How to Get SEO Budgets Approved and Technical SEO Fixes Prioritized and Implemented

If you have a technical background like me and need to explain the value of your work to potential clients or senior management, you are likely very familiar with this situation:

You: “We have 10 million missing meta descriptions on the site. We need to fix them asap or we are not going to increase our rankings and hit our goals!”

Your boss: “Ok. How much is it going to cost to fix?”

You: “Here is the spreadsheet. Only 200k dollars, and it will take 10 months to complete.”

Your boss: “How much do we stand to gain after we do this?”

You: “Heh … I don’t know. It is not possible to estimate this.”

Your boss: “Ok. We need to prioritize other projects where we know upfront the potential return.”

This situation is similar with consulting discussions with potential clients. Traffic and revenue increases are a major concern for marketing and sales leaders, but budgets are prioritized where there is a clear potential return on investment. While investment in SEO activities continues to increase, it remains a fraction of the investment on paid search. Investment in SEO has remained what I call gambling money. A small fraction of marketing budgets allocated to important, but high risk, investments that are likely to not pay off. A big consequence of this is that many companies pay for SEO audits, and do nothing about them when they realize the effort required to implement them.

For the past 5 years, my business has been primarily selling technical SEO services to marketing leaders at medium and large business, and I came up with an SEO unclaimed revenue estimation framework that has helped me translate my value add clearly. I call this framework The SEO Pipeline. In this post, I’m going to share it with you with the hope it can help you create solid business cases to get your budgets and projects approved.

Sales and Marketing Pipelines

Credit: http://bit.ly/2jMahCA

Sales and marketing people are intimately familiar with the concept of funnels and pipelines. It is a very powerful concept to 1) see what prospects to prioritize; 2) see the total revenue potential of the existing opportunities; and, 3) determine what additional work is required to hit sales targets.

Now, you might be wondering: “what does this have to do with technical SEO issues?” Stay with me for a bit, and you will find out. I promise it will be worth it.

The basic sales pipeline consists of three major parts:

The Body: Sales Steps

The Brain: The Probability of Closure

The Heart: Weighted Target

The Body: Sales Steps

A sales pipeline represents all of the steps you need to take in order to sell a product or a service to your customer. It’s a process in which every action needs to be made in a particular, predetermined order, as you successfully close each stage of the pipeline before moving on to the next one.  

It always depends on whose definition you’re looking at, but experts generally agree the fewer stages in the pipeline, the better. Typically, these five stages are present in most sales pipelines:

  1. Initial Contact
  2. Qualification
  3. Meeting
  4. Proposal
  5. Closing

The Brain: The Probability of Closure

This part represents the probability of selling your product during a particular sales step. The probability of closing increases the further down in the pipeline you are.

The Heart: Weighted Target

“Weighted target is equal to the sum of the total opportunity value in each sales step multiplied by the probability of closure for that step.” – David Brock partnersinexcellenceblog.com

Let’s jump to a relatively similar idea in the SEO space and you will see how I connected both ideas to come up with my approach to SEO revenue estimation.

SEO 101

Every SEO worth hiring understands how search engines work, but to keep this explanation complete, let’s review a quick summary of the basics. Feel free to jump to the SEO pipeline section if you already know this.

Google sends Googlebot, a distributed system that is fetching pages and all sorts of resources from all sites it can discover from around the web. This is an ongoing process that is taking place all the time. This process is called crawling.

You can review Googlebot’s daily activity on your website inside Google Search Console > Crawl > Crawl Stats.

As Dawn Anderson accurately points out, the Crawl Stats report is not limited to “pages”, but it includes any page resources (images, JavaScript, CSS, etc), and also redirects, but it excludes errors and blocked pages.

Google stores these pages fetched in a cache, and you can check if Google grabbed specific pages on your site by typing cache:<url> in a Google search. If you get an error, the page has not been crawled or Googlebot didn’t like it because it was a duplicate.

Next, Google needs to organize all the pages fetched into an index so they are easy to find fast by performing searches. This process is called indexing.

BTWGoogle is moving to prioritize a mobile-first index as they announced last November. Cindy Krum has a great series on the implications of this move. Definitely, worth a good read.

You can review how many pages and resources Google has indexed from your site inside Google Search Console > Google index > Index Status.

This report includes all the pages Google considers canonicals and non-duplicates; however, if your site canonicalization is not setup correctly, you might end up seeing more pages indexed than there should be.

The final step is ranking, and it is the step most people are familiar with. Many marketing leaders I talk to only understand SEO as higher rankings, but before their site pages rank they need to be actually indexed.

Google Search Console offers the best keyword rank checking tool on the planet because among many other cool things, you are able to find pages that rank high, but are not getting any clicks.   

Thanks to this, I like to split the ranking process in two: ranking and results presentation.

Results presentation means that it is not enough to just rank, you also need a compelling message in the search results or people won’t click. You can download the pages into Google Sheets and filter the pages to get the pages with impressions but no clicks, and the pages getting clicks.

So, now that we covered the basics and where to find the fundamental building blocks, let me explain the concept of the SEO pipeline.

The SEO Pipeline

Just like the sales pipeline, our SEO pipeline consists of three major parts:

The Body: The Search Engine Stages

The Brain: The Probability of Search Visitor Action

The Heart: Weighed Target

The Body: The Search Engine Stages

An SEO pipeline represents the steps a search engine takes before your site pages actually receive new search visitors that take action on your site (place an order).

Each step represents a single or group of actions that need to be taken in order to push pages past that phase of the SEO process and move to the next one within the SEO pipeline.

An SEO pipeline has 5 stages:

  1. Crawling
  2. Indexing
  3. Ranking/relevance
  4. Results presentation
  5. Search visitor action

The Brain: The Probability of Search Visitor Action

The probability of search visitor action shows you the likelihood of pages (or group of pages) that still remain at that step, moving through all the stages and ultimately leading to leads or sales.

The Heart: Weighed Target

When people try to sell, we came up with the process for how to try to assess how much opportunity is in the other two stages of the SEO process.

The SEO pipeline process is similar to the already proven sales process of a sales pipeline. If you look at website pages as prospects, you see the prospect turn into a lead when the page is crawled and indexed, an opportunity as it starts to rank, and if it has the right message it gets a click and turns into an account so that if you’re selling something there is a possibility of a sale.

Another advantage of a SEO pipeline is that we can estimate how much money there is in the pipeline and the probability of the website making money. In the sales pipeline, at the initial contact the probability of closing is not that high, just like it’s not high at the crawling stage.

The probability of the website making money increases as the pages are found and indexed. This is something we try to assess: the opportunity. Measuring the opportunity on the unclaimed revenue is based on how many pages are left at each of the SEO pipeline stages.

Let’s discuss a couple of practical examples next as you now know where to find the right reports to produce an SEO pipeline for your site.

But before we do that, we need to know where to find pages that resulted in transactions. As we use Google Search Console to estimate most of the data, it is important to also use the Search Console reports in Google Analytics to estimate this. That is Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages. Then use the Advanced Filter to limit the pages to the ones with transactions and/or revenue.

Practical Example

If the search engine crawls 8,597 pages, and ultimately 147 of those pages lead to search visitor actions, you have a probability of 1.71% at the crawling stage.

A typical SEO pipeline could have the following probability of search visitor action for each step:

Crawling: 1.71%

8,597 unique* pages crawled

147 pages with transactions (1.71%)

 

Indexing: 4.03%

3,651 pages indexed

147 pages with transactions (4.03%)

 

Ranking/relevance: 6.07%

2,427 pages with search impressions

147 pages with transactions (6.07%)

 

Results presentation: 8.81%

1,668 pages with search visits

147 pages with transactions (8.81%)    

Search visitor action: 100%

 

*In order to get accurate crawling, you need to parse the server logs

Consider each page on your site as potentially driving or influencing sales. When we have a page in the SEO pipeline, we need to know:

  1. What is the average number of transactions on the page (or page group)?
  2. What is the average order value of the transactions coming through the page (or page group)?

Each page has its own specific value, which can be used to prioritize which pages should make it through all the stages, maximizing the potential results.

To simplify things, we will use the global average values: 3.44 average transactions, $108.70 per transaction. For real results, we need to consider the metrics for the page groups or pages left at each stage.

The opportunity at each stage is represented by the number of pages yet to move to the next one.

 

Crawling : 1.71%

8,597 unique pages crawled

Opportunity: (8597 – 3651) * 1.71% = 85

Opportunity Value: 85 * 3.44 * 108.70 = $31,783.88

 

Indexing: 4.03%

3,651 pages indexed

Opportunity: (3651 – 2427) * 4.03% = 49

Opportunity Value: 49 * 3.44 * 108.70 = $18,322.47

 

Ranking/relevance: 6.07%

2,427 pages with search impressions

Opportunity: (2427 – 1668) * 6.07% = 46

Opportunity Value: 46 * 3.44 * 108.70 = $17,200.68

 

Results presentation: 8.81%

1,668 pages with search visits

Opportunity: (1668 – 147) * 8.81% = 134   

Opportunity Value: 134 * 3.44 * 108.70 = $50,106.35

Search visitor action: 100%

 

The weighted target is equal to the sum of the total opportunity value in each SEO phase multiplied by its probability of search visitor action. In this case: $117,413.38.

Now, if you are still awake and followed the whole thing, let’s discuss the cool implications of this powerful concept.

Conclusion

Whenever there are projections and estimates, there are assumptions that need to hold true. In our case, we are collecting data from Google Search Console, Google Analytics, and web server logs to get more accurate crawling numbers. But, the fundamental assumption is that probabilities of pages leading up to sales at the end of the SEO pipeline must remain true. This is also the same case in sales projections estimated from sales funnels. In practice, what most organizations do is know they ultimately close 20-30% of the opportunities in their sales pipeline, and plan accordingly. I think we can develop the same discipline to see what we realistically realize from the SEO pipeline in practice.

We need to know that it is not possible to get all pages crawled, to be indexed, etc. The same limitations are in the marketing and sales funnels. But, this funnel concept allows us to: 1) prioritize which SEO activities are the lowest hanging fruit in terms of producing revenue; and, 2) confidently present projects for evaluation and budget approvals backed by this simple framework, which most marketing leaders I’ve shown this to get immediately.

Now, let’s replay that initial conversation with your boss, but this time you are armed with an SEO Pipeline.

You: “We have 10 million missing meta descriptions on the site. We need to fix them asap or we are not going to increase our rankings and hit our goals!”

Your boss: “Ok. How much is it going to cost to fix?”

You: “Here is the spreadsheet. Only 200k dollars, and it will take 10 months to complete.”

Your boss: “How much do we stand to gain after we do this?”

You: “Approximately $1 million … “

You: “See here this SEO Pipeline … see how many pages are not getting clicks, and their potential”

Your boss: “I get it! … You are a genius! Let’s do it”

You: “Ok. “hum … about my promotion??”

Your boss: “Let’s see if this works first :)”

Last, but not least, if you like this concept, and would rather not complete the pipelines manually, consider signing up for our upcoming free, cloud-based SEO auditing tool https://www.ranksense.com/advisor/, which will incorporate this SEO pipeline concept. As an early adopter, you get a generous free tier limit of 10k URLs.