Depending on your company, it might be once a year, some companies do it once a quarter, and I sincerely hope there aren’t any companies that force marketers to do it on a monthly basis. But at some point we all have to justify investment in our channel. This is simultaneously a point of dread as well as a moment of the greatest opportunity – the chance to expand your program effectiveness, either by taking on new areas of focus or simply refining those you already have.

Considering how important this process is to a functioning SEO program, I’m surprised how little we tend to talk about it. Sure, a quick Google search will bring up some articles on the subject, but considering the importance of getting a program funding to run, probably not enough of them, and none will give you the magical formula needed to increase investment within your particular company.

The difficulty is likely the fact that companies internally can be so radically different in how they approach investment in marketing, sales, or any form of investment. Each individual you might talk to will have a story about how they secured their budget, but it will be almost undoubtedly political, personal, riddled with caveats, and rendered impotent with special cases and imperfect information.

Even so – it’s important to talk about, even in general terms. Working at an agency I see these budget discussions happening frequently, and after a while they start to follow a similar pattern. Let’s talk about some common elements needed for success.

First: Understand Who Controls the Budget – Speak Their Language (KPIs)

The first step to successful funding of an SEO program is understanding where the money is actually coming from. With smaller companies this is very straightforward as the company structure will be compact and you’ll know all the people responsible; bigger companies have a more difficult time keeping this clear and time and effort should be spent knowing how your budget is allocated internally, what departments get a cut, and who the decision-makers are.

Once you know who makes the decisions, you can get a sense of what they are looking to accomplish, and how SEO can be a part of their grand design. Their key performance indicators (KPIs) are going to be great indicators of what is important for the company as a whole, and how you can prioritize your SEO initiatives. A brand marketer is going to be interested in share of voice, how to influence the top-of-funnel SERPs to add your brand to the consideration set of prospective buyers. An e-commerce -focused manager is going to care what you can bring to the bottom line. Either way, you have value to bring to the table. Actually, that brings me to my next point…

Claim the WHOLE Funnel

Justifying Your SEO Spend

Justifying Your Spend

It’s common to run up against preconceptions about what SEO is. I can’t even count the number of times people have said, “Well, as long as we’re ranking for brand terms we don’t need to spend in SEO, right?” within earshot and every time I stifle a cringe. SEO is for the ENTIRE funnel. When you speak to a brand marketer, you can show SEO value for share of voice, brand awareness, and messaging. When speaking to an e-commerce manager you can certainly show the value of SEO driving people to purchase or generate leads. Whatever you do, don’t let people shoehorn you into a particular part of the funnel. Not only is it wrong, it could reduce your chance of getting funds.

Look at Your Competitors, Including Other Channels

Some companies are driven by competitive metrics, and for them the easiest justification of spend is to show how much your competitors are spending in search. If the competition is building out a strong content campaign, a social presence, and has recently launched a redesign with better URL structure, all of this should come up in conversations within YOUR company.

In addition to that, look at how SEO does compared to other channels your company is investing in. SEO can accomplish what other channels do often for a fraction of the cost. If you are driving a huge swathe of non-brand traffic to the site, how much monetary value can you attribute to that when compared to display, PPC, social, or even offline marketing? Comparative metrics can sometimes be the strongest case for additional investment in an efficient channel.

Start Conversations Early

Lastly, don’t wait until the 11th hour to popularize the effectiveness of your SEO program. It’s common to dread justifying budgets – it can mean long hours, difficult discussions, and a lot of work, but the best way to reduce that is to never actually stop justifying SEO. Consider reporting on the value of the SEO program regularly throughout the year, including areas of improvement (if only I had more budget!) and areas of success in the KPIs that you know matter. If SEO is commonly associated with key company KPIs, you don’t have to sell it at the end of your budget cycle. It sells itself!