SEO Is Not A Marketing Channel

Dear SEOs – tell me if any of these scenarios sound familiar:

“Hi SEO person – we need you to increase our ranking for these three keywords! Let me know when you’ve done that.”

“SEO department – this is your goal for the year, increase organic traffic by 25%!”

“SEO person – the site is a mess, fix it, optimize it, and then show me how much more traffic we’re getting as a result, if your changes don’t move the needle, you failed.”

And you wonder why people result to black hat tactics and spam? What’s usually trying to be communicated here is that the business wants more organic traffic and it’s the task of the SEO team to do it. The problem is, this task cannot be accomplished by an SEO alone. They need support and alignment with content production teams, web dev, social teams, PR teams and other marketing teams to really move the needle and increase online visibility and relevance.

Recommended for YouWebcast: Winning with Data: Drive Leads & Marketing ROI across All Channels & Campaigns

Before: Siloed, Team to Channel

After: Integrated – All Teams all Channels!

These guys get it – SEO is changing – SEO ROI doesn’t make sense.

SEO is about aligning digital marketing efforts (and in some cases traditional marketing) with the best practices and guidelines presented by Google and other search engines so that:

A: You aren’t getting less organic traffic than you could be. It’s like buying a Porche and then putting bald used tires on it. You’re not able to maximize the true performance of the car. Just like your fancy need blog post that took you a month of research to put together, but has no H1s, half the text in an image and a stuck with a default title tag.

B: You’re mitigating risk. Google is on the spam hunt more than ever, and if the SEO team isn’t involved with things like blogger outreach and social, next thing you know you have paid links all over the place and you’re slapped with a nice penalty. Or this nice new affiliate network is driving tons of traffic but the vendor doesn’t No Follow the links. It’s not their fault; they’re just trying to get coverage and impressions to drive traffic. They just aren’t aware of the risks, but that’s why you’re here!

So yes – many times when you accomplish A and B you’ll see increases in organic traffic and keyword rankings. Sometimes even amazing ones! Which is why SEO has been seen as the hero over the years and has earned its way into C suite conversations.

My experience with search marketing has not only allowed me to learn how search engines work from a technical perspective – but also how the internet works, and how people consume, search for and share great content. I’m sure that’s the case with many of you as well. So it’s a natural fit for us to be involved in strategic planning of content strategies and promotional efforts.

So the questions and expectations need to start sounding more like this:

“SEO team – I need you to ensure our content marketing efforts are optimized for search so we can grow our organic channel.”

“SEO team – I need a technical audit of our site architecture to ensure we have an optimal ‘user experience’ for search bots so we can maximize our organic channel.”

“SEO team – I need research conducted to assist our content marketing production plans and promotion efforts – what are people searching for that we should satisfy? Who are influencers in our space that we should be writing content for and reaching out to?”

There is a lot of value an SEO team or agency can bring including answers to these questions. And yes, increases in traffic and keyword rankings CAN be a result of a good SEO teams efforts and how well they work together with other teams. Those metrics should continue to be measured and reported – just not seen as the only litmus test for success.

If you’re doing the right thing and aligning with best practices and reducing risk, that is a victory in itself. Don’t be so quick to say it was a worthless waste of time like you would another marketing channel that didn’t produce the expected return on ad spend.

When SEOs are taken out of their silo and all areas of the marketing teams are well integrated and focused on organic traffic as a key channel, that is what produces excellent targeted content that’s promoted and shared – and that’s what can truly make an impact on all traffic channels!

But I’m a realist as well. I get it. I understand that sometimes the only way to get budget in this world is if you can prove value! Show numbers! Increases! Growth! Especially when it’s marketing budget.

But does web security have to show it’s value in the same way? Does the legal department justify its cost? Accounting? Probably not in the same fashion. The value of these services and departments is well known and inherent, and it’s time SEO is seen in a similar light when it comes to digital marketing.

“Mitch those are apples and oranges you’re comparing there!” you might shout. I understand, but my point is that expecting ROI from SEO in a vacuum is a mistake. Instead, expect SEO to be an integral part of digital marketing initiatives to create better research, optimized content and targeted promotion. Organic traffic is the channel you’re trying to increase and the SEO team alone will not make the greatest impact.

Comments: 2

  • Gareth Ellis says:

    I think the key here is relevance too (controversially) who cares about organic search rankings if all your customers hang out on Pinterest or Facebook. Likewise traffic in itself doesn’t matter so much if its not providing benefit for the visitor, be that good content, products etc. I Agree completely that SEO encompasses any means whereby you are connecting the customer to the company, whether it is back links, outreach, PPC, social. Use what is effective for the customer

  • Daniel Daines-Hutt says:

    Hey Mitch,

    Totally on the money here.

    Its more than a single channel, and PR has more to do with great content marketing and seo today than ever.

    Its been proven that outreach is the new king in 2015.

    We saw you linked to the SEJ article on DM ROI, it actually inspired us to write a 10,000 word beast on the subject…(We got a little too invested in it perhaps!)

    You do need to measure your roi, but you also have to understand the relevance of changes now, and what it all breaks down into.

    Look at some of the biggest companies who have grown through SEO. It wasn’t an overnight success, but they stuck with it. Its an exponential growth, and some companies see huge % increases in not only organic traffic, but referrals as a result.
    Your growing your rankings and brand positioning at the same time!

    The biggest issue we find is that most business owners either dont know how to track seo/digital marketing roi, or they simply don’t track other forms of advertising/marketing and compare it.

    When you look at some traditional budget spends and their ROI….it blows the mind how poorly they compare against digital.

    We tried to help change this in our article

    It basically teaches business owners how to track and see if digital marketing is worthwhile for them.

    It measures the current roi of their site, the potential market, the potential roi if you acquire that market and how to track and measure the results at

    (It also has handy roi calculators, video guides and step by step blueprints)

    We would love your feedback if you get the chance?

    We appreciate how busy you are!

    Thanks again Mitch for a great read


    Daniel Daines-Hutt

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