This is a very personal article because it is entirely my own opinion based on my own, empirical experience. I head up an Internet marketing company which offers a full range of online services, and the three core strengths of my firm are SEO, PPC and Social Media. Of these three, which single technique delivers the greatest Return on Investment (ROI).
My Personal Bias and Objectivity
My firm handles clients across the country and overseas, and if we have a service bias I would say we have 40% SEO clients, 40% PPC clients and 20% Social Media. Of all three services we have offered SEO the longest.
With that admission, let’s turn to what has been the most successful at generating ROI for clients and for my own businesses.
The greatest ROI generating activity is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). By far and away, SEO produces the lowest cost per lead, the largest volume of leads and the best leads in terms of quality. The same also applies to online sales where there is an eCommerce function: again SEO visitors trump PPC and Social Media in terms of quality and also in terms of the size of purchase they are prepared to make.
The drawback with SEO is that it can take some time to get to the ranking sweet spots for the selected keyword terms. There is also the risk associated with failing to get the keywords right, gaining ranking for them but only to find they do not convert. Overall though, good quality SEO work improves the health of the entire site, so it is not a major deal if you have to tweak the keywords you are looking to rank for and switch direction.
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For my money, I invest in SEO first.
I like to run SEO and PPC at the same time wherever possible, because PPC is extremely sensitive and responsive. In some instances, PPC is better than SEO, especially for high-value, short term campaigns. Overall though, I relegate PPC to second place because though it is fast and you are able to establish absolute financial control, there is no long lasting benefit from PPC.
A big issue I find with clients allocating budgets is that they go for the quick fix provided by PPC. Success with that allocation leads to further allocations, more success and a repeat of the cycle. What happens is that SEO takes a backseat to the PPC train, and the budget allocation becomes heavily biased to PPC over SEO.
This is a bad move from a business perspective. SEO consistently provides better leads, more sales and more ROI than PPC, plus once you start PPC you are effectively in a position where you must keep on paying or cutoff your pipeline. In my opinion, clients need to see past the short term and think about the long-term health of the pipeline they are creating.
Now this may get me into trouble with a lot of people, but the ROI does not lie. Social Media does not generate significant ROI in my experience. More than this, the leads and sales it does generate are not usually of such great quality, and for a small to medium-sized business, the sums recovered over the investment do not typically result in a positive ROI.
What I’m saying is: Social Media does not result in a positive ROI. Facebook Likes, Google Plusses or a mention in LinkedIn are not reliable ROI metrics to measure. At present, I consider Social Media has no place in the online sales function and should be relegated to the marketing department where brand awareness and consumer education are more important.
This doesn’t mean there is no place for Social Media – far from it – not least because it is a ranking signal for SEO. But what it does mean is that you must be very careful in terms of budget allocation and understand exactly what is being measured to produce your ROI.
SEO first and it should take most of the online marketing budget. PPC second and typically run alongside your SEO campaign – use PPC as the scout for testing new keyword terms and markets. Social Media a distant third, but this may change as the advertising and monetization issues become worked out, but this not today.