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Is SEO Worth It? Understanding the Cost and Return of SEO Investment


Is SEO Worth It? Understanding the Cost and Return of SEO Investment

SEO: The Turnkey to Your Business Presence and Digital Success

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not merely a feature of your marketing agenda – it’s the backbone of your digital identity. More than a strategy, it’s the foundation upon which your online reputation is built, affecting how your business is positioned on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and how easily it’s discovered by your potential customers. SEO is the turnkey to your business presence, a vital factor that significantly influences your digital success.

Acting as a lighthouse in the ever-expanding sea of digital content, SEO ensures your business isn’t lost in the vast digital landscape. It carves a path for your customers, guiding them to your virtual doorstep. A robust SEO strategy ensures your business is found, heard, and interacted with – offering visibility amidst digital chaos.

But, SEO’s role extends far beyond getting your business found. It impacts the perception of your brand, affecting how your customers perceive your business. SEO practices such as relevant content creation, keyword optimization, and link-building strategies contribute to the narrative around your brand, shape your brand’s voice, and influence how your brand communicates with your audience.

Investing in SEO means committing to a dynamic, multi-faceted approach to digital marketing. It’s about optimizing content and technology, understanding the importance of high-quality backlinks, appreciating the role of user experience (UX), and most importantly, keeping up with the ever-changing search engine algorithms.

Furthermore, an effective SEO strategy relies on a collaborative approach, involving diverse teams – from content creators and editors to web developers and UX designers. Everyone has a crucial role to play in this coordinated effort, which underscores the importance of a ‘big picture’ approach to SEO.

This blog post aims to unravel the complexities of SEO investment, highlighting why it’s not a cheap or siloed effort but rather a calculated, comprehensive, and continuous approach to cementing your digital presence. We’ll also delve into how SEO can deliver tangible results, offer insights into the costs associated with SEO, and explain why businesses need to approach SEO as a long-term, ongoing commitment rather than a one-off task.

Join me as I explore why SEO is worth it, and more importantly, why it should be a vital, non-negotiable component of your digital strategy.

Breaking Down the Cost of SEO: A Deeper Look

So, what does an “SEO investment” look like? And, is it really worth it?

The idea of investing $10,000 a month in SEO might seem intimidating. However, considering the intricate nature of SEO – which is interwoven with product development, technology, and content – this investment becomes more logical.

SEO: A Surface-Level Misinterpretation

The SEO industry, unfortunately, often suffers from a superficial understanding of its mechanisms. This approach is prevalent on numerous agency websites and is a direct contrast to the intricate reality. Here’s the bottom line – SEO is an investment, but its nature is dramatically different from that of paid media. They’re at two distinct ends of the digital marketing spectrum when it comes to timelines for investment and compounding returns.

My viewpoint is that SEO is a “vital component” of any online business aiming to be discovered by its customers. It should be treated as a ‘business priority’. As an industry, we need to get better at accountability, delivering tangible results, setting clear, realistic expectations, and accepting that SEO is not cheap.

Demystifying the SEO Investment: What it Really Looks Like

Often, you’ll find people complaining that “SEO only gets a fraction of the investment of paid media”. However, it’s vital to develop a better mental model to understand how it all works. Both paid media and SEO involve more than just their primary costs. They include elements like analytics, asset creation, optimizing landing pages, technology fees, and more. Some of these aspects might be handled by an agency, while others will be managed in-house.

Delving Deeper into the SEO Investment

The cost of executing an SEO strategy is just a fraction of the total cost of SEO. After all, every SEO recommendation needs a team to implement it. The more you invest in an SEO strategy, the more you need to invest in product, engineering, and content. These aspects each have a resource ask or cost – be it product, technology, content, analytics, and more.

Consequently, a “full accounting” of SEO investment is essential. These resources can be distributed across in-house teams (usually for the development work) and agencies (typically for the SEO strategy and content work). But remember, this balance will differ from company to company, emphasizing the need for a unique blend of resources and investment.

Challenges in Scaling SEO versus Paid Media

One of the reasons why companies find it easier to invest millions in paid media than in SEO is because they often under-invest in product and content for reasons such as:

  • Lack of necessary resources to handle an SEO investment
  • Past experiences of failed SEO campaigns or ineffective agencies
  • Misunderstanding about the true nature of SEO

Paid media investment expands externally, making it easier to scale. SEO, on the other hand, expands internally and thus requires more internal resources. This situation can cause even relatively modest investments in SEO to balloon into large internal resource asks.

Investing in content and product is not cheap – a single full-time SEO product team can cost between $1-2m / year. Similarly, the cost of developing content, especially for large organizations, is high. But such investment is ESSENTIAL in the digital landscape, if you are to be found by your target audience (or even have an ‘existing’ business in the digital economy we live in). 

The Daunting Task of Calculating SEO ROI

Calculating the ROI of SEO is not only complex but perhaps impossible for some companies. Many shared resources are necessary for successful SEO, making it hard to pin down the final cost.

Enter Incrementality

Incrementality is a concept that paid media teams have been utilizing for a long time. Large brands have been studying and quantifying incremental return for a while now. However, the SEO industry often oversimplifies this view.

SEO as a Business Case

Considering SEO as a ‘business priority’ rather than just a line item on a budget shifts the narrative around its importance. SEO is a commitment, not a one-time project. It’s a continuous process of optimization and improvement to make your business more visible to potential customers. High rankings on SERPs increase the likelihood that customers will visit your site and choose your business over your competitors.

In the age of digital discovery, most online experiences begin with a search engine. SEO ensures your business is a significant part of that customer’s journey. By positioning your business as a trusted, authoritative source of information, you’re not only gaining visibility but building trust with your customers. This trust can, in turn, drive more traffic to your site and help you rank higher on the SERPs.

Making the Business Case for SEO

When working with the C-suite, it’s essential to break out of the silos of SEO, product, content, and marketing. To do this, it’s crucial to look at the full accounting and incrementality of your work.

When you get to a senior level, it’s not just about making recommendations and adding tickets to the dev queue. You need to build a business case for your work and fully account for what it’s going to take.

The Shift in Perspective: From One-Off Audits to Ongoing Strategic Vision

SEO, especially SEO audits, often get relegated to a ‘one-off project’ status, rather than being seen as a continuous, vital component of a comprehensive digital strategy. This outlook is far from ideal, as it discounts the dynamic nature of SEO.

In an industry revolving around constant updates and shifts in search engine algorithms, static, one-time audits can only offer temporary solutions. They don’t contribute to a holistic understanding of the evolving SEO landscape and the ongoing adjustments needed to stay relevant.

In the prevalent audit culture, it’s common to bombard the development team with recommendations or to simply present a list of topics to the editorial team. But such an approach fails to recognize the interdependent nature of SEO.

Understanding the creation process behind the content, recognizing the continuous tech tweaks necessary for optimal site performance, and appreciating the dynamic nature of keyword performance are all vital.

As SEO professionals, our role extends beyond one-time project completions. We must delve deeper, closely examining the costs, returns, and full-scale implications of our recommendations. We need to develop a comprehensive view of the organic revenue return, considering the whole array of resources involved.

By moving away from a ‘one-off’ mentality and embracing SEO as a consistent, strategic effort, we make a stronger case for its investment. After all, SEO, when viewed in terms of ongoing, SEO-influenced revenue, delivers a compelling ROI and justifies an increased budget and more significant buy-in for the work involved.

The Final Verdict: Is SEO Worth It?

Heck yes, it is! Despite the initial financial and resource investment, SEO proves its worth in the long run. When contemplating, “Is SEO worth it?” the response is an unequivocal “Yes!” The value of SEO goes beyond mere search engine rankings. Its influence penetrates deeper, impacting your brand image, customer engagement, and overall digital presence. Thus, making the investment worthwhile, provided you grasp its real cost, potential returns, and the profound influence it has on your business.

The tangible returns on SEO investment can be measured in improved visibility, increased organic traffic, higher conversion rates, and ultimately, boosted revenues. However, its intangible benefits are just as significant. SEO lays the foundation for these essential elements to a success online business website: 

  • A lasting online evergreen solidified presence
  • Helps establish authority and trust.
  • Cultivates a more profound understanding of your customers’ needs and behaviors.

Investing in SEO also puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to navigating the ever-evolving digital landscape. With SEO, you’re not just reacting to changes; you’re anticipating them, preparing for them, and using them to your advantage. This proactive approach not only keeps you ahead of the competition but also helps to future-proof your business in the dynamic digital world.

However, remember, SEO is not a quick fix but a long-term strategy. It demands continuous efforts, periodic auditing, and consistent fine-tuning. But, given its crucial role in determining your business’s online visibility and success, the investment of time, money, and resources is indeed justified.

So, to wrap up, SEO is more than just an expense; it’s an investment in your business’s digital future. It’s an integral component of your overall business strategy that delivers compounded returns over time. Yes, SEO requires investment, but the question isn’t whether you can afford to invest in SEO; it’s whether you can afford not to.