The Business Value of SEO

The inimitable Jennifer Hoffman, Marketing Director at DeepCrawl, came to speak at Optimisey in late 2018.

Jen’s talk covers ‘The Business Value of SEO’ or, as I liked to think about it – how can you justify investing time and budget in SEO and how can you prove the ROI (return on investment?).

It’s a fun, engaging and informative talk – with some great case study examples too. If you’re struggling to get the budget or resource you need for your SEO efforts (or to justify the investment to yourself) this will really help.

You should also check out another great Optimisey talk, Richard Petersen-Hall’s talk on: How to predict organic conversions from search.

Video of Jen’s talk, slides and a full transcript (any errors mine, not Jen’s) below:

Video & Slides


Download Jen’s slides: The Business Value of SEO (4MB PDF)

Transcript

So kind of a couple interesting things I think from Julia’s presentation – she touches on a couple of similarities to mine – except hers is talking about the challenges that you’re going to have working internally with devs and mine is kind of about the challenges that you’ll have, I guess, with your executive leadership team predominantly.

And she talks about like kind of translation issues right? So she was talking about speaking the language of your developers whereas this presentation of mine comes kind of on the back of another one that I did earlier on this year about speaking the executive leadership language and I think that that’s a big challenge that SEOs have predominantly if you’re in-house.

Obviously it’s speaking the language of your executive leadership team – if you’re at an agency it’s the challenge of speaking the language of your clients – that really shows the value and what you do every single day as an SEO.

So as Andrew said, I’m Marketing Director at DeepCrawl. These are my lovely team members here. They kind of keep things fun so just a little bit of a disclaimer the photos in here my team actually added in here for me last minute because I lost and or potentially deleted the original presentation so I don’t take any credit for the photos.

Um I guess I went one side too far… this presentation actually stems from a couple of different conversations because caveat is I’m not an SEO. I’ve never been an SEO. I have no intentions of being an SEO.

But I think what gives me grounds to actually stand here is that I’ve been a Marketing Director at an SEO platform and or tool for the last almost six years now so I’ve seen a lot of the struggles and the trials and tribulations that SEOs actually have.

And then thus in turn sitting on an executive leadership team and having SEOs on my own team I kind of see that dynamic in that relationship on a daily basis – so this comes out of that. And then it also comes out of a bit of research that we did at DeepCrawl for a product workshop that we held and a big survey that we passed around – to both SEOs as well as the c-suite – was about kind of:

…what their number one struggle was around SEO as a whole.

And every single one of them regardless of which camp that they sat in came back and said: It’s proving the value of SEO.

And so I thought: ‘All right it’s finally time to talk to people about my perspective on this’.

Variables and controllables

So I thought: ‘All right, there’s kind of two buckets when you distill it down and the first of which is a variable bucket and that’s an element feature a factor liable to vary or change and when you again apply that back into SEO context that’s Google or Yandex by duping whichever search engine you’re ultimately optimizing for (and yeah sorry there’s a little bit of just formatting issues in here when you take it from PowerPoint to Google Drive and then share it so sorry about that).

So Google and or again whichever search engine you’re optimizing for it’s the variable black box right? It’s going to be the constant changes and updates and algorithms like Julia was just talking about. It’s going to be ranking fluctuations. It’s going to be competitors. These are all things that just are completely outside of your control as an SEO.

And things that are probably going to drive you completely crazy trying to stay on top of them and trying to control them.

Which then is the second bucket: That’s your controllables. And something that’s going to that is capable of being directed or influenced. And again applying that back into SEO – and I know some people argue with me on this because you don’t directly control everything especially if you work at an agency not in-house – but it’s your website as a whole.

You have the capabilities of deciding what that site structure and architecture looks like; what the internal linking looks like; the mobile configurations; again as Julia touched on, site speed and page load times; your internationalization strategy –  pending that you’ve got multiple domains across different languages – and then obviously to your content or your content marketing strategy – that sits there.

So then when you actually stop and again – kind of going back to what we were just talking about – the whole practice of SEO has fundamentally changed over roughly the last twenty years or so.

SEO is no longer about optimizing for search engines anymore and trying to grab that organic traffic but the practice of SEO actually impacts so many other points within a business. - @_JHoff speaking at #Optimisey

It’s actually about controlling and optimizing for online brand presence these days

Because at the end of the day – as you’ll see here – it’s a ‘help me help you’ situation.

And the reason why that is, is because you’ve got to make friends with everyone else on the marketing team.

Not just kind of sit in your own camp, at your own desk and just do what you do in that sort of like black box over there.

Because no one actually quite knows what an SEO does at the end of the day.

Black magic and making friends

It’s all sort of black magic right?

So then you say to an SEO “Go make friends with your other team mates on the marketing team” they look at you like: “What?! I have to actually talk to people? I have to socialise? I have to communicate? Have to tell them what I’m doing?!”

Yes.

It’s good to make friends on your marketing team. Trust me. Because again all roads actually lead back to your website and in today’s day and age your website is your storefront.

It is where you are actually sending all of the traffic – no matter what channel it’s actually coming from.

So again your website sits here and we all obviously know that everything online from an online marketing perspective leads back to your site: your social, your PPC, your SEO, your email you’re just like: ‘We got that.’ right? Super simple.

But stop and actually think about traditional marketing and advertising and all of the offline components that feed into that.

So think about the last time you saw a print ad or a billboard or out on the side of a bus or a train. The call-to-action there was probably for you to go visit their website. And they probably had some level of a voucher code that’s going to track that offline to online conversion.

So again substantiating what I just said that all roads actually are still leading back to your website even if it’s offline marketing.

So if that’s the case and you actually go – and I actually snagged this from the Google blog itself – it says this is distilling down obviously the algorithm and it says these algorithms analyze hundreds of different factors to try to surface the best information the web can offer from the freshness of the content to the number of times your search terms appear and whether the page has a good user experience.

And, again going back to kind of what Julia said as well, the user experience here I think is quite key and it’s something that I think really gets missed a lot of the time.

So if Google's now chasing the user experience then so should you. - @_JHoff speaking at #Optimisey

And by chasing the user experience you’re actually chasing your customers, which fundamentally has an impact on your organisation because positive web performance and a positive customer experience impacts your conversion rates, and impacts your average order value, and it impacts the customer acquisition cost, and more importantly the return on the investment.

proving ROI of SEO: Made.com case study

And going back to the reason why you should make friends with the other members of your marketing team is because it’s a ‘help me help you’ situation from the context of:

You help them prove higher ROI against their individual channels and they will help be advocates for why you need more budget and resource in your department as an SEO.

So this is an example – and I again will put the disclaimer out there that this is a DeepCrawl client and that’s why I have the data and actually am able to show this – so this is my theory in practice right here.

So I’m sure everyone’s probably heard of made.com living in the UK. So made.com are one of our clients and they really started about 18 months ago seeing some seismic drop offs in traffic, in conversion rates and unfortunately more importantly revenue.

In fact their most popular keyword term ‘sofas’ being a furniture retailer they actually saw over a £30,000 drop off in a single month in revenue because of some fundamental issues that they were having on their website.

So after deciding they probably needed to do something about that they hired this gentleman here: Sam Hurley.

He is founder of Statement Digital and as I’ve noted ‘The Fixer of made.com’.

So Sam has been a big advocate of DeepCrawl for a long time so his kind of first port of call was to understand exactly what was going on the website and exactly what was kind of causing these issues.

Diluted authority

So he ran a full-scale crawl with DeepCrawl and the first issue that he came across was that they had diluted authority. So there was no rhyme or reason to the structure on their site, he had absolutely no clue and so Google had no clue as to what were product pages, what were sub-category pages or anything of the sort – so thus, in turn they weren’t actually sending Google the right signals for which pages were important and which pages weren’t.

Sam one and he actually implemented breadcrumbs and he optimized the internal linking structure for the site itself and thus in turn and that not only was it able to then start sending the correct signals into Google as to what pages were important and again which ones weren’t but it actually created a more positive user experience which again is additional positive signals back to Google that that’s a great site for user experience.

Http migration to https

The second thing – and probably the most important thing – was that made.com was so running off of the old-school HTTP protocol so it was not secure and he was potentially in trouble of actually getting the the dreaded ‘not secure’ badge from Chrome.

So obviously the first thing he knew he needed to do was go in and start working on an HTTP site migration here.

One of the things that he did was he actually used DeepCrawl‘s list reports which allowed him to run a crawl inside of his staging environment to understand exactly what pages, what resources, what assets and things of that nature had it successfully been moved over before he fully put the site live into HTTPS.

Internationalisation and hreflang implementation

The third thing that he found was that they also had international issues.

So I don’t know if you guys know but made.com actually services clients all across Europe not just in the UK.

So they had nine different versions of their site in nine different languages with no rhyme or reason to which ones were being served to which customers based off of geo.

I mean it was a complete nightmare and mess.

So again Sam went in and implemented successful href lang – thus in turn sort of sorting it out giving Google the correct signals as to which pages were what and needed to be delivered to the localised market based off of the user’s IP address and geo-location.

Site structure and navigation

And the fourth challenge – which is potentially the biggest one because obviously this has mass impact on your user experience and your customer experience on the site – there was just insufficient navigation, going back to just really, really poor structure.

And again talking about their number one keyword term for ‘sofas’ having significant drop-off people are searching for sofas on made.com and just couldn’t find it.

I mean, it’s probably a problem when you sell furniture if somebody can’t find a sofa on your website.

So they went in and completely revamped that navigation – again creating the correct hierarchical system inside of that, understanding which were product pages, which are category pages etc. etc.

One of the interesting things that Sam also decided to do with the navigation on the site was to implement pages that also allowed users to search for ‘product + colour’ so again that creates a more positive user experience. Customers can actually now find that black sofa, the blue sofa, the blue green sofa whatever the colors they want and actually thus in turn they started ranking for ‘[furniture term] + colour’ as well so giving them additional opportunity for rankings.

Results: ROI of SEO for made.com

And these were the results actually that they started seeing. The orange, for anyone who can’t see the legend, is the 2016 users the blue is 2017 and green is where we started tracking 2018 before we ran the study.

So 42% year-on-year increase in new users to the website. Again this is across the entirety of the site so it that’s pretty seismic when you think about it.

Just based off of these four primary fixes that Sam was able to actually identify by running a crawl.

And that 42% translates into 60% increased month-on-month revenue and 31% increase in annual revenue for made.com which again I had to strip out the actual numbers here but if you actually take what you’re seeing from a revenue perspective on your site now and you multiply that 60% month-on-month increase you can kind of work out the numbers there.

You know if you’re an enterprise level kinda you work with enterprise level clients you you can potentially be talking tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of pounds at the end of the day.

Now, you take that to your executive leadership team and they’ll give you whatever the hell you want.

So my team actually went ahead and put kind of like a super simple, stripped-down, basic five-step plan of how Sam went about tackling made.com and how you guys can do this as well.

Benchmark your metrics

So the first of which is to run your benchmark metrics. And don’t just run benchmark metrics across the whole site but actually run these against the individual traffic channels that you have coming in.

And the reason why, again you need to make friends with other people on your marketing team, so that way you have access to this data and these metrics. So take benchmark across traffic conversion rates, revenue, customer acquisition costs (major important one for your executive leadership team) and then again return on investment.

Being able to benchmark these is going to be just effectively your starting point.

The second thing, again yes this is DeepCrawl but regardless whatever crawler it is that you and your organisation decide to use – use it set up your initial crawl, add in your data sources: so pull in your customer data from GSC, pull in your backlink data and if you have access to it pull in your log files data, and then set-up your crawl schedule and frequency based off of when you guys are wanting to actually take those benchmarks again.

And I know a lot of you guys are like feverishly taking photos I will happily share these slides.

The third thing is create your strategy. So once you’ve run your crawl and you basically understand where all of your various issues lie then you can start to prioritise. What are going to be your quick wins? What are probably going to be a little bit more longer-term?

And then build your plan.

Identify what resources you’re going to need whether or not that’s financial, technical, personnel and where are you going to start. What are the goals and how are you going to get there?

And fourth is set-up your reporting. This is one thing I think that a lot of SEOs kind of get wrong. - @_JHoff speaking at #Optimisey

They set-up their reporting for their own needs and what they feel they need to be reporting on. But the problem is as well, again going back to the beginning, you’ve got to speak the language of your executive leadership team.

So understand the metrics that they want to see from you and then actually build that into your reporting as well.

Automisation and visualisation

And I’ll come on to it in a minute – I’ve got a couple slides around it – but utilise a dashboard component. That’s the easiest way to be able to visualize it for your executive leadership team, where they can digest it in terms in a way that actually resonates with them.

And the second of which – and actually I think I have another slide on this in a bit as well – set-up automation.

SEO sometimes can be full of menial, mundane jobs that are highly repetitive – so if you can automate it why not become efficient and effective in what you do every day? And you’ll get a lot of time back by automating things.

The third, again make sure that your crawling schedule is aligned with your reporting schedule and making sure that you are logging all of the different changes and the impact points that you’re making against the site to be able to overlay that data and to be able to draw the correlations between the impact of what you’re doing.

Fifth and final stuff is just get to work.

SEO is hard it’s not quick it takes a lot of effort to get there and a lot of time so just kind of start.

And going back to what I said about automating things – so this was a Twitter poll that was run by Jono Alderson a few months back, I think we clipped off the date on that – but he ran this a few months back and it was quite interesting to us over at DeepCrawl because it kind of impacted something that we were working on.

But this basically just asks like ‘How many hours per month do you feel that you spent on those mundane tasks that are constantly having to repeat themselves over and over and over again?’

And 34% of respondents actually said they spent over 21 hours a month working on tasks that could be automated.

That’s a lot of time if you actually multiply that out against an hourly rate, your hourly rate or somebody else’s hourly rate. It’s highly inefficient.

So one thing we did at DeepCrawl we actually integrated with a workflow platform called Zapier.

This is actually one of the second class SEOs on my team. He believes that if there is something that needs to be done that can be automated that he can build a ‘zapp’ for it. That’s Zapier’s term for it.

So it’s basically just automating workflows with triggers and actions. So Zapier integrates with all these great marketing tools and this again goes back into making friends with other people on your marketing team so that you can have access into all of the different tools that they utilize as well because then you can plug in again.

You’ve got Google Ads up there you’ve got Salesforce for your revenue metrics you’ve got MailChimp for your email, if that’s what you use, HootSuite, Buffer for social etc. etc. and on and on so once you’ve created the zaps and you started to automate a lot of this data, push it into a dashboard.

Again that way it’s super simple to visualise and not only can you share it with other team members but you can share it with your executive leadership team once they distill down what it is exactly they want to see from you in order to be able to give you more budget and resource.

This is an example of Clip Folio so we use Clip Folio at DeepCrawl and so I can jump in literally at any point in time and I can actually see what our customer success team are doing, what our sales team, our finance team, our engineering team and where they are against the KPIs on a monthly and a quarterly basis.

We again use that but there are other ways, other dashboards out there so we started really playing around with Data Studio a lot. That’s become like the industry really hot term at the moment.

A lot of our enterprise clients use Tableau just because of the data manipulation and a lot of cool stuff that you can actually do with it but if you just want to be simple with it you can always go and rely on good old Google Sheets. There’s nothing wrong with that as well.

When you utilise dashboards, especially again for your executive leadership team, it allows you to keep things top level. It allows you to give them a visual quick snapshot of everything that you’ve done, the metrics that you’re reporting on, and you can then benchmark it against what success looks like.

And it combines all of those different data sources. So rather than giving them just troves of Excel spreadsheets you can literally just say: ‘Here are the numbers’ because at the end of the day they are busy people running a business. The last thing they want to do is get just bogged down in Excel data sheets.

Speak in language your c-Suite understand

So then bringing it all together really quickly it’s just a matter of speaking the executive language.

So understanding what resonates with them – so that way you can take what you guys do every day and you can put it in terms that they actually understand. Because it’s human psychology. It’s easier to go meet somebody on their own ground than it is to ask them to come into yours and understand what you do.

Because, let’s face it, if you start talking to them about canonicalization and meta descriptions and things like that they’re going to glass over they’re going to shut you off.

They’re not even going to listen to you.

So by the time you got the point where you ask for resource they’re gonna say: ‘What? Why? How much money is that gonna make me?’ so again that’s why we use dashboards – to actually show the revenue in a visual way which actually has impact on what they do every single day.

And then you’ll have a happy CEO like mine.

And then you can go ask them for whatever it is that you want – because if he understands the impacts that (or she, excuse me) that you have on their organization you’re helping them do their jobs better and easier and then they look better to their bosses, which is potentially a board of investors or whatever the case may be.

So again it goes back to that ‘help me help you’ situation.

A couple of final thoughts on this is, again I know that SEO is not what it used to be and a lot of people put so much emphasis on: ‘organic search, organic search, organic search’ but that is a big world out there and it has both variables and it has controllables.

And if you think in terms of website performance there’s a lot more controllables with that.

As I said make friends with your marketing team members they’re not bad guys I promise. They are really crazy, quirky, creative types but yeah they’re they’re not that bad – well… we are some days it just depends on the day and how much sugar we’ve had on my team.

And then be efficient and automate things. There’s no sense in like driving yourself crazy. I mean that’s the definition of crazy: is consistently doing the same thing over and over and over again and getting the same result.

And then visualise the correlation between the web performance of your website and the revenue impact that you’re having.

And the final thing is just control the controllables.

And interestingly enough by controlling the controllables, on your website, Google starts to see that in positive signals.

And Google actually then starts paying more attention starts ranking you higher because you have a positive user experience. And then everyone’s happy at the end of the day – with more, with the additional traffic they’re getting.

These are a few resources that my team has put together. The made.com case study in more details up on the DeepCrawl website if anyone wants to read it.

We’ve done a ridiculous amount of research and playing around and testing with automation – specifically around SEO reporting so I’ve got a resource up there and then we’ve actually gone in and built some Data Studio templates specifically around SEO reporting as well so for anybody who wants to take a look at those I’ll share these around.

And that’s it.

[Applause]

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