Pitching SEO to the C-suite and embedding it into your organisation
The importance of SEO to a modern-day digital marketing plan is non-negotiable, but it’s not always easy to secure the resources or budgets needed for implementation. This is usually because the business decision makers, sitting at board and C suite level, don’t understand its potential value to the business or why it should be prioritised above other marketing activities. Plus, they’re usually extremely busy individuals, each with their own responsibilities and priorities within the business. I’ve worked in SEO for 16 years, both in-house and agency-side, and have lots of experience with successfully pitching SEO to business leaders. Read on for my insights into how to position SEO for C-suite support, budget sign-off and company-wide adoption.
Understand your audience and get ready for their questions
Boards and C-suites are usually made up of a variety of personality types and characters, all of which have different priorities for the business. Finding a way to communicate effectively with each stakeholder becomes much easier when you put yourself in their shoes first. Once you understand what is important to them and how SEO can help them reach their goals, you’re one step closer to getting buy-in for your SEO strategy. Prepare yourself by plotting out the questions they might ask and think about how to address their interests, including business goals, associated risks, the wider company’s budgeting and planning, as well as how SEO will contribute to business growth and the bottom line.
CEOs are busy people, often with many plates spinning in the air at once. This means they need communication to be quick, concise and effective. Their responsibility is to make decisions and not solve problems. They’re not interested in the details or the tactical plan – they just want to know what you are doing to drive results. Questions they will ask include:
- Why should we invest in SEO vs paid search?
- Do you have proven results?
- What does success look like? What are your KPIs?
- Will this be profitable?
- Can we do this in-house?
- How long will it take?
CMOs are accountable for exposing key target audience segments to the brand, as well as driving leads and sales as a result. They will ask:
- How will this increase our brand’s reach?
- What is our competition doing?
- How many more leads will this bring in?
CIOs and CFOs all are about finance and budgets. They will need convincing when it comes to how much your SEO strategy will cost, and whether it will be worthwhile financially. They will ask:
- What level of spend will maximize ROI?
- How will this ROI compare to other channels?
- What will this cost us?
- Can similar results be achieved at a reduced cost?
Educate with a clear definition of what SEO is
In my experience, it’s best never to presume that your C-suite knows and understands what SEO is. This is especially true if you’re a seasoned SEO professional with many years of experience. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that not everyone around you is an SEO expert, too. Take your definition of SEO back to basics and explain what it is to your stakeholders in the simplest of terms. Make sure they understand how people search online using non-branded industry keywords, backed-up with keyword data to show the potential volume of real-world searches. Then show how your business currently performs against the important keywords, using simple searches to highlight where your company ranks compared to your competitors. There’s nothing quite as effective as showing your CEO that you’re languishing on page 2 or 3 for key terms while your competitors win the top spots on page 1.
Steer clear of technical jargon, like ‘link profiles’ and ‘schema markup’. Instead, focus on the potential of SEO as a business development tool and its power to connect your target audience to the company as they search for related keywords online. If you’re struggling to decide how to communicate effectively with your CEO and other executives, ask your CMO for guidance. Every CEO will be different but your CMO should be able to offer advice on the best way to bend their ear and secure their attention.
Once you’ve clearly communicated what SEO is, back-up your definition with hard facts and evidence of results. You can include:
- 49% of marketers report that organic search has the best ROI of any marketing channel (Search Engine Journal).
- 93% of all online experiences begin on a search engine (Search Engine Journal).
- SEO drives 1000%+ more traffic than organic social media (BrightEdge, 2019 – https://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics).
Explain why it is important
Your CEO and the rest of the C-suite will not be interested in the details of how you go about executing SEO to drive business results. Keep the tactical point-by-point plan to yourself and try to stay as high-level as you can. They will, however, want to know why SEO is important and when it will start to generate leads and sales. The best approach to take when walking your executives through your SEO strategy is to break it down into overarching sections that only touch lightly on the ‘what’, with a big emphasis on the ‘why’ and ‘when’. I recommend splitting your project into the following elements.
1Audit – where are we?
Explain that you’ll audit the website across several different areas in order to understand any issues that might be affecting its performance. Talk about how you are looking for areas for optimisation so that you can make the website as search engine-friendly as possible. Refer to the website as your key business development asset and show that this audit is critical to helping the site perform as well as possible.
2Recommendations – what do we need to do?
Once you’ve completed your assessment, you can plan your tactical next steps. Prioritise your recommendations based on what will deliver the best ROI; build a case for each in terms of how it will impact the business overall, if implemented. It’s important to make sure the tactics that will deliver the fastest results are implemented first. Ask yourself:
- Which tactics will work best for this particular company?
- What is going to have the biggest impact straight away?
- Do you have access to the internal resources and knowledge to be able to implement the recommendations?
- Do you need to consider using an external agency or outsourced help?
3Implementation – how do we bring our SEO strategy to life?
Whether you’re working on the strategy internally or outsourcing to an agency or freelancer, getting your SEO recommendations implemented can be difficult and time-consuming. Your IT department needs to be on board and available to help to make the changes you require. Approach your SEO project as a collaboration with the IT team and work together to fit it into their schedules. Engage the C-suite IT representative with your SEO pitch as their support, when it comes to implementation, will be crucial to SEO success.
4Goals and measurement of results – how do we show our success?
It can be difficult to give an exact cost and exact ROI of SEO, especially in comparison to other channels, such as paid media or paid social. Hubspot cites 6 main metrics that CEOs want to know about, as follows:
1) Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
Add up all the program or advertising spend, plus salaries, plus commissions and bonuses, plus overheads within a given time period. Then, divide it by the number of new customers in that same time period.
2) Marketing Percentage of Customer Acquisition Cost (M%-CAC)
Calculate the marketing portion of CAC (M-CAC), then compute that as a percentage of the overall CAC. Track the M%-CAC over time because any changes can be an indicator that something has changed in your strategy or your effectiveness. For instance, an increase means that you are spending too much on marketing.
3) Ratio of Customer Lifetime Value to CAC (LTV:CAC)
If you have a recurring revenue stream or repeat customers, estimate the current value of a customer and compare that to what you spent to acquire that new customer.
To calculate the LTV, you need to take the revenue the customer pays you in a period, subtract the gross margin, then divide by the estimated churn percentage (cancellation rate) for that customer.
Once you have the LTV and the CAC, you can calculate the ratio of the two. For example, if it cost you £100,000 to acquire this customer with an LTV of £437,500, your LTV:CAC is 4.4 to 1. For growing SaaS companies, most investors and board members want this ratio to be greater than 3X because a higher ratio means your sales and marketing teams have a higher ROI.
4) Time to Payback CAC
This is the number of months it takes you to earn back the CAC you spent to get a new customer. You take the CAC and divide by revenue per month for the average new customer you just signed-up. The resulting number is the number of months to pay back.
5) Marketing-Originated Customer Percentage
This ratio shows what percentage of your new business is driven by marketing efforts. Take all of the new customers you signed-up in a period and look at the percentage of them that started with a lead the marketing team generated. You can do this manually or use a closed-loop attribution system.
6) Marketing-Influenced Customer Percentage
This number adds all the new customers in cases where marketing touched and nurtured the lead at any point during the sales process, not only by originating the lead.
There are simpler metrics that matter, too, including:
- Traffic to your website.
- Increased conversion rate.
- Number of leads generated.
- Quality of leads.
- Decreased bounce rates.
Inform your business leaders that you’ll be measuring these metrics in conjunction with other metrics, such as average ranking position, to see the overall impact of your SEO efforts.
I spoke to the CEO of Encore Musicians in a recent Blue Array podcast about SEO and how it has been embedded within his business. He has developed SEO into its own category within the Encore Musicians company goals, using OKRs (objective key results) to track and measure success. His advice is to get SEO to the top of the priority list and keep it there every quarter. Now, SEO is part of the wider business conversation every month and the whole business is looking to see how it is driving leads and sales. OKRs are a useful tool for businesses who want to set big, ambitious goals and push their teams to achieve more than they ever really thought was possible. They are visible across the company and provide a clear goal for CEOs to track.
Pitching your SEO project to your C-suite and getting their ongoing buy-in is all about communication. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how strong your strategy is across the four areas above – if you fail to engage your business leaders and convince them of SEO’s vital importance to the company, it will never get off the ground. SEO, if implemented and embedded into your company, will touch stakeholders from departments across the business so it’s important to communicate effectively with each department leader.
Put yourself in their shoes, plan for their questions and design answers, and content, around their preferred communication styles and needs. If you do choose to work with an SEO agency, you will benefit from their many years of experience in positioning SEO at C-suite level, showing its importance and potential. In my 16 years of experience, I’ve come to learn that whilst every CEO is different, they are all time-poor and obsessed with their business goals and results. Connect with the C-suite on this level; communicate why SEO is necessary for business development and increased revenue, and you’ll have a stellar SEO project underway in no time.