Spending Money on Intelligence vs. SEO

Posted on: October 19, 2012

Running on of the fastest growing Internet marketing companies in the country, I get asked a lot of interesting questions. Last week, I received an inquiry and some very interesting questions from an escort service in Richmond, VA (no, I’m not joking, and Becky, if you’re reading this, I did not respond!!). More on that another time …

One of my favorite questions is “how much money do I need to spend on SEO.” I must get asked this question at least once per day. And when I do, I usually respond with “it depends.” Thinking about it more, I might start saying, “It depends on how much intelligence you have.” Of course, I probably won’t really say this because prospects may mistakenly believe that I’m referring to their capacity for learning versus the information they have about their business.

I could swap out the word “intelligence” with “information,” but I think using “intelligence” gets people thinking in a different way. These days, information overload is a common occurrence. I’m certain no such problem exists when it comes to intelligence. So, using the word “intelligence” gets people thinking about their question (hopefully) in a new way and it doesn’t carry with it the negative connotations associated with the word “information.”

In my opinion, business owners shouldn’t start with this question. “How much SEO do I need?” is a tactical question that, in my experience, tends to start a vicious cycle of “junk in, junk out.” SEO is a marketing tactic (or strategy—depending on your worldview), and marketing, when done well, is like a growth engine for your business. Before you talk SEO, you’ve got to talk marketing, and before you talk marketing, you’ve got to talk business.

It is impossible to accurately answer the question “how much SEO do I need” without more information about the business—more business intelligence.

To understand how much money you should allocate to SEO requires having a conversation where we talk through things like:

  • Where are we today (baseline) in terms of revenue?
  • What’s the goal (where would we like revenue to be and by when)?
  • What are our primary lines of business?
  • What percentage of our revenue comes from each one?
  • What’s the average revenue associated with a single sale from each line of business?
  • Are we profitable?
  • Do we have the systems in place to grow at the rates we’d like to?
  • Are we seasonal?
  • Where are the leverage points—if we could sell one type of job all day long or serve one type of customer over and over again, what/who would it be?
  • What’s our gross margin by line of business?
  • What’s our current marketing and sales process?
  • What percentage of our leads convert into sales?
  • What percentage of website visits convert into leads?
  • How much traffic is our website getting today?
  • What percentage of the traffic comes from non-branded organic search?
  • Do we have the right tracking systems in place?

If you’re thinking about investing in SEO and you’re not having a business conversation first, you’re talking to the wrong SEO company. If an SEO company tosses out a budget number without understanding your goal first, you’re headed in the wrong direction. Before you talk SEO and marketing, you’ve got to talk business, and you can’t talk business unless you have good intel.

Words like business intelligence (or BI) and marketing analytics used to be alien to all but the Fortune 500. Today, there are thousands of incredibly powerful, yet inexpensive analytics tools that small or medium-sized businesses can use to quickly view and evaluate their business from a number of different perspectives. For example, you can accurately track the percentage of visitors to your website that convert into leads and sales, but by my estimates, fewer than 5 percent of businesses do. Why invest any amount of money in SEO to drive qualified visitors to a website that isn’t doing a good job converting them into leads? That would be like paying money to send leads to a sales rep that can’t close!

Intellectually, most business owners agree that analytics and data are good—necessary for making better decisions. However, when it comes time to cutting a check, the same bunch let emotions take over and find it easier to throw money at SEO than analytics. At Blue Corona, we do both, and I’m telling you that investing in SEO when you don’t have the right analytics and intel is a mistake. It’s like buying fancy golf clubs instead of taking golf lessons.

It ain’t the clubs, buddy. Tiger Woods is going to out-drive, out-chip, and out-putt you with some kids’ clubs purchased at Target. Invest in intelligence first, then SEO.

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