So, you’re trying to finish up your budget for next year and, just like last year, you’re trying to get funding for much-needed SEO work on your site. For whatever reason, you’ve never been able to persuade your CEO of the importance of organic search. Oh, he says that he gets it, but it never seems to make the cut when the final budgets are approved. You’re used to it, because it seems to go the same way each year.

But this year is different. It seems your CEO has heard that your #1 competitor ranks ahead of you on Google. Suddenly, you’re not the one trying to persuade him. He’s engaged this year, and he wants to know:

  1. Why haven’t you done something about this sooner?
  2. How much is it going to cost to rank higher than the competition?

I’ll leave the answer to number 1 to you.

And, no matter what the answer to number 2 is, you know that it’s tough to guarantee results from SEO, and that It’s going to cost more than your company wants to pay. Given that—and given your impending budget deadline—how do you get
your CEO to OK your SEO budget? Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Speak in your CEO’s language. If your CEO comes from a marketing background, speak in terms of brand metrics or return on advertising spending (ROAS). If your CEO has a financial background, put your focus on profits and cash flow (actually, this one’s a good idea for any CEO). That’s not to say you can’t address keywords, metadata and link-building during the discussion, but relate it back to core business drivers.
  • What’s in it for the CEO?—What problem does your CEO have that your SEO efforts will solve? This is another way of speaking in his or her language. Your CEO isn’t typically going to be worried about where you rank in search engines. CEOs worry about the market share, the bottom line or share price. Talk about how your SEO efforts will lower the cost of customer acquisition or steal share from your competition and you’re solving a real issue for the CEO.
  • Focus on results. Yes, you’re right. This is just another way of repeating the first two, but, seriously, it’s really important.
  • Do your homework. How do you speak in your CEO’s language, focus on results and solve his or her problem? By asking questions before you meet with the CEO. Read your company’s annual report. Talk to your boss and other leaders within the organization. Ideally, you’re doing this anyway. But, the better a job you do tying the cost of the efforts to real, substantive business results, the better you can expect the conversation to go.
  • Have a clear plan. This is one of the toughest ones. Even the best SEO plans sometimes struggle to improve your rankings. Make sure you can easily explain the different initiatives, the target benefits of each (not just expected benefits, but the ones you plan to achieve), the costs required and the adjustments you’re prepared to make if your results lag the plan.
  • Enlist allies. Who does your CEO respect, trust, and rely upon within the organization? Work with those individuals to understand your leadership’s concerns. And look to model their behavior when talking with the CEO. In most organizations, the people CEOs look to are the ones that produce results. You could do worse than to follow their example.
  • Be confident. As mentioned above, CEOs rely on the people that get things done. Are you one of those people? Or are you worried that your SEO efforts aren’t going to work? What can you do to address the issues? That’s not to say you shouldn’t outline the risks. But you should have a plan for dealing with the risks, too. Otherwise, why should the CEO want to spend the money?

Your CEO didn’t make it to the corner office by chasing the latest fad (well, not too many of the latest fads, anyway). Those of us who spend all our time working on the Web know that SEO is no fad. But the ongoing changes in the search industry make it difficult to for your CEO to know what’s important and what to believe. If you want him or her to say “yes” to your SEO plan, the most important thing for your CEO to believe is you.

Image by oooh.oooh via Flickr