Proving ROI of SEO #1 Challenge For Search Marketers

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Very few marketers consider search marketing to be a near-term top-priority marketing tactic, according to a recent survey by market research firm Clutch and R2i. The firm polled 500 marketing executives at US B2B and B2C companies with more than 500 employees and found that proving the ROI of SEO is a major challenge for many search marketers.   

Marketing Channels Used By Most Companies

Even though slightly less than half of mid-size and enterprise companies in the US use search marketing, most still base the majority of their marketing on traditional digital marketing channels, including website, social media and email marketing. The use of search marketing also falls well below traditional offline marketing channels such as print, television, direct mail, and events.

Top Priority Marketing Channels Over Next 6-12 Months

Television advertising (22%), social media (16%) and website (12%) are the top priority marketing channels for the marketing professionals participating in the survey. Few marketers consider search marketing to be a near-term priority for their company. Among the 500 marketers surveyed, a modest 5% revealed paid search ads as their top marketing priority, while only 4% prioritized “organic” search engine optimization (SEO) as a top priority for the next 6 to 12 months.

Top Challenge With Search Engine Marketing

Measuring return on investment (ROI) for primarily non-paid listings appearing on organic search engine results pages (SERPS) is the top challenge for search marketers. 18% of the survey participants involved with search marketing said it is their number one challenge.

Proving the value of search engine optimization is more difficult than other marketing channels because SEO is a constantly changing discipline with less predictable results that take months to realize. It also requires the continuous development of large volumes of high quality content.

14% of the survey participants involved with search marketing considered finding a reliable agency or consulting firm a top challenge, followed by 13% who cited upfront costs; 13% managing demand marketing platforms; 13% technical skills; 10% keeping up with best practices; 10% finding tools and solutions; and 9% content creation.

Most Important SEO Success Metric

Nearly one-third (28%) of survey participants rated the traffic volume generated from organic search engine listings as the most important SEO metric. While the incoming traffic volume from organic search is simple to measure, it does not provide a clear indication of success. More important is the measurement of the amount of value that traffic is generating in terms of leads and sales. And it is therefore a surprise that leads and conversions did not make it to the top of the list. Less than one-quarter of the survey participants considered leads and conversions their most important SEO metric; 19% onsite engagement; 16% keyword ranking; and 15% impressions, awareness and sentiment. 

Top Priority SEO Tactic Over Next 6-12 Months

Looking forward, more than one-third (34%) of survey participants involved in search marketing cited that creating high quality content that earns links naturally and improves SEO results will be their top priority SEO tactic for the next 6 to 12 months.

It is not surprising this is a top priority SEO tactic for search marketers. Google recently revealed that content, links and RankBrain are the most important attributes to higher rankings in the Google search results. It’s therefore understandable that the majority of marketers identified developing more quality content as their top near-term priority.

Surprisingly, only 9% of search marketers indicated that creating quality content is a top challenge for them. But this may indicate that most companies have solid content creation processes and management tools in place or use external services to generate content regularly. This does not necessarily mean that they are able to generate high quality link earning content that makes an impact. Some of the challenges involved with creating content we covered in “Vast Majority Of Bloggers Do Not Write Posts That Stand Out And Rank In Search Engines”.

Nearly one-in three survey participants revealed that on-site and technical SEO will be their top priority SEO tactic over the next 6-12 months; 20% cited social media to support SEO; 14% local search; and 3% guest blogging on other sites.

Paid Search Versus Organic Search

Nearly all companies participating in search marketing were using a mixture of paid search and SEO tactics, according to the Clutch/R2i survey. Slightly more than half of the survey participants said they focus on both equally.

Having top rankings in both organic search results and paid listings for the same keywords can have benefits. They often produce more traffic to a site and offer higher brand visibility because they appear at multiple locations on the search results page. Another obvious benefit of paid search is more control and much more immediate results than is possible with organic search.

Only 2% of search marketers said they will focus on paid-search campaigns only; 18% revealed they mostly focus on paid search with some organic search, while 20% said they will mostly support organic and some paid, while 6% said they focus on organic search campaigns only.

Search marketing trends