Increasing ROI

How to Start Aligning SEO to Performance KPIs

By Tania

The number one performance marketing channel for most companies, organic search, is measured differently than other channels. While one company may consider increasing traffic the ultimate goal, another may measure performance against AOV. ContentSquare’s 2021 Digital Experience Benchmark Report highlighted that in 2020, 80% of traffic came from earned media compared to 65% in 2019. The opportunity to “win” at organic search is more significant than ever, especially with changing consumer consumption habits in a post-pandemic world. But to win, it’s essential to align how we measure success from SEO more broadly across the organization. 

A recent survey by Moz indicated that the most commonly tracked goals for SEO across all verticals and business types included SERP tracking, the number of universal search results, and traffic from organic search. Even many eCommerce businesses admitted they were not tracking sales from organic search frequently or reporting those numbers up in their company. While it’s vital to monitor basic SEO KPIs, the future of SEO requires more from digital leaders than just tracking traffic. In many organizations, SEO leads are held to these more traditional goals versus more revenue-focused targets, creating a lack of alignment between revenue teams and their organic search-focused counterparts. SEO leaders can align their efforts to the broader business goals more directly, elevating SEO from keywords to capital.

How Does Your Business Track Growth?

Imagine you’ve met someone at a networking event and described what you do or what SEO is. You wouldn’t tell them that your day-to-day responsibilities include evaluating large data sets and tracking positions in various search engines while making improvements to the website. If you said that, it’s unlikely they’d even understand what you’re talking about unless they are also in SEO or familiar with it. Many SEOs often say that they’re in “online marketing” or “content” to help simplify what can be a very technical role. Even when it comes to keyword research, SEOs know that what a product is called and what people are searching for may not align. It’s critical to put things in the terms your audience can best understand. 

Most organizations – especially at the c-suite level – are looking at existing reports and dashboards. These reports are providing them key business metrics that help them monitor and dig into business performance. If there are other channel performance metrics in those reports, incorporating organic search channel metrics into those reports can often be the easiest way to highlight how SEO affects the bottom line in a language everyone understands. Depending on your organization type, those reports may encompass some of the below KPIs:

  • Sales or Orders
  • Average Cart Value
  • Leads or Downloads
  • Marketing Qualified Leads
  • Sales Qualified Leads
  • Demos Booked
  • Subscription Revenue
  • Pipeline
  • Bookings
  • MRR
  • ARR
  • Lifetime Value
  • MCAC

Tracking organic search against these metrics allows an SEO to put their channel into the same conversation that other marketing units like the revenue team or product marketing teams are having. Speaking the same language will enable you to “sell” SEO better. It’s unlikely that a sales leader will identify with the website being 12% quicker. However, it will likely resonate with them if they’re aware that every percentage point faster, the website increases the overall conversion rate (and, therefore, the number of leads they receive).

How Can I Begin To Align Organic Search to Performance Goals?

Areej Abu Ali, founder of Women In Tech SEO, says the easiest way to align organic search to core business goals is to “research to find out how to get there. If you have an operations partner who can help get you the data you need or a reporting admin, use them. Much of this data is available for paid media teams. The framework exists. There may be some work to get SEO connected to that data. Do the work.” Much of the requisite work will involve other marketing partners and – depending on your current tech stack – can be a much longer process. To start that process:

  • Talk to your CMO to understand what dashboards or reports currently exist across the broader team. Find out who creates those reports and the value your leaders find in them. Are those reports created by marketing or by another team, such as sales or revenue operations? 
  • Work directly with others creating these reports to see how and where they are pulling their information. Often, the paid marketing team can be your best resource as they are often closest to performance metrics that your leaders care about. You can also often align the performance of paid keywords against organic keywords as a first step. 
  • Follow their process, augmenting for organic search. If this is too big of an ask at this time, consider using Google Analytics reports seeing what the next level of your organic reporting can be. Looking at organic against existing eCommerce dashboards or even goal reporting can provide a fresh look.
  • Is there a report another team uses that you wish you could use to report on organic? Sometimes, even justifying a message you’d like to see from another channel leader can be a starting ground for partnering with someone with such as a Salesforce admin or reporting analyst to replicate for organic search.
  • Do some of the terms above seem unfamiliar to you? Are you unsure what attribution is in terms of marketing? If so, it can be helpful to look into a local course or even a LinkedIn Learning course to understand better marketing attribution and how to “talk the talk” of your revenue-focused peers. 

Starting with these steps allows you to begin positioning organic search as the powerful marketing engine it truly is in your organization. Effective digital transformation should prioritize efficient, scalable discovery for your digital properties. That means building everything from teams and reporting with organic search in mind, not as a checkbox or cost-center you can deal with later or throw money at if something goes wrong. The ROI of SEO will continue to become a more valuable part of the digital equation as the ecosystem around digital transformation continues to expand.

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