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