The amount of web traffic coming from organic search rose from 51% in 2014 to 53% in 2019, according to SEO platform provider BrightEdge.
Moreover, SEO generally yields the highest ROI among digital marketing channels. A survey by SEO news site Search Engine Journal found that 49% of respondents reported organic search as returning the highest ROI, putting it well ahead of paid search at 19%, social media at 18% and email at 14%.
Despite the results SEO generates, it often consumes a lower proportion of overall marketing spend than other types of digital marketing. For example, in 2021, a higher percentage of chief marketing officers increased spending on social media advertising than SEO, a survey by technology research firm Gartner found.
There are a number of reasons for this disparity. One is an entrenched mentality that favors paid advertising or the notion that organic traffic is “free” and thus doesn’t need the investment that paid advertising gets. Another is the challenge of measuring the ROI of SEO, which can be difficult to pin down for a number of reasons.
While the general concept of return on investment is clear enough, quantifying results in SEO can seem daunting because of the sheer number of metrics which can be tracked. Results can be measured in terms of:
Deciding which of these variables is relevant to your calculations presents an initial challenge to calculating your SEO ROI.
A potentially frustrating aspect of measuring SEO ROI is the inability to directly control outcomes of SEO investments. You can create content and promote it, but clicking on search engine results is up to Internet users. Even when you get clicks, search engine providers have ultimate control over how your results get ranked. You can influence your results, but you can’t control them directly - not as much as you can with paid advertising.
Because of the number of metrics involved and the inability to control outcomes directly, both growth in SEO results and the cost associated with growth can be challenging to calculate. Your estimates depend on which metrics you’re tracking and what you’re counting as results. Moreover, results accumulate over the long term, so you may not see the fruit of your labor immediately. It takes patience over the long haul to gain an accurate sense of SEO costs.
If you’re working with a marketing agency to do your SEO, your ability to measure your ROI depends on your partner. However, some agencies may be unable to provide relevant data, while others may be unwilling. This can be a result of a number of factors, including lack of prerequisite tracking systems, lack of know-how, laziness or desire to protect information deemed sensitive. Whatever the reason on their end, the result can be a lack of needed data on your end.
Even if you have SEO data available from your own webmaster or your marketing agency, the information available may be insufficient for analytics purposes. This can stem from a number of causes, including failure to track the correct variables, too small of a sample size, too narrow of a date range, or lack of important correlative data.
Moreover, it may not be clear how to interpret the data you have. Without a technical understanding of how to interpret the numbers you have, all you have is raw numbers without any practical application.
To get a better understanding of how to interpret this data and use Google Analytics to define conversion goals, etc. we recommend checking out Google’s own Analytics Academy which does a great job of that.
Despite these challenges, measuring SEO ROI is essential. Tracking your SEO ROI can let you know if the assets you’re building or planning to build are actually giving you the organic growth and conversions your business needs to recoup the costs associated with your investment. Otherwise, you could be wasting your money on marketing campaigns that aren’t yielding results.