The ROI on SEO: Why It’s Hard to Measure and What You Can Do About It

Did you know that when you search for something on Google, the first result you see gets about 32% of all the clicks? In fact, a whopping 75% of people never even bother scrolling past the first page of search results!

Now, let’s think about what this means for businesses. These eye-opening stats clearly show why search engine optimization (SEO) is so incredibly important. To give you an idea of just how important it is, companies invest more than $79 billion each year on SEO services.

Yet even in the face of all this, it can sometimes be hard to convince decision-makers and stakeholders within the company to invest in SEO. And it IS an investment. And like any investment, you’ll likely want to know what your ROI is!

That’s why it’s important to understand how to measure ROI on SEO.

However, there are challenges to doing this.

For one, SEO is notorious for taking some time to start showing results, usually in the 6-12 month range.

Also, SEO provides a lot of hidden benefits that lead to future sales, as we’ll see in a minute.

How to Calculate ROI on SEO, Basically

In theory, the process of calculating the return on investment (ROI) for SEO is similar to any other business. You simply subtract the cost of implementing SEO from the revenue generated as a result.

Value from SEO Conversions – Cost to implement SEO

Except it’s more complicated than that.

While it’s easy to know how much you spent on SEO, it’s a lot harder to attribute a sales conversion to your SEO efforts or to another marketing channel.

For example, a prospect might have found you in organic search results, spent a couple weeks perusing the information on your site, and then when they see your ad a week later, decide to click on the ad and convert through that.

While the SEO “warmed them up” and arguably did most of the heavy lifting, the ad gets credited for the conversion and the true value of SEO never gets its due.

Another Way to Measure SEO Results

Besides overall traffic, there are some other specific Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that you can keep an eye on to measure and prove the value of your SEO efforts.

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Let’s break each of these down quickly.

Search Engine Rankings

Your keyword rankings are arguably one of the most important KPIs you can track. The higher you rank in search engines, and the more keywords you rank for overall, the more tangible is the proof that your SEO efforts are paying off.

Organic Visitors

Organic visitors are people that land on your website from organic search results. While they might not always convert to sales, they are great for developing brand awareness and send positive signals to search engines.

Click-Through Rate (CTR)

Your click through rate is a measure of how many people clicked on your organic result and visited your site. A higher click through rate is proof that your listings are appealing to the right audience and that your SEO is paying off.

Soft or Secondary Conversions

While not every visitor to your site will turn into a sale, there can be secondary conversions that prove valuable to your business such as newsletter sign-ups, social shares, downloading your content, and so on. 

These actions should be tracked and monitored in your analytics software along with any other measurable metrics that are important to your business.

Pages Per Session

Another significant KPI is how many pages a user viewed when they visited your site. If they clicked around to multiple pages of your site, it is a good sign that your SEO efforts are working and that you are providing a valuable experience for your site visitor.

Organic Impressions

This refers to how many times your web pages appeared in organic search results. More impressions means your content is being picked up by Google more regularly and is being shown in more search results.

The Challenge of Measuring SEO

Like we hinted at before, it can be hard to know whether it was your SEO or another marketing channel that scored a conversion.

In general, conversions in Google Analytics – the standard tracking tool for measuring website traffic and conversion – are counted using a ‘last non-direct click model’ which ignores direct visits to your website and instead looks at the last non-direct channel that a visitor used to find and convert on your website.

That could be coming to your site from social media, or clicking on an ad or organic search result.

Like we said before, it could be that your blog content warmed up the prospect but it was through some other channel that they ultimately converted.

Google Analytics 4 and the data-driven attribution model 

GA4’s new Data-Driven Attribution Model uses machine learning to distribute conversion attribution to multiple marketing channels based on the path the visitor took to make the conversion.

For example, a user may have a number of different touch points (organic search, referral sites, email marketing, paid search, organic social) along the way to making a sale. 

This new attribution model, which is the default attribution model in Google Analytics 4, breaks the buyer journey into various stages (early, mid, and late) and will do its best to distribute credit to the various channels along the buyer journey.

In terms of SEO credit, we can view the Organic Search results within this attribution model for each stage of the funnel, which can help us to piece together just how much weight SEO carried in converting that user.

Other bottlenecks to measuring SEO

  1. SEO takes a long time – typically 6-12 months before you can really start seeing results. While the benefits of SEO are enormous, it’s really hard to measure the ROI of SEO in the first 3-6 months.
  2. It’s hard to test. Unlike PPC Ads that you can quickly turn off to see the results, SEO is slow in terms of testing because, by its nature, SEO is organic and it can take months for new changes to take effect or be visible
  3. Attribution model is flawed – and this doesn’t just apply to SEO. Even with all the analytics tracking in the world, it’s still nearly impossible to track every single interaction and how it affects buying decisions. At best, conversion attribution is a good approximation but it’s not perfect.
  4. No way to measure retention of the effects of brand building – with SEO, you can’t know if someone already knew about your brand through SEO and visited your website directly. You also can’t measure website retention because every visit will be counted independently, even if it was from a repeat visitor.

The Most Valuable KPI for SEO

Beyond using the basic formula we listed above, there is one SEO factor that can serve to be a pretty good measuring stick of your SEO success: Search Visibility.

This is your overall visibility in search engines and most rank trackers measure this. If this is going up then you can feel pretty confident that your search engine efforts are paying off!

Final Thoughts

By now, you should have a better understanding of the challenges that measuring SEO poses. You should also have a better sense of some key metrics that you can use to measure your SEO efforts.

While there are ways to approximate its impact using tools like Google Analytics 4, a good yardstick for measuring SEO success is overall search visibility.

If this is growing regularly, and the other metrics are demonstrating results, then you can begin to feel more confident that investing in SEO is having a positive ROI.

Are you looking to invest in your SEO and need a game plan that will get you results? Schedule a free consultation today to discuss how we can help you get a positive ROI on your SEO.

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