How to Demonstrate ROI for Client SEO Campaigns

If you’ve got paying clients, then it’s your job to demonstrate a return on investment.

If you’re not, then you’re going to find yourself sitting through some rather uncomfortable conversations.

I want to point out two things here before we get into this, and they are –

  • Demonstrating an ROI for your clients is fucking important
  • If you’re not, or you’re using rankings as a performance indicator then you’re screwed

Now I can hear you saying right now “But John, rankings is what SEO is all about”


Sit down and pay attention. I’m going to show you how to do this properly.

Why it matters

Demonstrating a return on investment is one of the most important things you should be doing if you’ve been hired to do SEO for a paying client. Clients aren’t real keen on wasting money so it’s up to you to prove to them that they aren’t.

It probably won’t suprise you, but most people that are providing SEO services use rankings as a performance indicator. In other words, results are simply measured based upon which page in Google the client’s website is on, which is fucking stupid.

I see this sort of crap in SEO reports all the time –

  • 30% of your keywords are now on page 1
  • 75% more visibility in search
  • Engagement is up 24%

Blah blah blah, who gives a shit.

What clients care about are paying customers.

I always say “Being on the first page in Google is meaningless if the phones not ringing or you’re not making sales” and it’s true.

Therefore you should be focusing on revenue, not rankings.

Revenue not rankings

This might seem odd, but I don’t like to make rankings the focal point with clients, and I certainly don’t use it as a measurment of how a campaign is performing. Infact, I make sure that when I’m prequalifying the prospect, they understand very well that I’m not interested in working with them if they just want to focus on rankings.


Because for the most part, it’s bullshit.

A keyword performance report doesn’t tell the client anything – a revenue report does.

First page for “fluffy bunnies”?

Whoop doop.

Instead, what I want to do is help them generate more revenue – because that’s a discussion that will resonate with business owners.

What happens when you don’t demonstrate an ROI

Now you might be thinking “John, who cares, I’ve just been hired to get my client onto first page”, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s have a look at what happens when you take this approach.

Your shit isn’t measurable

Firstly, the client is not going to have any idea if what you’re doing is having any sort of positive impact, and neither will you.

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. I think we might cancel.”

That’s a real shit thing to hear.

I’ve actually picked up more clients than I can remember that have been in this position. They’ve been working with other SEO agencies or freelancers that have been providing confusing reports that focus on stupid metrics or rankings and not revenue. They’ve come to me in desperation and said, “We’re paying this other agency $2,900 a month and we don’t know if what they’re doing is helping us?”

And again, I’ll see stupid SEO reports that are full of crap like –

  • Your SEO score is 72/100
  • Search visibility B+
  • Green lights in Yoast Hurray!

And it will contain 30 pages of charts and graphs and squiggly fucking lines and all sorts of nonsense.

But guess what? None of it mentions revenue. None of it.

Let me tell you this – most business owners don’t give a shit about all that technical jargon.

What they do care about is making money – that’s the whole reason you’ve been hired.

Now before you start arguing about rankings, let me say this – I’ve been doing this long enough to know that clients will ALWAYS want to talk about rankings at the start of the campaign, but once they’re a few months in they will ALWAYS shift that discussion away from rankings and want to talk about REVENUE.


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

Your invoice is going to start feeling more like a bill

Secondly, if you’re not demonstrating a return on investment, then that investment is going to start feeling like more of an expense for the business owner. In other words, if they’re putting money in, and they don’t know how much money they’re getting out, then your monthly invoice is going to feel very much like an expense.

That’s certainly not an ideal situation to be in.

Your retention rates will suck

And lastly, you’re more likely to lose clients if you’re not demonstrating a return on investment because clients are going to get twitchy. Twitchy clients are impatient clients that won’t hesitate in cancelling your services because you’re not showing them returns.

So focusing on revenue and not rankings is absolutely key.

How to demonstrate a return on investment and kick ass

Before you start fucking around putting together stupid reports, let’s back up a second and revisit prequalifying leads.

You should always be doing this before you start working with someone so that you know you can actually help them.

Educating the client

The first thing you need to do is steer the conversation away from rankings and bring it back to revenue.

If you’re speaking with a prospect then you should be saying something like this –

Listen, I work a bit differently to most SEO agencies in that I dont want to focus all my time on rankings. Instead I want to focus on revenue – helping you get customers and making sales. That’s the whole point of us working together, to increase your bottom line – not just rankings. Because let’s face it, if you’re on the first page of Google and the phones not ringing or you’re not selling anything then that’s meaningless, right?”

I will tell you right now that if they’re smart, they’ll pause and say “Wow, yeah ok that sounds terrific” which is exactly what you want.

Determining the value of a lead or sale

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

By that, I mean you don’t want to work with someone who is selling $2 pot plants. Because if they’re paying you $2,000 a month, they’ve got to be selling a shit load of pot plants in order for you to get them a positive return on investment.

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

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, $2,000 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?

Sometimes its not that straight forward and it might be a squeeze, in which case you’ll have to get out the trusty calculator and press a few buttons.

TIP – One thing I’ve found having sat in with hundreds of prospects is that for whatever reason, whether its pride or ego or whatever it is, they’ll usually always throw bigger numbers than they’re actually doing at you. So be sure to ask what lead or sale value is at the low end. 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. If it’s an e-commerce site, tracking sales is easily done, and you can track that accurately, so you know with absolute certainty what the monthly revenue is for the actual website itself.

Piece of cake.

However with lead gen, where it’s customer enquiries/acquisition, 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 set 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?

TIP – Put a fucking enquiry form on every single page as a call to action.

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.

Keeping this shit realistic

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


Because I’m not interested in over inflating the numbers artificially to make myself look good. Let’s just keep this honest, okay?

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 inquiry that comes through.
  • 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 Indians offering bullshit SEO services)
  • Lastly, they might suck at selling or have an inexperienced person answer 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 that you want to be able to sit in on an end-of-month strategy call with a client and be able to say the following –

Ecommerce – “Okay, Kate, this month I can see that you had 35 sales and we did $28,000 in revenue. Last month you did $15,000 so we’re up from last month. The numbers are moving in the right direction. Not a bad return for $2,000 so you’re definitely getting a positive return on investment.”

Lead Gen – “Okay, Kate, this month you had 229 inquiries, which at a conservative figure of 25% close rates per lead, (based upon a lead value of $180) you should have generated at least $41,220. How does that compare to what you see at your end?”

Here’s how it looks

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 your numbers 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 all day long.

Remember, revenue, not rankings.

Interested in working with me?

I provide SEO coaching and training so if you need help whether you’re a business owner, run a small agency, or a freelancer looking to ramp up your income, get in touch or come over for a cuppa.

I’ll pop the jug on.

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