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ROI and Testing in SEO with Kevin Indig

By Site Strategics
March 22, 2021

Episodes 401 and 403 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast featured special guest Kevin Indig, Director of SEO at Shopify. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Kevin about achieving a better understanding of the ROI of SEO, as well as need for SEOs to level up with more rigorous SEO testing. Here’s what we learned:

Why the ROI of SEO Matters and What to do About it

Every SEO has experienced the frustration of the c-suite or other company leaders being skeptical about investing in SEO because they’re not convinced they’re going to get any kind of real return on the investment. Why does this problem persist? Kevin pinpointed several reasons:

  • SEOs often come to the table with big asks but with very little ability to “prove” they’re going to get results because of a lack of control that doesn’t plague things like engineering or PPC management. The best SEOs can typically do is an educated guess.
  • There are so many factors at play that can affect SEO outcomes, which makes pinpointing anything “fuzz.” The fuzziness makes it easy to question SEO as a priority.  
  • SEOs have to do their work on the actual company website, whereas other departments like PPC are doing their work on other platforms, which makes the stakes feel less high for them than with SEO. 
  • The sheer complexity of SEO has risen dramatically in recent years. The old simple hacks that got results no longer work. There are many aspects to pay attention to, lots of testing that should happen to ensure results, and this increases the up-front investment needed for SEO.

Countering SEO Skepticism Through Adaptability

Addressing c-suite SEO skepticism is a challenge. Here are Kevin’s tips for doing it:

  • Start Small, Show Results: Take on a small project and get great results to build confidence and trust, then start growing initiatives from there. 
  • Build a Better Case: The full opportunity is for so much more than just increasing organic traffic and ranking for keywords. You’ve got to connect your SEO work to company’s business goals, including the bottom line.
  • Educate: The people who are most skeptical about investing in SEO also tend to be the ones who simply don’t understand what it’s really about and how it works. Educating the skeptics can go a long way towards improving overall receptivity to SEO.

Pay Attention to SEO Project Setup

There are many tools you can use for SEO projects, whether Ahrefs, SEMrush, MOZ, and so on. But how you set projects up within those tools is important. While you’ll still often be starting from the perspective of keywords, you have to then move far beyond mere keywords to really make progress. The way you do that is by seeing how keywords can be grouped by user intent, which is now the Holy Grail of all SEO. 

It’s also important to let go of trying to squeeze every visitor into having the same intent. They don’t. Visitors come with a whole range of different intents. This also means you shouldn’t be trying to funnel everyone into the same conversion process. Learn how to meet users where they’re at, identify their intent, and create an experience that addresses their intent. Think in terms of micro-conversions within each potential intent because these micro-conversions or specific actions, while related only indirectly to the main conversion goal, will keep those users engaged even if they aren’t in the main funnel yet.

Focus on User Intent

Everything Google has been focused on over the past five years in terms of AI and natural language processing has been about evolving its understanding from entities to topics and user intent. Google’s primary objective is to identify user intent and then satisfy it, which it does by surfacing the kinds of SERP features that best serve the user’s intent for any given query. If the intent is transactional (to buy something) then Google will surface different SERP features for that than it will for an information query intent. 

SEO Testing is How to Level UP

Because of it’s impossible to keep up with Google’s rapidly advancing understanding of topics and user intent, the only way you can really ensure better SEO results is by rigorous testing in order to see what works, and once you confirm with real evidence from testing, then roll it out as quickly as possible. But has to be quality, science-based testing. There are tools to help, such as Trustpilot and SplitSignal, among others. 

It is only this kind of rigorous, evidence-based testing approach to SEO that you can achieve some modicum of confidence in expected results to take to the c-suite to make those big asks SEOs love to make. And it’s the only pathway to beat the skepticism and prove the ROI of SEO by showing the impact in terms of revenue. This is how SEOs can level up to meet the challenge.

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