SEO is About Revenue, Not Rankings

What I’m about to say is probably going to confuse some people. It might even upset some people. I might even cop some abuse for saying it, but fuck it, I’m going to say it anyway, because I’m tired of picking up the phone each day, having to listen to business owners complain about how they’ve been ripped off and how everyone working in the SEO industry is a scam artist.

You ready…?

SEO is about revenue, not rankings.

Ready to throw tomatoes?

Great.

Read on.

Rankings rankings rankings.

One thing that I’ve learnt having worked in the SEO space for as long as I have, is this…..

Whenever you get a new lead or prospect on a call enquiring about SEO, their entire focus will be rankings.

They’ll be on the phone saying …

  • “We need to be first page for this keyword”
  • “We need to improve our rankings”
  • “We need to rank higher in Google”

The entire discussion will be based around rankings, rankings, rankings.

Guess what happens after they’ve been paying a $2,500 invoice for 8 months?

Suddenly they realise they’ve spent $20,000 and they’re unsure if any of that money is coming back. That focus then changes from rankings to revenue and they’ll be on the phone saying ..

  • “We really need to start seeing some form of ROI”
  • “We’re not sure this is having any sort of positive impact, if things don’t pick up we’ll have to cancel”
  • “How much longer will it take for us to start getting some enquiries and making sales?”

See how that discussion has suddenly shifted away from rankings to revenue?

I sold rankings once, and it was fucked.

I’ll admit it. When I first started providing SEO services to paying clients, I just did what everyone else did.

I sold rankings.

And it was shit.

Clients would cancel, clients always seemed unhappy, many clients had completely unrealistic expectations, trying to rank difficult terms was hard, reporting seemed empty, objectives vague and over time I became burnt out from having constant, lengthy discussions with clients about why their rankings dropped 2 spots overnight.

It was exhausting.

Looking back, the biggest problem I had was that neither myself or my clients really knew if anything I was doing was having any sort of positive impact on their business. Even if their rankings had improved, it all just seemed meaningless.

I’d just send ranking reports over and hope for the best.

However I soon realised that it can be really uncomfortable finding yourself on a call with a client when they start asking questions. “Listen, John, we’ve been at this now for eight months, and we really have no idea if what you’re doing is helping us in any way.”

That’s a real shit thing to hear.

Because all they can see is money going out, which is why you have to show them money coming in.

Stop selling rankings.

I’ve been saying this for a long time now, if you’re providing SEO services and you’ve got paying clients, you must, MUST be reporting against revenue and demonstrating a return on investment. If the sole focus is rankings and you’re sending your client a confusing report each month with keywords and rankings on it, then it’s never going to work. Clients will be constantly up your ass, clients will be cancelling, leaving negative reviews and your retention rates will suck.

Instead of reporting against rankings, you’ve got to shift your focus towards helping your clients get customers and making sales.

That’s all clients care about.

Getting customers and selling shit.

So help them do that.

Clients think they know what they want, but its not what they need.

The definition of good SEO for most business owners will involve Googling themselves and pointing at the screen and saying “Look, there we are, we’re first. Brilliant.”

But this is about as simplistic as it gets and it doesn’t really mean anything. Especially if the phones aren’t ringing or they’re not making sales.

Most SEO’s will celebrate this shit by posting up screenshots in Facebook groups and forums boasting about how they ranked their clients site in 4 months for “Fluffy Bunnies” but when asked about revenue, they’re confused.

A good SEO consultant on the other hand understands exactly what the client needs, (not what they think they want) and it’s not rankings. They understand the importance of outcome. Solid results based around conversions, transactions, revenue and earnings – and in order to achieve that, they need to take into account –

  • Conversion rate optimization (CRO/CTA)
  • Accurate tracking and measuring
  • Lead value, sale value, revenue and earnings

The problem with this, is that most SEO’s simply don’t give a shit.

They don’t want to track and measure. They don’t care about revenue, and they certainly don’t give a shit about conversion rate optimization.

All they want to do is build links, post up some shitty articles, flick a report over to their client once a month and hope they pay the next invoice without asking any questions.

Should SEO’s be responsible for this other stuff?

Alright, so the question is this – should SEO’s care about the clients sales process, their ability to close, the offer, conversion rate optimization, and all that other stuff?

That’s a fair question to ask.

Many would argue against it.

Infact, I’ve seen this discussion covered a lot over the years in numerous SEO groups and forums, and it usually always ends in a shit fight.

Comments such as –

  • “All I care about is getting my clients to first page”
  • “I’m not being paid to care about the clients sales process”
  • “You can shove CRO up your ass”
  • “What they do with the leads is their problem”

It’s a hard one, because I get it.

An SEO is not a CRO specialist, nor have they been hired as a business consultant or sales coach. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t give a shit. Making very simple changes on a site by adding clear calls to action, implementing call and email tracking, understanding the clients sales process, lead/sale value, lifetime value of their customers and so on, can all help tremendously.

The thing is, it’s actually in the best interest of an SEO consultant to care about this stuff, because once you do, everything changes. You can charge more, your retention rates will soar, the client will be off your case, the constant worry about rankings and the unpredictability of the SERPs goes away, and the results become indisputable.

In other words, once you start reporting against revenue, SEO is actually easier.

SEO is a marketing channel.

SEO is a marketing channel. It’s no different to PPC, Facebook ads, Youtube ads, Linkedin, or any other form of marketing for that matter. You put a dollar in, you pull the lever and 3, 4, or 5 dollars comes out.

SEO is no different.

The problem is, *somewhere* along the line, SEO became distorted and people started selling rankings, and losing focus of what really mattered – helping businesses make sales and get customers. So we’re now in a situation whereby SEO by its true definition is about “being on the first page of Google” which is bullshit. Can you imagine if Adwords, or other forms of marketing were sold this way? SEO consultants need to shift their thinking away from “We can help you rank in Google” to “We can help you get more customers, generate more sales and increase revenue”.

But rankings, John.

Now I can just hear all the SEO’s reading this article, frothing at the mouth, rolling up their sleeves in anger about to post a really hateful comment below, or perhaps even sharing this post on Facebook (cheers) and calling me several descriptive names, but hear me out.

I’m not suggesting that rankings aren’t important.

They are.

All I’m saying is that rankings shouldn’t be the objective, nor should they be the main discussion points with your clients.

For my own client campaigns, I track a small number of keywords, (the main keywords my clients are interested in targeting) and I send this over as a PDF along with my work summary sheet and earnings report at the end of each billing cycle. Each month I host end of month strategy calls to go over this information and very rarely, if ever, do I discuss rankings with my clients. They don’t care. All they’re interested in is the earnings report.

Once a client sees they’ve made $80,000 for the month, and they’ve spent $2,500, they won’t give a shit whether they’re in position 4 or 5 for a keyword.

Educating new prospects can be challenging.

I don’t work with everyone. I’m selective about who I work with, and I make a point of being very clear at the beginning of the engagement that I’m not interested in chasing vanity metrics as part of my service delivery.

Clients need to understand the importance of focusing on the metrics that matter – sales, leads and conversions. In other words – revenue.

Having this discussion with new leads can be challenging, especially when they’re thinking rankings rankings rankings – however, once they get it, taking this approach has allowed me to close more high end campaigns than ever because typically, their response will be, “John, this is fantastic, it’s so refreshing to be speaking with someone that gets it. You’re talking my language, more customers, more sales – not bullshit like backlinks, click through rates and crawl budgets. Thank you!”

Infact, taking this angle has become my USP.

I know that most prospects have spoken to several other service providers, and they’ve probably been bombarded with all sorts of stupid shit like –

  • We can get 30% of your keywords on page 1
  • We’ll help you get 75% more visibility in search
  • We can increase your click through rates and engagement

Business owners don’t give a fuck about that, so when they pick up the phone and speak with me, and I’m talking about helping them increase revenue – its game over for the competition.

Prequalifying your leads is critical.

In order to demonstrate ROI, the numbers need to make sense.

At all levels.

  • Sale/lead value
  • Lifetime value of customer
  • Monthly revenue of business (net)

For eg, If you intend on charging $3,000 p/m for SEO, you won’t want to be working with businesses selling red widgets at $2 a pop, that are making $4,000 a month.

It just wont work.

Instead, you’ll want to be working with businesses selling red widgets at $2,500 per sale, who are making $200,000 a month.

When you’re aware of this, you’ll know exactly who your ideal clients are, you’ll be able to prequalify properly, and you’ll be able to demonstrate ROI easily.

Infact, when you get this right, its actually too fucking easy.

How to demonstrate ROI and do this right.

Alright, let’s now take a look at how this works and how you can begin implementing it yourself.

Let me tell you, if you start working this way, it will literally change everything in your SEO business – I promise you.

Firstly, determining the value of a lead or sale

First, you’ll need to make sure that the lead or sale value of the prospect is viable before you decide to work together.

Again, you don’t want to work with someone who is selling $2 red widgets. Because if they’re paying you $2,500 a month, they’ve got to be selling a shit load of red widgets in order for you to get them a positive return on investment.

Right?

So that that should always be your starting point – prequalifying the client and ensuring that the lead or sale value is a good fit.

Now there are some exceptions to that rule, and this might be where the business might be selling $2 red widgets, but they’re making $200,000 a month. In those instances, I usually work with them because –

  • They’re doing good volume
  • My $2,500 invoice each month shouldn’t bother them
  • They’ve got their shit together

TIP – Go where there’s money. Work with businesses that are doing good numbers, so you can avoid any stress and other nonsense.

Secondly, crunching the numbers

Now, if the average lead or sale is worth, say, $2,000 or $3,000, then it’s going to be an absolute no-brainer. You shouldn’t have any problems because, again, if they’re paying you, let’s say, $2,500 a month and an average sale for them is worth, say, $3,500, then you’ve only got to help them get one customer per month in order for them to be getting a positive ROI – and let’s face it, you’re going to do better than that, right?

TIP – Be sure to ask what the lead or sale value is at the low end. You need to get this number to ensure that the prospect isn’t selling $2,500 red widget *sometimes* and $2 blue widgets *most of the time*. You’ll want to do this now, not 6 months in when they surprise you and say “Oh, no we also offer a service/product that is only $25”.

Lastly, tracking conversions as a monetary value

Now, this touches on tracking conversions through Google Analytics.

This is where the magic happens.

In order to tie this in with your reporting, you will need to do the following –

  • Determined agreed lead value
  • Create goals for all events fired by calls, or forms submitted
  • Implement tracking code within your forms
  • Implement tracking code for your trackable phone numbers (Call rail or Jet interactive)
  • Test those events are firing upon form submissions and calls made
  • Show that data within either a custom dashboard or data studio

Be sure to filter out the results by traffic type organic.

You must do this, otherwise your data will be tracking conversions for every traffic source, and we don’t want that.

We want to report against SEO only.

Now, if it’s an e-commerce site, tracking sales is easy. You will have the total number of transactions, sales totals, revenue – the lot. So reporting against that for SEO is a piece of cake.

However with lead gen, where it’s customer enquiries/acquisition, and transactions that take place after that engagement, it’s a little bit different.

Here, you simply track conversions through your enquiry forms. So each and every time someone submits an inquiry through a contact form, you can track that as a completed goal within Google Analytics as a conversion tied in with a monetary value.

In other words each time someone submits an enquiry, it’s an acquired lead that has value.

Got it?

Now, don’t forget call tracking also. You can do exactly the same thing with call tracking if you use a product like CallRail or Jet Interactive.

If you don’t know what’s going on or how many calls they’re getting, that can make it quite difficult in terms of being able to accurately collect data and demonstrate the positive impact that you’re having. So to simplify it, setting goals within Google Analytics for conversions, whether they’re calls, sales, or customer inquiries is vital in order to demonstrate what you’re doing is actually working.

TIP – Put a fucking enquiry form, and a big fat phone number on every single page as a call to action, and make sure your calls to action are clear and obvious. In addition, DO NOT send visitors to a thank you page when they submit a form. You’ll want to self submit the page, so you know which pages are actually converting.

Clients need to meet you halfway.

I often say to new prospects that call me, “SEO is a joint effort. I’m not interested in working with anyone that wants to just throw money at me each month and do nothing.”

Now this doesn’t mean I want the client on the phone every 5 minutes.

I’m simply saying that in order for this to work, and for the data to be meaningful, clients need to be tracking too.

Infact, I’ve made this is a mandatory requirement as part of my onboarding process.

They must have the ability to accurately track and measure at their end. A CRM, software, a spreadsheet on Google drive – something, that helps them understand where their customers are coming from, whether they converted or not and if they did – for what amount.

Because if they have no idea, then it makes helping them quite difficult.

This is why it’s important to work with businesses that have their shit together. You can’t be working with clients that are clueless, scribble shit down on bits of paper, miss calls and have no systems in place.

Thankfully, all of my clients use similar CRM’s that allow them to accurately track customer enquiries, sales and revenue – right down to each marketing channel – which helps big time.

Tracking conservatively.

Now, I always set a conservative value when I track conversions for lead gen.

Why?

Because I’m not interested in over inflating the numbers artificially to make myself look good.

Let’s just keep this honest, okay?

So, if a client says that a lead for them is worth, say, $1,000, I’ll track it a $250.

There’s a number of reasons I do this.

  • Firstly, I know that they’re not going to close every single enquiry that they get.
  • Secondly, they’re going to get a lot of nonsense coming through the inquiry forms as well where it’s not a legitimate inquiry. (You may need to take spam into consideration also like marketers offering bullshit SEO services)
  • Lastly, they might suck at selling or have an inexperienced person answering the phone/email.

Whatever the case, you’ll always want to go under, rather than over in terms of tracking estimated revenue.

Now, the whole purpose of doing all of this is so you can sit in on an end-of-month strategy call with a client and be able to say the following –

E-commerce – “Okay, Kate, this month I can see that you had 35 sales and we did $28,000 in revenue. All from organic search traffic. Last month you did $15,000 so the numbers are looking good. Not a bad return for $2,500 so you’re definitely getting a positive return on investment.”

Lead Gen – “Okay, Kate, this month you had 229 inquiries, which, based upon the agreed lead value of $180, you should have generated around $41,220. How does that compare to what you see at your end?”

Putting it all together.

The following screenshots show how this all pieces together to give you some idea of how it works. As you can see, its nothing hard.

Here are some example goals, which track each form, along with phone calls.

Here’s an example of a simple goal setup on a form in the sidebar, tracking with a value of $180.

And here’s a brief look at a simple custom dashboard put together in Google Analytics that shows total number of customer enquiries, calls, and estimated monthly revenue. My reports also show converting pages, conversions per device type and overall site conversion rate. This is what my clients get a copy of when I send over end of month reports.

Adjusting the numbers.

Now, for lead gen that final figure is something that you’ll have to discuss with the client at the end of each month and ask the following, “How does that compare with the numbers that you see at your end?”

This is really important, because you’ll want to adjust and refine the agreed lead value each month to ensure you’re tracking at the right figure. Over time as you get it more accurate, you’ll both know that the numbers are right and SEO is definitely working.

Once you’re in a position of having a client see that they’re putting $1 in and they’re getting $3 out – they’ll just keep throwing money at you month after month, and they won’t give a shit about rankings.

Got something to say?

If you’ve enjoyed this article, be sure to leave a comment below, an insult or a question if there was something I touched on that you’re unsure of. Perhaps what I’ve covered here has changed the way you intend on reporting for your own clients. Perhaps you think I’m wrong and want to meet in the carpark for a punch up. Whatever it might be, post up a your thoughts below and I’ll respond.

Of course, it would be really cool if you shared this on social media or told your mum about it. Cheers.