Search engine optimization (SEO) is great in theory — if done properly, your business will be more likely to show up in higher search engine results pages, which will bring you more traffic, more potential customers, and hopefully, more conversions. The more money and effort you put into your campaign, the better results you’ll see, but there’s another factor you’ll have to consider: ROI.
Return on investment (ROI) is exactly what it sounds like: the quantifiable benefits you receive from the money you put in. Increasing your budget will almost always lead to better results, but only if you spend it wisely. If you aren’t budgeting your investment effectively, you could end up wasting your potential returns. For example, if you allocate your $500 monthly budget to focus $200 on content, $100 on social media, and $200 on link building, you’ll see different results than if you try a $50/400/50 respective split.
Learning how to break down your SEO campaign budget effectively is essential for any search marketer. In this article, I’ll introduce you to the basics of campaign budgeting and how to ensure you get the most for your investment.
Setting Your Goals
Before you establish where your budget should go, you’ll have to establish clear goals for the bulk of your campaign. Two similar companies may have very different visions for their respective optimization strategies, and will therefore need different budgets.
Visibility, Traffic, or Conversions?
First, think about what you’re really looking to get from your SEO strategy. Are you trying to get more visibility for your brand? Are you hoping for more conversions? Are you only looking for more traffic? You’ll have to allocate your budget differently based on these needs; for example, if you want more brand visibility you’ll have to allocate more money to social media activity, but if you’re only interested in more conversions, on-site optimization and content are more important.
Mapping Out a Timetable
You’ll also need to consider a timetable for your goals, especially when determining the total amount of money you’re willing to spend. Higher total budgets do lead to faster results, but investing your money differently can favor short-term or long-term benefits. For example, putting money into your on-site content strategy is more of a long-term investment than the comparably short-term investment of buying paid ads.
With your goals in place, you should be primed to determine which areas of SEO are most important to invest in. Depending on those goals, you may wish to allocate your budget differently, but as a general rule of thumb, there are three main pillars of SEO. In descending importance they are: content and onsite optimization, link building and brand mentions (offsite optimization), and social activity.
Content and Onsite Optimization
This is the most important investment for the majority of SEO campaigns, so unless you have a specific goal that demands a different allocation, you should focus a healthy majority of your budget to onsite optimization and ongoing onsite content. This is the fuel that will give you the greatest long-term increase in domain authority and the greatest propensity to increase the brand loyalty of your audience.
Link Building and Brand Mentions
Your next priority, again as a general rule, is off-site optimization — namely building links and brand mentions off your site, on quality, authoritative, relevant publications. This strategy is good for developing greater brand recognition, but only if you invest in relationships with high-profile, relevant publishers.
Social Media and Bookmarking
Social media marketing is a valuable online marketing strategy, and contributes significantly to SEO campaigns as well, but isn’t quite as important, from an SEO perspective, as on-site and off-site optimization (for most businesses). Still, it requires a minimum investment to ensure Google has ample sources for information on your business. Whether you scale up your strategy from there as an ongoing intensive effort is up to you, up to your goals, and up to your other priorities.
Finally, you’ll have to determine how you want to allocate your resources (time and money). There are two main choices here, though you may opt for a hybrid strategy: you can either hire in-house workers to handle your work or outsource your work to an external professional.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Generally, for higher budgets and better-established companies, hiring an in-house expert is both cost-effective and convenient. However, lower budgets almost demand external specialists — because in outsourcing you only pay for services you actually use (rather than an ongoing strategy), you’ll usually end up paying less money, and you’ll have niche specialists working on your individual tasks rather than a single generalist. The flip side is, you’ll lose a bit of control and a bit of transparency.
For many companies, a hybrid approach is the best model. Under this approach, you’ll have one or two people working full- or part-time for your company and a network of external contacts on whom you can rely for any additional work that falls outside of your core workers’ areas of expertise. This will also give you more control over how your budget is spent on a day-to-day basis.
Your SEO budget needs to be an evolving strategy. After a few months of implementation, you’ll quickly learn which strategies are best for your brand and which resources are or are not working. You might also find a problem area — such as a lack of conversions — that needs extra attention. Your success will depend on your ability to adjust your budget on the fly and respond to changing needs in a timely and appropriate manner.