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How To Prove The Commercial Value Of SEO To An Accountant


12th April 2017

One of the trickiest things for an SEO agency to do is tie their activity and results back to bottom line improvements. This is a challenge that intensifies when this connection must be proved to a finance team or an accountant, not a marketing team.

This is something that we recently had to deal with for one of our clients – and it got us thinking… as an agency that values transparency, we should probably write about the process we go through to make this connection.

The Situation

Let me set the scene a little. We were coming to the end of our contract with a client and there was a meeting scheduled to re-pitch to them. At first we thought it would be a fairly routine conversation…but there was a twist when we realised their finance team would be present at the meeting.

This meant close scrutiny of the numbers we’d be reporting, which would have to be communicated in a way that would be satisfying not only to a marketeer, but to someone fluent in finance.

The Challenge

The challenge is that we had achieved tremendous results. We had significantly improved organic visibility since the start of their campaign:

SearchMetrics Graph

We had keyword position reports showing ranking improvements for target keyword groups.

We had top level data from Google Analytics showing an increase in organic sessions and revenue.

However, we also knew that this information alone doesn’t cut the mustard with a finance team. What we had to do was clearly demonstrate the commercial value of those results, specifically focusing on the non-brand keyword improvements that are so often the measurement of success for an SEO agency.

The Approach

The approach we took was a simple one. It began by thinking about the data sources we have, and what their limitations are.

In this case, there were two:

Google Analytics:

We know GA can give us an absolute metric for overall organic sessions within a set timeframe. We know that we can also compare this timeframe with another timeframe, giving a general indicator for improvement or decline in performance.

Analytics Chart

Unfortunately, keyword data is restricted in GA. This means we can’t, with confidence, differentiate between how much of those sessions are from brand keywords, and how many are from non-brand.

Search Console:

We also have Search Console. This can give us an indicative view of keyword performance – it’s not the complete picture as it only shows a portion of the full dataset, but it gives us a good indication of how certain keywords and keyword groups are performing.

Disappointingly, Search Console is disconnected from Google Analytics – so there is no session or revenue data that can be attributed to the keywords it reports on.

What are we left with? On one hand we have all the session and revenue data from one source, and on the other we have the keyword data from a separate source.

What we needed to do was bring those hands together in a harmonious, and commercially savvy, clap. This is what we did:

Step 1:

The first step was to try and understand the split between brand and non-brand keywords. To get this we used the data from Search Console to define the proportion of clicks from brand and non-brand keywords.

This simple process gave us our first snippet of financial insight that might just fly with the accounting department. By attaching a number to the volume of non-brand clicks to the site, we had a cost per click (CPC) based on the fee they were paying us.

This number could be compared to the CPC being achieved by the PPC campaign – in this case trending at 30% lower – to further demonstrate the value of the service.

Side Note – At this point, it’s worth pointing out that Search Console only makes data available for 90 days. Luckily (I’m being modest… it’s nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with being a conscientious and highly skilled SEO agency), we store this data to look at over a greater period of time.

Step 2:

So we had one useful commercial metric, but this still doesn’t really relate to bottom line growth. What we needed to do was attach a revenue metric to this non-brand keyword segment of traffic that we had identified.

Cartoon Man With Money

To do this, we used our proportional split between brand and non-brand traffic to approximate what percentage of the sessions tracked in GA could have come from a non-brand search query.

Let’s say that we had seen that 80% of the keywords in Search Console were non-brand and 20% were brand. We could then make a more educated estimate that 80% of the organic sessions were from non-brand searches while the remaining 20% were branded searches.

Although 80% of the sessions came from non-brand organic search, that doesn’t mean 80% of the organic revenue did.

Brand traffic typically converts at a higher rate compared to non-brand traffic and, in many cases, with a higher average order value. Therefore, simply distributing revenue between brand and non-brand based sessions based on the split identified above would not be accurate.  It would be likely to overstate the commercial impact of the SEO campaign. An accountant may not pick up on this detail, but as a highly transparent and ethical agency we would never advocate such an approach!

What we needed was an understanding of the relative value of a brand visitor versus a non-brand visitor.  Fortunately, with the client having an established PPC campaign (also under our management), we had access to the data that we needed to inform this assumption.

Armed with this information, we were able to crunch a few numbers to make a reasonable estimation as to the value of non-brand traffic per month, above and beyond a baseline position that was taken from pre-SEO campaign data.

This obviously sounds a bit complicated, but we have created a template for these calculations which you are free to download/access here:


ACCESS NON-BRAND ORGANIC REVENUE ESTIMATION TOOL


What you’re left with after using the sheet is a revenue figure for non-brand organic search traffic – and it’s achieved by following a process that even the most cynical financier can buy into.

For commercial bonus points (the most valuable bonus points), by attaching an assumed average margin to this revenue figure, we can establish a growth in net profit. This is ultimately what an accountant needs to see to understand that their investment in a service is profitable to the business, and therefore should be continued or even increased.

In this case, we were able to make the decision simple for the client – when you can clearly demonstrate a service is making money, investment will continue.

Money and profit

The Conclusion

Demonstrating the value of SEO to a marketeer is one thing, but doing it to a finance team or accountant is a different kettle of fish.

They are significantly more motivated by the direct impact of the work on the bottom line of their business. This must be demonstrated in a language that they understand, on their terms.

There are third-party tools that will help with this process, but we have found that relying on the algorithms or other under the bonnet trickery these tools use isn’t always as effective as clearly walking someone through the logical process that has been taken to reach a conclusion.

That’s why we undertake the process outlined above – it might be more time consuming but, ultimately, it pays off.

We recognise this is only one method of doing this, and there are a multitude of ways of achieving the same result.

Why not leave a comment or let us know on Facebook or Twitter how you go about proving the value of SEO if you work in the industry, or if you’re a business owner, what would you like to see from your SEO agency?