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Prioritising SEO Tasks Effectively

21 January 2014 BY

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Earlier this week a conversation with a client triggered me to contemplate the priorities of the SEO work we deliver for clients, and specifically the return on investment certain SEO tasks can provide.

The conversation was about parameter-driven URLs, and the client requested that these be replaced by human-readable static URLs. In an ideal world I would wholeheartedly agree with that advice, as human-readable URLs – especially if they’re keyword rich – carry more SEO value than URLs containing filtering parameters.

But the context of this conversation made implementing human-readable URLs an ill-advised journey to embark on. The client has a Magento ecommerce site that, due to a high number of extensions needed to perform the functions the client wants the site to have, has become sluggish and slow to load. Changing these parameter-driven URLs (courtesy of faceted navigation) to human-readable and keyword-rich URLs would require another extension to be installed, something that our developer suspects would push the site’s already slow load time from ‘barely acceptable’ to ‘intolerable’.

To then fix the slow load time we would need to optimise the site’s codebase, perhaps uninstall another extension that the site’s functionality currently relies on, and probably upgrade the site’s hosting server; all of which would result in additional costs for the client.

Additionally, the URLs in question belong to filtered subsets of brands that the client stocks. Each of these brands already has a human-readable URL associated with it, so these parameter-driven URLs would only serve to improve the site’s relevance for very specific subcategory queries, which our keyword research suggests are extremely rare. Instead potential customers are orders of magnitude more likely to search for the brand name or for a specific product name – both of which the site is already optimised for.

GWMT URL Parameters

So in that context, making a few subcategory URLs slightly more optimised for search for a possible improvement in rankings on a number of very niche long tail keywords does not make a great deal of sense. In terms of cost vs payoff, the resources required to implement this would not earn themselves back for many years – if at all.

SEO Task Return on Investment

Every time we as SEOs make decisions about how to best optimise our clients’ websites, we need to decide on the expected return on investment of any given SEO task. David Harry wrote about this eloquently in his Task ROI post, which is still as relevant today as it was 4 years ago when he wrote it.

It’s about engaging in activities that drive the most value for your clients at this time, in the current context.

In my example, spending a lot of development time on optimising those subcategory URLs does not provide sufficient ROI to make that a wise decision. Within the context of that client’s immediate needs and budgetary constraints, it would be much wiser to just ensure the URL Parameters are correctly identified in Google Webmaster Tools and spend the budget on the client’s own content strategy and targeted linkbuilding.

Task ROI is not a fixed, one-time decision. It might not be wise to optimise those URLs right now, but maybe in two years’ time when the client has achieved top rankings for most of their targeted keywords and wants to achieve SERP domination for related category searches, we might need to revisit these URLs and decide that in this new context the effort to optimise them makes perfect sense.

Ask the Right Questions

Evaluating the return on investment of any given SEO task is something that we need to on a regular basis, and we need to re-evaluate those decisions frequently. We also need to make sure our decisions are correct. For this purpose, it helps to ask several questions of the SEO task you’re evaluating:

  1. What is the expected result in terms of rankings improvement, additional visits, and conversions?
  2. How does this extra revenue compare to the budgeted cost & time scale of the SEO task?
  3. What is the expected shelf-life of the SEO task (i.e. is it future-proof)?
  4. Are there any risks associated with the task, and can you quantify these risks?
  5. How much of the total SEO budget will this task require?

By answering these questions you will generate a detailed cost/benefit analysis of the SEO task in question.¬†While some answers might not be easily answerable, you can nonetheless provide rough forecasts for the ROI of any given SEO task, so you will quickly be able to decide whether or not it’s worthwhile implementing.

Cost vs ROI

Some SEO tasks might be very costly to implement but the pay-off will be substantial, so they might be worth doing. Other tasks might have less long term ROI, and the money is better spent on SEO tactics that have a beneficial short term impact on the client’s website.

Using this framework to evaluate SEO tasks also makes the process very transparent for your clients. By asking these questions, and explaining the rationale behind your answers, you can hopefully enlighten your client as to the value of the SEO task and inform them about what the best short-term activities are for them to engage in.

This is important, because your clients are likely to read about SEO themselves and are forming their own opinions about what makes for good SEO. And when they come to you and ask, with righteous indignation, why you haven’t implemented SEO fix X and instead are spending their money on SEO tactic Y, you need to be able to answer that question openly, honestly, and in such a way that your client is educated and confident that you’re the right SEO provider for them.

AUTHORED BY:
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Barry Adams is one of the editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant based in Belfast, delivering specialised SEO services to clients across Europe.
  • Gemma Holloway

    I completely agree with this blog post Barry!! It is soooo important to prioritise SEO activities, even if all activities must be carried out soon or later. I once had a client that spent all their time worrying about removing Meta keyword tags whilst they had a whole host of on site duplicate content issues. In the end I had to create a priorities table so they could understand fixing some issues will have more of an impact than others then they could see exactly what order items needed to be addressed.

  • Briony Gunson

    Great post Barry – very salient points!

    An example of this in practice is I’m currently talking to a client about investing in a whole new server because the current system is very restricted, e.g. basic things like 301 redirects are a struggle. So communicating the SEO benefits and how this related to long term ROI are crucial if we are to convince the client to invest.

    We’ve actually reflected this kind of framework when dealing with technical audits by trying to attribute a traffic figure (and ultimately ROI) on the collective benefits of implementing technical fixes, as well as the long term consequences if they don’t. Obviously calculating traffic and ROI based on technical fixes can be pretty challenging! But the extra work is worth it if it means the client schedules in and prioritises the work. That’s half the battle most of the time!

    As is sometimes the case with clients, the person who holds the purse strings doesn’t care about the how, the what and the why of SEO strategy. They just want to know what they’re going to get back from their investment. It’s like an engineer talking about all the beautiful mechanics of a car engine – the customer doesn’t care, they just want to know how fast it’ll go.

    Ultimately, bringing the question of ROI back into focus for SEO tasks can only be a good thing. It helps to remind you of why you’re hired in the first place! But it might also stop SEO strategy from getting too fluffy – strategy can go off down tangents or attractive new opportunities can come to light, but if you can’t clearly identify the long term value associated with it, then maybe it’s best to put it back on the shelf.

    Essay over ;)

  • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

    In all is human readable URL not better than any other form of URL?, so I think your client is right in making her request. Even if it will cost extra money to install the appropriate software, over the cause of time it is better to have a human readable URL.

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      Did you read the post? Really?

      • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

        No! Barry I did not! and I made my comment from no where!

  • iamoldskool

    Hi Barry

    I can’t agree more. SEO activities always have to be planned and undertaken in line with technical constraints and business objectives.

    The one I constantly come across is “You have to make your site responsive” which I agree is a laudable goal but will the ROI on what could be an expensive and time consuming exercise (especially for big legacy sites) actually be worth it.

    In our case, we could make a clear business case that it wasn’t worth it. It’s a B2B site for enterprise software and in our case, only a small proportion of our traffic (and an even smaller proportion of converting traffic) actually came from mobile devices.

    On a side note, talking about site speed, We’ve recently undertaken to give our sites a speed boost and have managed to get our load times down from about 6-7 seconds to between 0-2. Would be happy to do a post on what we did to achieve this (this was without any actual upgrades to our hosting provider)

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      Jim, that’s a post I’d definitely want to read. :)

  • Spook SEO

    Hi barry. I’ve been to some blogs and I always so you blogging in other sites. You are doing Guest Blogging right, does Google didn’t penalized you for your deeds?

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