SEO Priorities – Task ROI

SMS Text

I was going to sit down and write a post with my usual brand of geekiness. You know, some more eye-watering patent or IR paper analysis that the search world uses to get to sleep at night?  Then I thought of something worth getting off my chest that seems not to get enough attention out there…Since this is a ‘Search Biz’ article, right?

You see, I recently co-hosted a chat session (in zee Dojo) with the lovely Dana Lookadoo on ‘the Business of SEO’ which the gang seemed to be quite keen on. It is interesting that we don’t talk more about it. As we were musing (about a wide variety of topics from proposals to contracts), I touched on what I lovingly term; Task ROI. And it seems to often be an alien concept…or at least one not openly discussed.

So, if you will spare a few moments, allow me to share…


What is Task ROI?

Search engine optimization is never in a void. It is never a best case scenario. As long as there are budgets (clients, in-house, agency) there are going to be limitations to any SEO program. If you read the blog-o-sphere, took some courses, no matter how you keep on top of things, it is generally the whole ball of wax approach. This can be a flawed business model.

What I mean by that is if you did every possible SEO tactic that we hear about; would it really be an effective use of time? When we do business in this thing of ours, we must always be cognisant of the budgets in play and try to get the most bang from the buck.


  • Sure, you could spend all day tweaking semantic phrase relations on some third tier pages or you could be working on new content to attract links on core target terms. Which are you going to do?
  • You could re-write the entire content management system to get a some slightly better architecture or URL structure. But is it worth the cost?
  • We could spend weeks crafting crap hat link wheels or spend that time working content strategy and doing outreach for links instead?

Getting the idea here? And even those situations are not always straight forward. With different sites of different ages, different sizes, will require different answers. What you should always bear in mind is that each activity will have a cost (in time and resources) and efficacy.

Task ROI for SEO

Know your site: Know your SERPs

Now that we have the concept, it is time to implement it in the most effective way. This is where SEO becomes more of an art. You will need to be intimate with the site you are working on to know where the strengths and weaknesses are. Each and every site is unique. There is no catch-all solution nor tactic that is going to be best suited to every situation.

I cannot do that for you…. This is where experience comes into play.

You need to assess each situation inclusive of budgetary limitations and create a program that gets the most for the least. Some elements worth considering include;

  1. Implementation schedule – how easily can the change be made?
  2. Value of activity – what are the expected (SEO) outcomes from the activity?
  3. Conversion potential – will it increase primary or secondary conversions?
  4. Cost v reward – what portion of the budget for what results?
  5. Future proofing– does the activity stand up over time? (more here)

This can be particularly important these days with the increase in local/universal search as well as the spectre of social search. Where does one invest their time in these? What content strategies are needed to make use of them and how will we get the investment back? Personally real-time/social search hasn’t made the kind of inroads that would support specific targeting unless there were active PR/social programs already in place.

This helps to highlight the concepts to be considered for each action taken.


Provide a service of value

And so the next time you are reading about some SEO theory… considering implementing a given strategy, stop for a moment. You need to weigh the resources at hand and the potential benefit from any optimization tactic. You simply cannot operate from the void and start being an SEO sheeple and doing everything some blog said was ‘good SEO’. That simply isn’t realistic.

You might also want to stop and consider the advice given in the SEO world without qualification. Your situation is unique… thus your programming must be as well. When deciding which tactics to use, which changes to implement; always think Task ROI. It cannot be stressed enough that many times the success of a given SEO program (from a investment standpoint) is going to be dependent on the decisions you make along the way.

Feel free to share your own approaches to prioritizing in the comments


David Harry aka the Gypsy

The name is David (aka the Gypsy), I run the SEO Training Dojo, do consulting and manage SEO campaigns while getting geeky at my day blog about SEO stuff. You can also catch my weekly Search and Social news here on SEJ! Thanks for riding along.

David Harry
David Harry is an SEO and IR geek that runs Reliable SEO, blogs on the Fire Horse Trail and is the head geek at the SEO Training Dojo.
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Christopher Masiello

    Spend 95% of your time creating content that is good. Part of this creation time should include building good SEO into the content.
    Title, headings with keywords, tags, accurate keyword packed descriptions, good image titles and ALT tags.
    If you do this while you are creating good content, you don’t really need to spend time going back and tweaking on-page SEO.
    Do it right the first time and you’ll do it once.

  • David Harry

    Well there’s a problem there my friend… SEO is like martial arts to me. All things being equal, size wins out. In SEO terms, this means that if all things are equal in off site elements (links to said content) the the guy with better on-site wins.

    Let us also consider the entire web is NOT articles and blogs. There are plenty of non-informational spaces (such as ecommerce) that require a different tactic than simply ‘putting content out’. You need not only a strong on site optimization strategy, but content strategy, outreach and so much more. This makes the point… one needs to establish the weaknesses and work towards working on them from a value first approach.

    End of the day, I have content as good as yours, who wins the query space is going to depend on not only the strategy I am using, but how effectively I am using my time. There is sooooo much more than “Title, headings with keywords, tags, accurate keyword packed descriptions, good image titles and ALT tags.”

    Thus I make a living doing this… hehe… People want to think small, that’s fine, leaves more room for me to work with.

  • Jeffrey Smith


    Thanks for sharing that spectacular metric which many often overlook. Fine points indeed.

    Also, glad you slapped (ahem, I mean addressed) the first comment about obvious on page elements and content development that we all already know and practice.

    What you are referencing has a much larger scope than the technical execution, it’s like trying to compare strategies and tactics (strategy can embrace multiple tactics but it transcends each of them by design).

    Taking it a step further we now cross the line into time spent / ROI squared by automation.

    I am a firm believer in optimizing from the level of site architecture and on page to the point of being myopic; time well spent here can pay for itself ten fold to develop website authority and trust which can trump links and just content alone any day.

    But once again, this is where strategy comes into play. Do I try to match competitors page for page and link for link, or do I target the root phrase, consolidate internal link metrics and develop trust and secure the crowning most profitable keyword in the space vs. trying to keep up with their lateral strategy?

    Build a better template and you won’t have to think about content, but build more authority and your competition will hardly be able to keep up…

    All the best…

  • SEOWebHelp

    Nice work Gypsy! Your 5 points you made are more important than some people think. They should be bold instead of just something to consider. I’m always chatting with other seo gurus and some of them are just stuck into the routine of
    1. close the deal
    2. do the same basic 10 steps to success
    3. move on to the next customer

    They aren’t taking the time to dig deeper into the site and think about things like Conversion potential or Future proofing.

    – SeoWebHelp

  • Dana Lookadoo


    Cohosting our SEO Dojo training sessions about doing SEO as a business was an honor! Superb jobs explaining the importance of prioritization and expanding on your Task ROI concept.

    You well stated that “each activity will have a cost (in time and resources) and efficacy.” LOL about “SEO Sheeple,” which so adequately describes those who spend time chasing the latest shiny object.

    Jeffrey’s summary bears repeating:
    “What you are referencing has a much larger scope than the technical execution. It’s like trying to compare strategies and tactics. (Strategy can embrace multiple tactics, but it transcends each of them by design).”

    Most clients don’t know better. I’ve seen agencies provide blanket quotes for “SEO” based on site size and # of pages. They implement tactics, e.g. meta tags, after the site is designed and developed rather than a strategic design and development process based on SEO engagement.

    The result – “Agency Sheeple!”

    You’ve presented a framework to help SEOs educate clients to help them make decisions and to prioritize efforts and implementation. Otherwise, SEOs are charging clients but not fully helping them.

    What’s left are companies who get mediocre results and then complain about how much SEO cost.

  • goodnewscowboy

    I have a file within my feedreader named “Business of SEO” as well as a 3 ring binder with a “BOSEO” tab that I use for filing hard copies of posts I come across that aren’t in my stable.

    These kinda posts are far and away some of the most useful for me as I have to be able to do work for clients as well as run my business.

    And that was a GREAT dojo training session. I’m sorry I missed it live, and I’m looking forward to reading the second session transcript when it becomes available.

  • Adam J. Humphreys

    A lot of people don’t focus on what counts when doing SEO. It’s not just about clicks to a site, it’s about getting the right people to the site for a set conversion. Setting the appropriate key performance indicators (KPI) which varies from site to site is one of the main factors in any SEO blueprint or audit.

    It’s important to know our clients goals, and figure out what to focus on. What are the costs for each conversion vs the ROI? Most people don’t know that on the average ecommerce site there’s a 40% abandonement rate. Are they using web analytics/intelligence to see where they could be improving? Are they investing their money in the right places? Are they using the appropriate tags like UTM nooveride to stop other sources from getting credit for a click or the right analytics tags to prevent from getting double billed? Are they monitoring actions on the page such as how many times a video was watched with customized analytics? Most people think that SEO is a one time deal, and that’s one of the largest mistakes in our industry. I really can’t wait until there’s some ISO accreditation of some sort to at least have minimum criteria, and specifications to drop the con artists out of the game.

  • Sofiane Delloue

    Thanks David for this interesting point of view.

    Don’t you think SE will try to reach the point where it will be easier to publish good quality content than working hard on SEO techniques ?

    I noticed this change during last years. Thousands of websites work hard to get good positions in SERP’s, and then a good quality blog appears and gets a PR6 and huge SE traffic within months…

  • Greg Gillespie

    David you raise some interesting points about ROI.

    Can anyone offer a formula for calculating this?

    Results(?) / Time(effort) = ROI


    • Adam J. Humphreys

      Well you kind of have to go by statistics which are readily available through Google SERP and Adwords. Lets say our longtail keyword is “Ferrari Racing” which gets 74,000 searches globally every month. Google’s price for PPC is .79 cents for that term. On average the top 2 positions get 20-30% of the traffic. So you take the gross global monthtly searches 74000 x 15% (of traffic for that keyword roughly) = 11,100 clicks. You multiply the 11,100 x PPC .79 = $8769 monthly. We now know that this is worth roughly $8769 globally on a monthly basis. Whether it’s worth that to the client is to be determined by the clients average conversion.

      Now on a local basis in Canada, “Ferrari Racing” gets only 1900 searches a month. So we take 1900 (searches) x 15% (statistical average roughly for top 2 positions) = 285 visitors per month. 285 visitors per month x PPC .79 = $225.15. So basically if you’re a high priced SEO analyst at $200 an hour the ROI for those click conversions better be pretty high which in the case of Ferraries it certainly would be.

      The ROI is based on the KPI (Key Performance Indicator) which varies from site to site. If your site goals are just for the conversion of clicking through to view car pictures from page to page then you might be getting an extremely low ROI (if any), but if you’re a Ferrari dealership with 100k plus on average sales then the ROI potential is really high. An average conversion rate across the web is 2%. Consider 2% of 11,100 = 222 conversion potential average for “Ferrari Racing.” Imagine selling 222 ferraries at 100k+ each. Realistically though most people convert on 3 keywords or more. The above is just an example. If your prospect rate is high, and your conversion rate is low due to a high bounce/abandonment rate you might want to consider if the keyword focus is really relevant to your clients. A high converting keyword focus doesn’t always need to have high traffic.

      A crazy statistic by Jupiter Research found that 75% of people buying online advertising didn’t even know what their ROI which is insane when you think about it.

      ROI = (CON Contribution per Order ) / (Cost Per Order)
      Divide the contribution per order by the cost per order for a particular campaign.
      CON = $10 CPO = $20.
      $10 / $20 = 50% ROI

      Compare the success of your campaigns and always allocate your budget where it generates the highest ROI. “Returns” happen over time. Consider an average conversion rate is 2%

      Hope this helps ^_^

      • ankit

        imho taking the example of ferrari here
        for 1900 searches in canada ,if your site is ranking 1/2 ,you get 15% traffic apprx.
        thats 285 visitors/month.with average conversion rate(3%) you get 8-9 adsense clicks.
        google pays you 30-35% of click,also not all advertisers bid for $0.79/click,most of them bid lower.still lets consider ,79 here,you get (.79 x.35) = 0.28/click
        now, 9 clicks x 0.28/click = $2.4/month
        so here our expected ROI through adsense is $5 canada and $100/month global at max for this kw and not $225.
        i would better use other monetization for that traffic.
        @ david
        thanx for the article,i never thought valuing particular seo task in term of time i spent doing it and seo benefits they returns.

  • Melissa Fach

    IMO the best point on here for new SEOs is “Know your site: Know your SERPs”. Your right, this is where the art comes in; it is like an analytical mind game. Watching and knowing is so important…crucial. Great post.

  • Ryan

    Great post!

    Some of the lovely people here touched on metrics a bit and I think that in order to successfully maximize ROI, discipline in measurement is key. After all how can someone optimize something that they aren’t measuring correctly?

    The problem with this that I see: where does the time come from for task ROI? Speaking for myself, I feel like I already need a time machine to keep up with my workload. Don’t get me wrong, I love measurability, it makes me happy…but where should we draw the line when it comes to the time we put into metrics? In other words when do marginal returns of metrics become negative?

    Since the crux of ROI is minimizing costs in my mind, the time that we as SEOs put into task ROI is a cost. So, somewhat paradoxically, in order to ‘successfully’ and ‘accurately’ measure ROI, our own costs have to go up. I’d say that this maximizes long term ROI, but we all know time is money and it seems like we never have enough time.

    Intuition would tell us that we should measure, measure, and measure some more until the costs outweigh the benefits…but how do we know when this happens? We’d need metrics for measuring the ROI of the time we put into maximizing ROI… To me this means one thing: time tracking. It also means another thing: administrative work that detracts from actual ‘operational work.’

    Do any of you have any insights into time-tacking for optimizing task ROI? I have to say I’ve been working a lot lately to try to sort this out but have gotten a bit befuddled.


    • Adam J. Humphreys

      It’s actually super to measure in analytics and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes a week. If you’re too busy it means it’s time to hire someone to compliment your skills. Under promise, and over deliver is almost our business model.

      • SEOWebHelp

        Well put Adam. 🙂

  • Ikroh SEO

    Providing a site with powerful, unique, relevant content and providing good links to back this up is a great point which you touched on. There are many aspects to SEO which can be taken up but you will still require the content within a site to receive an increased conversion rate.

    The article you have put together here is a great idea. This will really help out beginners and more advance users within this industry as it nicely breaks up what is important.


  • Ikroh SEO

    Providing a site with powerful, unique, relevant content and providing good links to back this up is a great point which you touched on. There are many aspects to SEO which can be taken up but you will still require the content within a site to receive an increased conversion rate.

    The article you have put together here is a great idea. This will really help out beginners and more advance users within this industry as it nicely breaks up what is important.