Truly successful SEO demands involvement from management and various teams and stakeholders. This can include an investment of resources as well as work hours and collaborative strategizing. This can only happen if you are skilled at earning buy-in from contacts throughout the business.
Here's how to get buy-in.
Benchmarking Search Performance
The first step to demonstrate the value of SEO and to convince management to invest more resources is to evaluate where you currently are and what search is currently doing for you. This means establishing how much value search traffic is already bringing to the table, as well as identifying all the areas where the site is falling short and where opportunities can be found.
Ideally, the site should already have ecommerce tracking set up. If not, this is the first thing you should do. Without ecommerce tracking, you don't have any direct way of attaching sales to search traffic, and you will have to rely on estimates based on traffic percentages.
There's no shame in relying on traffic percentages if it's the only data you have, but the more accurate the data, the better you can benchmark your performance and track your progress.
See Google's instructions for setting up ecommerce tracking.
If You Can't Set Up Ecommerce Tracking
If you don't even have enough buy-in to get ecommerce tracking set up, or it simply hasn't been set up yet, you can start benchmarking using proportions. To estimate the value of your search traffic, start by identifying which portion of your visits is coming from search.
In Google Analytics, navigate to Acquisition > Overview in the left sidebar. This will take you to the Acquisition Overview page. On this page, you will see a section labeled Top Channels. Here you will find a pie chart indicating what percentage of your traffic comes from each channel. Organic Search is the traffic from SEO efforts, consisting only of search traffic from search results unrelated to paid advertisements.
To estimate the current value of your search traffic, simply multiply the percentage of organic search traffic by the current revenue your site generates.
This estimate is obviously indirect, but there's no shame in using it as a benchmark when it's the only data you have. If you do use it as a benchmark, however, it's important to compare like with like. If you have more accurate data in the future, comparing it with this estimate can be very misleading. Compare estimates with estimates and direct tracking with direct tracking. Don't mix.
If Ecommerce Tracking Is Set Up
Assuming ecommerce tracking is already set up, the best way to accurately credit search engine traffic's contributions to revenue is to look at assisted conversions as well as direct conversions. Direct conversions, or last-click conversions, are a measure of how many sales came directly from a source or medium. Knowing these is valuable, but it isn't the whole story.
The first medium or channel that brought a user to your site, which may have been long before they made a purchase, also plays an important part in creating the final sale. Channels that brought them back to your site before they finally made a purchase also contributed to brand impressions that ultimately led to a sale, so it's important not to leave them out either.
Assisted conversions are conversions that were assisted by visits from a channel or medium even if that channel or medium wasn't the referrer of the user session that resulted in a sale.
To access a record of assisted conversions, in the left navigation of Google Analytics, go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions.
On the Assisted Conversions page you will see a table chart of assisted conversions and last click or direct conversions:
In order to read this correctly, remember that assisted conversion value is the value of all sales that a channel assisted in. This means if a user ultimately converted, and the medium in question referred the user at some point, the sale gets counted as an assist. Assisted conversions do not look at the medium behind the session where the sale actually occurs.
The last click or direct conversion value is the value of all sales where the medium in question referred the user during the same session where they made a purchase.
Since the same medium can assist in a conversion as well as be the referrer when the user actually makes a sale, you will double count these kinds of conversions if you simply add assisted and direct conversions together. For that reason, always compare assisted conversions with assisted conversions, and direct conversions with direct conversions. Do not add them together to get a total or you might double count some sales.
Do A SWOT Analysis
At this point, you should have a benchmark of the monetary value organic search traffic currently provides your site, either an estimate based on applying the search traffic percentage to your site's revenue or a direct report of assisted and direct sales.
Simply reporting this benchmark figure obviously won't be enough to get SEO buy-in. In order to get buy-in, you will need to do a SWOT analysis, an analysis of your current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats when it comes to search traffic and SEO:
- Strengths: What advantages does the site currently have over competitors in the search engines?
- Weaknesses: What advantages do competitors currently have over the site in the search engines?
- Opportunities: What are the clearest changes that could be made to leverage the current SEO situation?
- Threats: What SEO faults could harm the business in the future that could be prevented now?
In evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, consider all of the following for each:
- Traffic: What content on your site is currently earning 80% of your search traffic?
- Rankings: What keywords are you currently ranking best for, and what important keywords are missing?
- Sales: Which products are organic searchers buying, and is organic search more responsible for assists or direct sales?
- Lead nurturing: How effectively are organic searchers being funneled into lead nurturing campaigns?
- Auditing: What on-site SEO issues can be addressed? How does the site's backlink profile look?
- Competitors: What are competitors ranking for? What on-site SEO efforts have they made? What can we learn from their backlink profiles?
Set Measurable, Realistic Goals
In order to get buy-in, you need to make concrete promises about what can be done with the resources you're asking for.
Setting measurable, realistic goals is NOT about promising a specific improvement in search traffic or earnings from search. Including reasonable estimates of projected search traffic and revenue can be helpful, but these are not deliverables you have direct control over.
Focus instead on deliverables. What concrete changes will you make to on-site SEO? What keywords will you target? What content will you produce? What sites will you reach out to in your link building efforts? Your SWOT analysis should reveal clear opportunities and actionable next steps.
At Northcutt, we use a contribution-based pricing model to center deliverables in our process. That is, we don't charge by the hour since it incentivizes slow work. We don't charge by results since SEOs simply don't have direct control over them. We don't charge by retainer since it doesn't offer enough accountability. And we don't charge by the project since it isn't granular enough and it doesn't correctly view SEO as an iterative process.
We charge by deliverables that we call contributions because they are small chunks of work with a concrete result: a specific number of outreach emails to influencers that meet a certain threshold of authority, a word count dedicated towards blog posts that meet a certain quality threshold, a clearly defined SEO audit, and so on.
We recommend using a similar approach when trying to get SEO buy-in from management. Break tasks down into concrete deliverables that require clearly defined resources. Use SEO knowledge, projections, and benchmarked performance to explain why the deliverables are valuable, but avoid making promises about the specific impact the work can have on search.
Report On Competitors
One valuable way to sway management is by showing them what competitors are doing. Use tools like SEMrush to report what competitors are ranking for and estimates of how much traffic they are earning, and tools like Ahrefs to report on their backlink profiles.
While merely copying competitors is never a good marketing strategy on its own, analyzing competitors is a very useful way to benchmark what others in the industry are doing to achieve their SEO results. It's a useful way to demonstrate that other businesses find the investment to be worthwhile.
Focus on actionable implications. Merely reporting both competitor rankings and traffic estimates aren't useful on their own. Hone in on what competitors are doing and what is worth emulating, with ideas about how to do it differently and to incorporate your unique selling proposition, branding, and unique market position.
Identify All Stakeholders
SEO is so heavily interwoven with all aspects of a business that little can be accomplished without some involvement, or at least permissions granted, from multiple teams throughout the business.
Even if you get buy-in from management, any other teams who need to be involved in a project should feel at least somewhat invested if at all possible, not simply strong-armed by management. Half-hearted involvement from other stakeholders will slow down progress and dampen results.
Needless to say, having allies from other teams in the company can also help you earn buy-in from management, and from still more allies.
Whenever you need to sell the company on an SEO-related project or process, or on SEO as a whole, identify the most significant stakeholders: anyone who could benefit from the results and anyone who runs the risk of seeing you as a competitor for company resources.
Once you've identified the potential stakeholders, use a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) matrix to help clarify what roles everyone will need to perform. Identify who is:
- Responsible: These are the people who will do the actual work to complete a task.
- Accountable: These are the people who are held accountable for the task being completed correctly, effectively, thoroughly, and so on. The responsible and accountable person for any task may be the same person, but the other two roles are best assigned to other people if at all possible.
- Consulted: People whose opinions are sought and input is needed, usually experts in subjects who will not be directly responsible or accountable for the task themselves. This is two-way communication.
- Informed: These are people who are kept up to date on the progress of tasks, often only when deliverables are complete, and the communication is mostly one-way.
From here, you can start approaching each potential role-filler with the appropriate mindset.
Report Results Tied To Efforts
It's one thing to get SEO buy-in for a single project. For management to continue investing in SEO work, they need to be convinced that previous efforts have had an impact.
Do NOT make the mistake of simply reporting search traffic or even search sales. Management will obviously want to see this information, but without tying changes in search performance to previous work, they will have no concrete sense of how investing resources is earning them results.
Tie results to efforts by:
- Reporting the search performance of new pages. This is one of the most concrete ways to measure improvements in search performance. You can guarantee that traffic earned by new pages wouldn't exist if those pages were never created, so there's no way to dispute the reality of the impact.
- Keeping a detailed record of all site changes and deliverables. Note changes to the site in Google Analytics, and include the changes in your reports. A direct connection between SEO efforts and results can't always be made, but reporting them side by side at least suggests the influence.
- Separating out the performance of individual pages you have made specific on-site changes to. Some SEO changes will affect your whole site, but changes such as updating the title tag on a page and so on will primarily impact that page. Comparing the performance of pages you have made changes to pages you haven't made any changes to can make the results more concrete.
- Controlling for seasonal changes by using year-over-year performance. Month-to-month search performance can be misleading if there are seasonal changes in search interest or consumer behavior. Comparing year-over-year performance each month can give a better estimate of how search performance is being impacted by your efforts and can give a better view of the results of your cumulative efforts.
Use these strategies to earn buy-in from management and various teams throughout your business and to lead the most successful SEO projects.