and their organization:

  • Has every member of executive management gotten behind the SEO initiative and told the rest of the organization of SEO's importance and of your commitment?
  • Does the executive management understand that each individual's commitment is required (and expected) for online success?
  • How long will it take all employees to learn and embrace this new business model?
  • Do all employees understand the consequences of SEO failure and commit to this new initiative? Are they a part of the solution, or will they be a problem?
  • Will executives support the alignment of the offline production process so it is properly aligned with the online business process?

The length of time an SEO campaign lasts is not absolute - SEO must become part of the online way of life. However, a company's executives are able to accelerate the organization into a position where planning, development and reaction to environmental changes are easily done. How long it takes is in great part dependant upon the ability of the executive team to hold true to this initiative. If it is unimportant to you, then it is unimportant to the company. An important point is that if you can lead the entire organization to support search engine marketing and SEO in all that they do, the synergistic effect is a rapid acceleration of your online presence beyond that of your competition.

What is the ROI of Search Engine Optimization?

The Traditional Business Experience

Currently you have collected data points from your offline business and built them into a business formula. This formula has been developed over time and is relative to the marketplace you currently reach through your current distribution methods. On top of this formula you apply your education, on the job knowledge and intuition. These are all things you have taken time to learn, absorb and turn into decision making qualifications. So in the end, return and ROI are based largely on your ability to make decisions from knowledge of topic and historical data from said business line.

The Online Business Experience

Just as you need well established data points to develop an estimate of an offline business return, so too do you need such data points to estimate the return of an online business initiative. In many cases, until we have begun a project with you, we are not exposed to such data points. It is also usually the case that most new online businesses are not collecting and tracking the proper data points required for any online return estimates to be made. On top of that there is the unknown variable of how long it will take to educate your staff so they are able to make proper decisions once the online data is presented to them. As you can see, without data or an educated staff, there is no way to provide an exact number.

What Is the Business Value of SEO?

The Traditional Business Experience

In your traditional offline business, value is recognized over time and is largely based on the return you receive. The value of traditional marketing is assessed by collecting data from a number of points that somehow reflect your business's success.

The Online Business Experience

If at this point in time you and your competition are not engaging in SEO, you will see that as soon as you integrate the new media business mentality into your business model, the value of search engine optimization will be obviously clear. If your competition has already started down the SEO path, then you are late to the game. You will likely need to expend at least twice as much energy to catch up. Whether you are looking to jump ahead of the pack or trying to close the gap on a competitor that is pulling away, the value of SEO should not be overlooked.

In the end, it is YOU - the business executive, the person in the finance department, the director of marketing, the IT manager - who has to embrace the difference in doing business online. And it is your commitment to a successful online business model that will make or break the value of SEO within your company.

Internet and search engine marketing is not a fad or a short term project; it is a cultural business evolution!

My best advice is to stop clinging to the traditional business model and embrace a new and different way of thinking. If you take the time to let your SEO consultant teach you, to energize and set vision for your organization, and to maintain momentum, then the answers to your questions will become self evident in short order. SEO will change your corporate life.

But the commitment is required on your end first.

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