In-house SEO is difficult.
It provides a unique set of challenges that aren’t as frequently discussed in the SEO community as they should be.
For example, you might be the best in the world in terms of identifying and debugging SEO issues, but unless you know how to work with internal teams, develop business cases, communicate with clarity, and really sell the value of your channel, you will struggle to get anything done at all.
For this reason, I wanted to share my experiences on addressing one of the biggest issues I believe in-house SEO professionals face:
Developing a proposal to secure budget or resource for an SEO initiative.
Here are 10 tips that will make building SEO business cases a lot easier.
1. Establish a Forecast
I can imagine this point is going to be controversial because few (if any) of us in the SEO industry truly enjoy forecasting session growth.
There are so many variables we have no control over. That can make the forecasting process extremely uncomfortable.
Notwithstanding this, I like to think of forecasting for SEO as a necessary evil, particularly if you work in-house and want to get things done.
My approach is to avoid developing a percentage growth forecast for every individual SEO initiative or technical fix.
Instead, build out a longer-term forecast for a 12-18 month period that you can then refer to in all your business cases moving forward.
The reason for this is to encourage stakeholders to look at the bigger picture and move away from the idea that you can accurately and confidently report the impact of individual technical optimizations in isolation.
There are lots of good resources out there around forecasting for SEO – Distilled, for example, has a great resource and tool for statistical forecasting.
An approach I’ve found useful is to create a forecast with three trend lines:
- Flat performance.
- Targeted SEO growth.
- Aggressive SEO growth.
When I make a proposal, I’ll always try and fit it into the context of these three trend lines.
My angle is that, “Unless you give me the resource I need to progress with this initiative, we’re less likely to hit the session growth agreed on.”
If you can fit this session growth forecast alongside a commercial one (remembering this doesn’t just mean driving sales, but can also factor in reducing Google Ads spend), it will make your argument even more compelling.
2. Follow a Structured Approach
I find great comfort in routine and process, so it should come as no surprise that I strongly advocate developing a structured approach for SEO business cases.
Well-structured business cases will allow you to focus on what really matters, without getting stuck in the weeds.
A structure I’ve used in my business cases looks something like this:
- Problem: A simple problem statement identifying the issue you’re trying to fix, or the opportunity you’ve spotted.
- Hypothesis: A summary of why this problem is happening.
- Suggested Fix: An approach you’d like to take to address the issue in the problem statement.
- Anticipated Outcome: The result you expect the suggested fix to have (tip: make this about revenue).
Generally speaking, if you are an in-house resource, people trust that you are the expert. They don’t want to have their hand held through the intricacies of a proposal.
This means you don’t have to take them step-by-step through your research process, for example. If you do, you’ll probably lose them by the time you get to “the ask.”
Another reason this approach is useful is if you are working with project managers.
A structure like the one proposed above helps frame a proposal as a user or feature story – and this is a language or framework that PMs understand.
It can really help to get your tasks prioritized within all the other initiatives they are likely being asked to juggle.
3. Focus on the Metrics That Matter (£, $, €)
When you’re pulling together your SEO business case, you need to focus on the metrics that matter.
Like it or not, these metrics are almost always going to be around revenue or anything else that affects the bottom line.
Let’s say you’re making a business case for the implementation of schema and you need to secure development time, or budget to work with a development partner.
When you put forward your proposal to the decision maker, don’t focus on the merits of JSON-LD vs. Microdata or all the great research you’ve done into schema.
You might find that interesting, but it really has little bearing on their decision.
As my colleague, Stephan Bajaio says, all you’ll do is “raise wristwatches when you want to raise eyebrows.”
Instead, focus on the outcome.
Use the data at your disposal (historical and current) around conversion rate, margin, average order value, lifetime value, MCF (Multi-Channel Funnel) attribution, and whatever else is relevant to your organization to form a compelling argument.
Let’s take another hypothetical example and say that you’ve got a technical fix you need addressed to improve crawl efficiency:
- Why do you want to improve crawl efficiency? To make it easier for Google to crawl and index your website.
- Why do you want the site to be easier for Google to crawl? To give important pages a better chance of ranking.
- Why do you want to give those pages a better chance of ranking? To get more organic traffic into the site.
- Why do you want more organic traffic coming in? To generate more revenue.
In essence, it’s the job of your proposal to connect the dots between the first question above and the final answer with a compelling, but lightweight narrative.
Do that, and you’re giving yourself the best chance of getting the buy-in you need.
4. Use Plain English & Know Your Audience
This is pretty self-explanatory, but knowing your audience and using the right language to address them is a point worth reinforcing.
If you’re reporting to the C-Suite, a UX team, PMs (or pretty much any non-SEO people), don’t waste their time with technical jargon.
If you’re speaking to a development lead, don’t waste their time with marketing jargon (and as I’ll mention in point 6, don’t expect them to understand your tech SEO terminology just because they work in development).
Brevity is your friend.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”
Focus on the “need-to-know” without the waffle – and you will increase the number of your SEO business cases that get actioned.
Know who you need to get buy-in from for your proposal and tailor it to them using the language that they are going to respond to.
5. Reference Direct Competitors as Use Cases
It’s always useful to reference direct competitors as use cases in an SEO proposal.
It’s powerful to be able to say, “these competitors are doing this and they outperform us by this.”