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First, let’s get something out of the way: Calculating ROI isn’t about performance metrics—it’s about real dollar figures. You want to draw a direct line between SEO and ROI so that you can calculate how many new dollars you earned after expending resources on SEO. If you spent $1000 on SEO this month, it doesn’t matter to you that you rank on the first page of Google and saw your organic traffic skyrocket if it brought in $0 of new sales.
However, those numbers domatter if you want to connect the dots between your SEO and your new sales. For instance, let’s say you’ve been investing in SEO each month, but during that same time you’ve put ad spend toward a large billboard next to a highway. During that time period, you see sales on your website go up. How do you know which strategy was successful?
Your metrics will tell you. SEO will improve your organic rankings, and can be linked to a rise in organic traffic. But a large billboard with your name on it will more likely be associated with direct traffic. If your organic traffic rises and converts to more sales, that’s ROI you can link to SEO.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what each of these statistics means and how you should expect them to impact your ROI calculations.
Of course, if there is one statistic everyone knows to associate with SEO, it’s search engine rankings. That is, in fact, what we’re all about. And yet, many people misunderstand how SEO builds search engine rankings, and get too hung up on the wrong data points.
No one can pick and choose which keywords they will rank for. You can’t just decide to rank #1 on Google for your industry’s top terms, nor can you buy your way to the top. Rankings have to be earned, and doing so takes time. That’s why it’s important not to focus on a single search term—or even a handful—but instead look more holistically at the terms you already rank for.
If you improve your SEO practices, you will start to see your website across a variety of terms—maybe no to the top spot, but certainly toward the first page. This is important information, and one of the ways you can track the value of your investment. You may not have total control over your rankings, but you should see a general rise in rankings for keywords related to your industry.
Google Analytics distinguishes between two primary types of traffic: that which comes to your website “organically” (meaning through search engines), and “direct” traffic that happens when someone types your URL directly into their address bar.
Organic traffic can also be split into “branded” and “unbranded” searches. It’s pretty easy to rank for your business’s name, so if someone found you by Googling for your business, that may be less attributable to your SEO efforts than with Google simply doing its job.
That’s not to say direct traffic has nothing to do with SEO. On the contrary: many visitors don’t buy the first time they land on your site, and they may return later as direct traffic. So a rise in this metric is also potentially a sign that your SEO strategy is working—it’s just harder to prove that it is.
But if you see an overall rise in organic traffic from unbranded search terms, it’s a strong sign than your SEO is paying off. The next thing you have to discover is how that traffic behaves on your site.
Let’s say you’re a Trekkie, and you want to convince Star Wars fans that they should be more interested in Star Trek than their own fandom. (Never mind that both these fandoms are excellent and there’s no reason you can’t love both.) You work really hard to rank for Star Wars-related search terms, and pretty soon you see a corresponding rise in organic traffic.
But then something happens: People who come to your website because they Googled “Star Wars” are met with a giant splash image that says “Star Wars Sucks,” and the immediately leave. You’ve achieved a major goal, but it hasn’t done you any good.
This is because your website isn’t supporting your SEO campaign. Your on-site metrics, such as bounce rate, pages viewed, and time on page, should all improve with your organic traffic. If they don’t, then it’s a fair bet your keywords are targeting the wrong audience.
Finally, if your keyword strategy has paid off and you’ve brought in the right crowd, you should see a rise in leads and/or sales. Again, this is a metric that you can usually track by paying attention to user behavior on your site. If you’re seeing an overall rise in traffic volume and closed sales, it’s a good bet your SEO efforts have paid off.
SEO is just one piece of what should be a holistic marketing strategy. You could have excellent SEO statistics but completely fail to produce sales because your website is broken and doesn’t convert visitors. Or you could have a fantastic website that sells products very well—only to have those products returned a week later when they fail to live up to expectations.
The point is, SEO doesn’t operate in a bubble, so asking it to bear the weight of your entire campaign strategy is unrealistic. Instead, measure its value alongside other efforts to see how they work together to generate value for your business. The results will be far more illuminating—and satisfactory.