Why Do Companies Underfund SEO?

Search engine optimization is often underfunded and misunderstood. When resourced appropriately, however, it can produce a cycle of positive performance that keeps building.

The most common reason that organizations tend to under-resource SEO is that they don’t understand it. Even those who have been exposed to SEO may dismiss it as something you do with keywords and metadata after everything else is done.

But modern SEO integrates with strategy, user experience, creative, copywriting, development, and more. Combining practical SEO knowledge with the ability to work with all those teams to drive solutions that benefit the consumer requires a breadth of experience and resources that may not be available in just one person.

Free, or Not

Then there’s one of the biggest myths in marketing: SEO is free. It’s true that SEO doesn’t require payment for placement, but it does require staffing and expertise, which in return requires funding.

Sometimes organizations assume that SEO just happens. There’s no reason to fund SEO because people naturally search, right?

Well, yes, they do search regardless of whether you care about SEO or not. But if you want to be found by more of those searchers, you need to manage your SEO program. What you get when you let the ship steer itself is luck — sometimes good, sometimes bad. To drive performance, you need a captain at the helm and a supporting crew.

But if you want to be found by more of those searchers, you need to manage your SEO program.

Even when organizations value SEO as a pillar of their ecommerce marketing mix, most have trouble planning for and funding SEO appropriately. It’s difficult to pin SEO professionals down on what they need to do over the next 12 months because a big part will be reactive or altered by updates to the site and changes to the search engines’ algorithms. Still, they should be able to chart out the strategic projects and launches, estimate how long the tasks associated with those will take, and then add a multiplier for the unknown work that will manifest along the way.

How to Staff

Part of that funding challenge results in uncertainty in staffing models. How many people are needed internally? Where should they report in the organization: technical, ecommerce, digital marketing? When to add more resources? Should we use an agency? Do we still need internal SEO people if we have an agency?

The answers are different for every company. They depend on business’s structure, and can only be answered with more questions.

  • Is it easier in your business model to hire an employee, engage a contractor, or contract an agency?
  • Where in the organization does the funding for this role live?
  • Where in the organization do similar cross-functional roles, like user experience, live?
  • Are you getting enough SEO work done to fuel performance today or do you need additional manpower?
  • Is manpower in the SEO team really what’s holding you up, or are additional resources better used to beef up another team to boost implementation speed?

The one answer that doesn’t change based on business model is whether you need an internal SEO person if you have an agency. The answer? Yes.

Someone needs to make sure the agency is on track, providing prioritized recommendations that make sense for your business to implement to ensure that they don’t push for the rest of your valuable resources, like development, to work on low-priority items.

Measuring Performance

Last, but not least, organizations tend to have difficulty measuring the performance of their SEO channel. Perhaps the difficulty lies more in the confusion of which levers to pull to improve performance once the data has been collected. This knowledge gap tends to create ambivalent feelings about SEO, which can lead to more reluctance to fund SEO appropriately.

All of this uncertainty leads to an SEO program that underperforms, perpetuating the cycle of ambivalence.

But take a deep breath. Remember, SEO plays an important role in the marketing mix, increasing awareness to drive new shoppers to the top of the funnel. Even for those shoppers who are already customers, organic search creates opportunities for brand impressions that can remind them of previous positive experiences and encourage them to return to site. Many shoppers turn to Google to research and to buy products.

SEO plays an important role in the marketing mix, increasing awareness to drive new shoppers to the top of the funnel.

Beyond the marketing mix, organic search strategy and data should help inform and shape work on the site. Any plans that involve creating or changing pages of content visible to search engines should be done with buy-in from an SEO professional. Sometimes that buy-in will be that there’s no impact to SEO. It’s the times that there would be unexpectedly large SEO impact, though, that you’ll be glad you did.

Build an SEO resourcing and staffing plan. Determine how you’ll measure the results of the program. As you hit milestones, your confidence in the program will grow along with organic search performance. The ambivalence cycle will be replaced with a performance cycle.

Jill Kocher Brown
Jill Kocher Brown
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