Traditional marketers new to SEO, usually seek to understand the probable return on proposed optimization jobs prior to taking the leap. “Faith or math” they ask. “Tell us how to predict success and measure results.”

The questions keep coming. Why does this SEO matter? How high will our site “rank” for keywords essential to survival. Why is SEO the golden path? What happens if we do SEO and don’t build links or otherwise invest? “Tell me how I Prove to the boss that we’ll make our investment back.”

It seems they want my scientific pre-rendering of exactly how SEO will boost the bottom line. They’re looking for math baby, “charts and graphs,” an empirical forecast of traffic, revenue and an absolute prediction of SEO’s future benefits.

ROI & Religion
I smile a wry smile, purse lips and preach loudly (yell) to anyone in the office close enough to hear. “Calculating the future value of SEO ranges from hard core-statistical forecasts, to nearly Zen-like belief. Rest assured, there are prescient pegs to hang your robe on prior to commencing an optimization strategy. (In other words, we can predict what will happen ahead of time because we can measure the basics.)

“An SEO has to have faith as well as calculations. Those well traveled know there’s deep SEO value, to trust rather than prove in advance. Be mindful of undeniable benefits which, while not easily quantifiable in advance, may well reverberate like waves in the endless Internet ocean.”

In the days prior to personalized search, this riddle was much easier to solve. Rankings were absolute and exactly the same in every user’s browser. Now there are millions upon millions of unique search engine results, algorithmically crafted for individual habits, which are meticulously tracked.

Where one perceives their pages index in Google, often matters less than other indicators. Let’s have a look at measurement, both mathematical and existential, to consider when deciding whether to make an initial budgetary commitment to an SEO program.

Setting Organic Baseline & Goals
The good news is that healthy goal setting is entirely possible and simple. Here are steps you can take, even in light of personalized search to evaluate a site’s baseline SEO success and set measurable objectives to define progress.

  • Research important keywords
  • Form an opinion as possible, of monthly search volume using AdWords Keyword Tool, Trellian Keyword Discovery, WordTracker etc.. to form an opinion of monthly predicted searches. These predictions are becoming better and better.
  • Refer to your site’s organic analytics to determine average monthly visitors for each keyword and/or groups of keywords.
  • Calculate the percentage of available search “inventory” (search volume). For instance there may be 4,000 searches each month for “keyword.” If pages in your site receive 1,000 visitors per month for “keyword,” then you’ve got a 25% search market share of that keywords’s predicated monthly inventory.
  • Set goals to increase market share.
  • Calculate your on-page conversion from visitors to sale, and associated profit.
  • Extrapolate what the profit will be after increasing organic traffic according to goals.

Using this method, it’s fairly easy to set realistic objectives for improvement sought from SEO. As an asdie, keep in mind that Google and Trellian Keyword Discovery both offer us seasonal-predicts that are getting more accurate.

Keep in mind that indexing for a word, say high on page 1, is not useful if the HTML title tag and meta description suck.  The example above is simplistic in that we assume that “to see our organic listing means to actually CLICK. We know from PPC click through ratios that not everybody clicks, even on great ads.

The Holistic SEO Footprint
Every site has a true SEO birthright–relevant verbiage for what the site really stands for. On and off page descriptive words create clusters that are all about expressing the indigenous reality of every page’s authentic content.

Even after doing the most basic optimization, assuming the site is “trusted” by Google, crawlable and avoids publishing mistakes, it’s difficult NOT to create many late-mid and long tail organic search results. “Basic SEO” means keyword research, title & description tags, keyword rich internal links and a few research inspired words on the page, commonly used to search for your product.

Some of these search results will be in short tail and/or competitive keyword space. Others, especially on the long tail with several words, will NOT be contested. Also, the more-specific long tail keywords often convert much better because the queries are so focused.

These uncontested long tail search results, which your site will likely index for after optimization, are the low hanging fruit of holistic SEO. Not optimizing denies your website it’s birthright and is downright negligent. While it’s impossible to predict what the traffic will be, amotorized over the life of a website, count on the fact that incredibly valuable customers will be in the clickstream.

Faith or math…either way SEO is the cornerstone of bringing content to light, for its most essential meaning.

  • Gab Goldenberg

    Personally, I’m more in agreement with Todd Friesen’s post on the matter that trying to predict SEO ROI (the thing, not my company 😉 ) is impossible. Will things be implemented? Will the algos drastically change? Will the competition stiffen? What will be our average position (who knows?) There are too many factors to control for.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Gab: It’s always nice to see you in these threads. Thanks for your insight. I like Todd’s thinking as well. Hopefully we can connect at Pubcon.

    That said, even if measured by “dollars per minute” from natural search, there is always an “SEO” measurement to to harvest and report that matters to the client to quantify the success of their optimization. For instance, no one would dispute “cash per day from organic” as a totally reliable metric to report on SEO success.

    Getting more granular, we can move along to “dollars per minute per keyword or keyword cluster per minute,” etc.. From there we can get more creative.

    In other words, there is always an answer. The client always wants an answer.

    They don’t seem to care whether SEO is predictable or not and, in light of personalized and universal search, are getting weary of us SEOs saying “it’s impossible to measure.” 🙂

  • Nick Stamoulis

    I agree, virtually impossible to measure ROI with SEO. SEO is an ingredient in a multi pronged online marketing approach.

  • Marty Weintraub

    @Nick: Yes, but clients do not accept that answer readily.

  • Booole

    My God, SEO was really so complicated! GOD ….