Proving a return on any investment is quite the task. A team leader or manager will review a product or service for weeks or even months before finally deciding to buy in. However, once that product or service is purchased, the clock starts ticking. Questions from upper management begin to pop up. How quickly can measurable results be shown? If there isn’t an immediate benefit, what’s the timeline on return? If the results don’t match the projection, what went wrong? Is this even worth paying for?

Many marketing departments have faced these questions about SEO for years. How do you prove a tangible return on an Industry that is highly volatile and extremely reliant on search engines?

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Before giving any answers, you need to define what ROI means for your company. If we break it down to it’s simplest form, we can gain a better understanding of what we’re proving. Basically, for a product or service to be valuable, it needs to earn more than it costs. The traditional ROI model should be used, but it should be used in conjunction with the time savings (and the money saving) for research and content building. SEO should be viewed as a long term investment with implications for both the near and distant future. Once you know your keyword targets and high value pages, you can jump into the initiatives.

SEO Short Term Initiatives

There are a few quick wins you should be able to pull out of SEO, most of which can be identified with a spider or crawler. Cleaning up your entire site - removing or replacing broken links and pages and monitoring and potentially updating any redirects -  is where the majority of immediate value is usually seen. It’s important to update any missing content and fix duplicate content issues. This means making sure there aren’t just titles on every page, but unique ones.

After you’ve completed your short term goals, your first initiative is to generate a new sitemap and submit it to relevant search engines. This will help to increase the speed in which your newly updated pages get indexed. These improvements help both search engines and users navigate the site, which can lead to better positioning in SERPs.

SEO Long Term Goals

Once all of your newly updated pages have been indexed, you’ll want to constantly monitor and build out more new content. This means not only having goals, but knowing how to measure their performance. Tracking links and status codes for important pages is mandatory, but identifying new keywords to target and building new pages with quality content gets you ahead.

Document any content changes so progress can be tracked. This is especially helpful when done in segmented groups. Summarizing data at the group level allows for better cause and reaction analysis, which in turn will make for better decision making and actionable items that have substance and are based on an actual result set. SEO takes sustained effort over a long period of time, and it takes a lot of patience and even more persistence to see sustainable growth.

Conclusion

Understand a return on investment isn’t always as immediately quantifiable as revenue. SEO investments that make more efficient use of time, help you to monitor impact from change and measure performance are all valuable and do not directly convert into dollars. These in turn will prove the ROI with accurate reporting. Having automated reports to display changes, especially progress improvements is of fundamental importance.

Set yourself up for future success by maintaining a bilateral view of SEO, for both the short term and long term. Becoming more efficient in recurring tasks is a valuable return and allows for data mining. The traditional ROI thought model of: content change/link building -> rank improvement -> increased traffic -> increased revenue is a long term goal that takes time and needs to be consistently repeated to show true effectiveness. With a little patience and some elbow grease, SEO can show great returns.