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Understanding ROI: How you can get the best from an SEO Strategy

Rich Beavis from NovosRich Beavis in SEO, Strategy

18th May, 2022

How Does ROI fit with SEO?

ROI (Return On Investment) within SEO is a key metric used to demonstrate the value that SEO can provide to an organization. It is useful for both agencies and clients as it:

  1. Helps quantify and communicate the progress made to an Ecommerce website following or during an SEO campaign, and overall value delivered from an investment.
  2. Helps with the prioritization of SEO tasks based on perceived ROI, as well as helping internal client teams manage stakeholder expectations.
  3. Is useful for creating a business case to secure future investments in SEO based on accurate data.

Often, it can be challenging to accurately measure ROI due to the variety of external factors that affect SEO such as:

  • Seasonality impacting demand
  • Unexpected changes in demand (e.g Covid) 
  • Google core updates 
  • Changes in Brand Reputation (Using Non Brand data to track progress)
  • Other marketing activities (The relationship between marketing channels)
  • Establishing a baseline compared to a “do nothing” approach (Using Year on Year or month on month data) 

How to calculate ROI in SEO

Therefore when using ROI in SEO, the figure should try to remove the impact of these external factors where possible. SEO KPIs such as organic sessions and conversions. It is calculated over a time period as:

(Additional revenue from InvestmentCost of Investment) / Cost of Investment 

Then multiply by 100 to generate a percentage. 

Note: Additional revenue from investment is revenue generated from SEO campaigns. For example, an increase of £300,000 organic revenue comparing a 12 month SEO campaign period to the 12 months before the campaign started.

For example, an investment over 12 months at £8,000 per month has returned £300,000 additional revenue (compared to the 12 months before SEO work started):

  (£300,000£96,000) / £96,000

         * 100    =    212.5% ROI

The importance of tracking, measuring and reporting at the start of a Campaign and setting KPIs with the client

Firstly, it is crucial to confirm with the client their business KPIs/measurable outputs of success are. From this conversation, it can be confirmed that ROI is a priority. 

In some cases, for example a startup business beginning a 6 month SEO campaign, fixing technical SEO issues before attracting a larger customer base would mean that delivering technical SEO tasks is the only KPI. Also, for an organization that is purely trying to spread awareness, then organic sessions could be the KPI – as this will measure an increase in site visitors. However, for most organizations, increasing revenue through organic traffic is the medium/long term KPI. 

Once KPIs are agreed, and SEO opportunities are identified at the start of a campaign, it is then useful to identify priority keywords, pages and set up conversion and revenue tracking in GA . This is a crucial step to complete at the start of a campaign and ensure testing of tracking is completed in these early stages.

Generating accurate ROI figures from a 12 month SEO Campaign (Using Org traffic and revenue)

ROI in SEO is often calculated using revenue figures from Google Analytics, specifically from Organic Traffic, over a time period, compared to a previous time period. The data can be found Under Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search .

The difference between the revenue figures demonstrates the increase in revenue YoY e.g 2022 revenue – 2021 revenue. Assuming no external factors have influenced this, apart from the SEO campaign, this figure can be used to calculate ROI. However, often external factors outside the SEO campaign are influencing this figure over a 6 or 12 month period. 

How to overcome challenges associated with ROI

Here are a few ways to identify and remove these factors when calculating ROI in SEO:

  • Seasonality impacting demand

Seasonality takes into consideration changes in demand around peak periods depending on the business. E.g Christmas is a busy period for many E-commerce sites. The simplest way to remove this factor and identify an accurate revenue increase is to compare Year on Year data in GA. For example, if an SEO campaign runs for 6 months from January – June 2022, compare organic January – June revenue 2022 to organic January – June revenue 2021. 

To compare period on period organic revenue increases, such as January – June 2022 to July – December revenue 2021, a more complicated approach is needed. One option is to check using keyword research and analyze changes in search volumes for these keywords, Google Trends Tool or other paid tools such as SEMRush. For example, take a sample of high search volume keywords that generate organic traffic for the business, and analyze search volume changes over months. This can help identify a percentage increase or decrease in demand, which can be applied to the revenue figure. You can also normalise data so you calculate ROI based on overall trend and not based on seasonality.

  • Unexpected changes in demand (e.g Covid) 

When unexpected changes in demand occur, such as Covid lockdowns, it is best to compare to previous years that did not experience high fluctuations in demand, for example compare February 2022 to February 2020. Try to identify a similar time period that can be compared to the SEO campaign in previous years.

  • Google core updates 

Google algorithm updates can hugely influence rankings, based on how well a site reacts to the changes in the algorithm. Therefore, this is often one of the trickiest external factors to exclude when generating ROI from organic revenue. In most cases, it is best to keep the client informed and explain why a site has reacted in a certain way.

  • Changes in brand reputation (Using Non Brand data to track progress)

Sometimes, a brand’s reputation can naturally decline perhaps due to increased competition or internal changes, meaning that less people are searching for the brand name on Google. This can heavily impact organic revenue in larger organizations. One way to offset this factor is to report on non brand clicks using Google Search Console. Percentages can be applied to revenue figures, to exclude brand traffic. Typically in SEO, non brand clicks are the measure of success.

Alternatively, if brand reputation increases, then it could be that this is due to improved rankings and brand awareness so in most cases this can be included in reporting ROI, unless there is a large spike in brand awareness due to other marketing activities as mentioned below.

  • Other marketing activities (The relationship between marketing channels)

Other marketing campaigns, either before, during or after an SEO campaign can affect the success of an SEO campaign, and influence the organic revenue figures. Paid search campaigns often remove organic traffic for selected keywords or brand terms, depending on the structure of the campaign. Also if affiliate marketing is used, or TV advertising, this can influence brand searches on Google, impacting organic revenue traffic. Overall, it is best to confirm with the client which campaigns have run during the time periods that the SEO campaign will be reporting on e.g Year on year, as well as running during. 

In terms of removing these factors from organic revenue, it can be near impossible. In some cases, reporting on non brand clicks and revenue only will remove most direct brand marketing activity that impacts organic traffic figures.

  • Comparing to a “do nothing” approach (Using Year on Year or month on month data)

This is often not taken into consideration when comparing data year on year. In most cases, a business will slightly grow over time in terms of organic traffic without an SEO campaign, due to domain age included as ranking factor, and more links gained over time.  Therefore, look at previous year on year changes in organic revenue, and use this percentage to predict the revenue increase if no SEO campaign had started. Then use this to compare to the larger revenue increase generated from the recent SEO campaign. It can help show clients a more accurate ROI figure.

Note: Remember the benefits created from an SEO campaign extend past ROI over 12 months, or whenever the SEO campaign ends. It also brings benefits to other channels such as improvements in conversion rates, which positively impacts all channel revenue.

As mentioned earlier, not every KPI is directly related to organic revenue in SEO. Therefore, it is important to assign revenue values to other KPIs in SEO. For example, email sign ups could be the KPI. This can be especially important when investing heavily in content strategy as a part of SEO – where rich content may be driving sign ups. These email sign ups (throughout an SEO campaign) should be tracked and assigned a value to the client. Then this value of email sign ups can be added to the final ROI figure to show further SEO benefits.

Finally, every 6-12 months it is recommended to give an ROI update to a client, depending on the clients priorities, goals and expectations. This should be using the above mentioned considerations combined with current and historic GA data. 

Richard Beavis

Rich Beavis from Novos
Article by Rich Beavis
Rich is a Senior SEO Strategist at NOVOS. From clothing and fashion, to travel insurance, Rich has worked in a wide range of industries. Having worked agency-side, Rich is experienced in creating SEO strategies that accelerate growth. Internal linking, header navigations and site structure are a few key areas where Rich has enjoyed applying his tech SEO skills to drive organic traffic and revenue. He’s also an avid Watford fan which everyone at NOVOS agrees is a really unfortunate decision.


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