SEO ROI shows how well your organic search campaigns are paying off. Learn how measuring the return on investment (ROI) for SEO reveals how campaigns contribute to your bottom line.
Here, you’ll find:
- What is the ROI of SEO?
- SEO ROI formula
- How to measure SEO ROI
- Can you forecast SEO ROI?
- Why is measuring SEO ROI so important?
- Common challenges with calculating SEO ROI
SEO campaigns often focus on outcomes like keyword rankings and organic traffic. But as important as these metrics are, they don’t tell you the value of your efforts.
By measuring SEO ROI, you can quantify the value and track the impact of every campaign. As a result, you can make data-driven decisions about your marketing budget.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about SEO ROI, including how to calculate, measure, and forecast it — and common challenges to overcome, complete with insights from HawkSEM President, Rambod Yadegar.
What is the ROI of SEO?
The ROI of SEO compares the cost of SEO efforts to the revenue they generate. This measurement reflects the return you get for every dollar you invest in SEO.
This metric goes beyond dollar value alone. Instead, it quantifies how much your business gains from SEO campaigns. If you or your stakeholders ever wonder whether SEO truly benefits the business, analyzing ROI provides a clear answer.
For example, “Through proven SEO strategies, HawkSEM helped Caring Places Management increase its relevant organic traffic by 85%,” shares Yadegar.
SEO ROI formula
To calculate the ROI of your SEO efforts, use this simple formula:
For example, let’s swap the numbers. Say your company invested $10,000 in an SEO campaign, which generated only $2,500 in conversion value. Your ROI would be:
How to measure SEO ROI
While the formula above is easy to use, finding the conversion and investment numbers to plug into the formula takes some work. Follow the steps below to master the process.
1. Add up the amount you’ve invested in SEO
Depending on the scale of your SEO campaigns and who handles them, you’ll have a few different costs to consider.
In-house SEO professionals
First, consider the in-house staff who work on your company’s SEO. These costs will vary significantly, based on the size of your SEO team and their wages. Employees may include:
- SEO managers or specialists, who spend most of their work time on SEO strategy. You can typically factor their entire salary for the time period you’re measuring.
- SEO writers, who spend most of their work hours on creating high-quality content for search. You can typically factor their entire salary into your SEO investment too.
- Content managers, who often guide SEO content strategy. Estimate the percentage of time they spend on SEO and multiply it by their salary.
- Developers, who handle SEO content publication. Since developers tend to have many tasks, estimate how much time they spend on SEO and adjust their cost accordingly.
If you outsource most of your SEO work to an agency or a freelancer, remember that you may still need to account for in-house costs. At the very least, you’ll want to include the cost of the agency’s in-house point of contact.
SEO agency or freelancers
If you contract an SEO agency or freelancer, you’ll need to factor this cost into your SEO investment as well. The average cost of SEO services varies based on factors like the scope of the project and the overall SEO goals.
Here are some common SEO pricing models to include in your ROI calculation:
- Monthly retainers: For ongoing SEO services, retainers are a popular pricing model. For a predictable monthly fee, SEO agencies and freelancers provide SEO strategy, on-page optimization, link building, and even SEO content. Pricing varies from $500 to $10,000.
- Project-based fees: If your company needs specific deliverables, a project-based arrangement can be a better solution. SEO projects often focus on technical SEO, website audits, and keyword research. Pricing ranges from $500 to $5,000.
- Hourly rates: Many agencies and freelancers charge hourly rates for on-demand SEO consulting. Some contractors also charge hourly rates when they exceed the scope included in their monthly retainers. Pricing often ranges from $75 to $100 per hour.
Whether you manage SEO in house or you outsource it to an agency, your business may cover the cost of SEO tools. Most require annual or monthly subscriptions, making it easy to calculate the cost for any period of time. Remember to add up:
- All-in-one SEO tools like Semrush, Ahrefs, or Moz, which handle keyword research, keyword rankings, and search visibility. Costs start at $99 per month.
- Keyword research tools like Mangools, Serpstat, or SpyFu, which analyze keyword difficulty and competing content on SERPs. Costs start at $18.90 per month.
- SEO writing tools like Clearscope or Surfer SEO, which help your team write both seasonal and evergreen content that’s optimized for organic search. Costs start at $139 per month.
- Marketing attribution tools like Ruler Analytics, Hockeystack, and Dreamdata, which attribute conversions and revenue to marketing channels like SEO, social media, and email. Costs start at $250 per month.
2. Calculate your conversion value from SEO
Once you’ve added up the costs, it’s time to calculate the value of all conversions from organic search traffic. The steps for conversion tracking will vary depending on your business model and the way your website drives revenue.
But no matter which method you use, you’ll need an analytics tool that integrates with your website. In most cases, Google Analytics is a good place to start tracking organic traffic and related conversions.
Lead generation conversion value tracking
If your website is designed to generate leads instead of sell products and services, set up custom conversion events in Google Analytics 4. You can do this by opening the “Admin” panel in your Google Analytics account and navigating to the “Events” tab.
Click to create a new event, and then choose conditions to define it. For example, say your website displays a thank you page when leads submit a signup form or request a demo. You can use “page_view” as the event name, and the thank you page URL as the page location.
Unless the event has an embedded value, Google Analytics won’t record any value for these conversions. However, you can add a default value by changing the parameter configuration.
First, add “currency” as a parameter and set your local currency (e.g., USD). Then set “value” as a second parameter and enter the standard value of a lead.
Not sure what value to place on your leads? You can get this number by working backward from your customer data. Take your average customer lifetime value (LTV), which is the amount a typical customer spends with your business throughout the entire relationship.
If you sell a lot of one-time products and services, your average LTV may center on a single sale. But if you sell ongoing subscriptions, your LTV may include multiple sales over time. To find this data, use your customer relationship management (CRM) tool.
Then use your CRM data to find your average lead conversion rate. Multiply your conversion rate by your LTV to get the average value for a lead. For example, if your average LTV is $10,000 and your average lead conversion rate is 25%, your lead value would be $2,500.
You can track SEO conversion data via the “Conversions: Event Name” report in Google Analytics. Make sure to focus on the data from the “Organic Search” channel to get accurate SEO ROI statistics.
Ecommerce conversion value tracking
For ecommerce websites, measuring conversion value works a little differently. After installing Google Analytics on your website, set up ecommerce events using Google Tag Manager. Then conversion value data will automatically appear in Google Analytics.
Similar to the lead generation report above, you can measure ecommerce conversion value from the “Conversions: Event Name” report in Google Analytics. Use the “Organic Search” channel data to track SEO ROI metrics.
3. Calculate SEO ROI
Once you’ve added up SEO costs and conversions, use the formula above to calculate ROI for an SEO campaign. Here’s an example for a three-month campaign:
- SEO agency: $15,000
- In-house point person: $3,000
- SEO tool: $297
- SEO writing tool: $357
- Total: $18,654
SEO conversion value
125 leads valued at $500 each: $63,154
SEO ROI = 238%
Can you forecast SEO ROI?
The biggest downside of using the tactics above to track SEO ROI is that they only reflect past results. What if you need to know how much value a potential SEO campaign is likely to generate or you want more insights into SEO ROI by industry?
As a general rule, forecasting exact ROI is virtually impossible for SEO. From unexpected search trends to competing content to Google updates, many factors can affect the outcomes of even the most well-planned SEO campaigns.
However, it is possible to estimate the average SEO ROI for a campaign. With this data, you can make smarter decisions about where to invest your marketing and SEO budget and which initiatives are likely to provide the most value.
Here’s one way to forecast potential SEO ROI. Note that SEO tools like SE Ranking and Semrush also have built-in SEO forecasting features that can speed up the process. If this sounds complex, we can help. Reach out to our SEO experts.
1. Check search volume for your primary keywords
First, identify keywords to research. Focus on keywords that tend to result in a lot of conversions or high ROI. Alternatively, think about keywords that don’t yet attract a lot of traffic — but already have high conversion rates.
Using a tool like SE Ranking, Semrush, or Ahrefs, do SEO keyword research and check the search volume for each. Add these numbers to a spreadsheet.
2. Review your website’s ranking for each keyword
It’s unlikely that you’ll capture all the search volume for any keyword. But you can often estimate the percentage of organic search traffic your site will attract, based on where it ranks for each keyword.
Use your SEO tool to confirm where your site lands on the SERP. Estimate where your site will rank for the keyword after optimization, based on your site’s domain authority and competition for the keyword.
3. Estimate your potential search traffic
As a general rule, the closer you rank to the top of the first page in search results, the more traffic you’ll get. The top-ranking search result on any Google SERP has a 27.6% click-through rate, according to Backlinko. The site in the second spot averages 15.8% CTR, while the site in the third spot has 11% CTR.
Multiply the estimated search traffic for each keyword by the CTR that aligns with where your site ranks for the keyword. Now you have traffic estimates for your keywords.
4. Calculate your estimated ROI
Next, multiply the traffic estimate for each keyword by your average conversion rate for each page. Check your conversion report in Google Analytics to confirm this metric. Then multiply by the value of each lead.
Now you have the total conversion value you could get from an SEO campaign. Add up the projected costs and use the SEO ROI formula to forecast your potential return.
Why is measuring SEO ROI so important?
Tracking ROI is an SEO best practice. It’s important no matter your investment or your industry.
- Campaign profitability: For most SEO campaigns, the ultimate measure of success isn’t search engine results page (SERP) rankings or organic traffic numbers. Instead, it’s profitability — which you can measure by tracking ROI.
- Alignment with business goals: Any well-constructed SEO strategy should fit with your company’s business goals (e.g., getting more sales). When you report on SEO ROI, you can link your work directly to key performance indicators (KPIs) for the business.
- Marketing strategy decisions: It isn’t always easy to get stakeholders to invest more in a marketing channel. By tracking the profitability of your SEO strategy, you can help stakeholders make data-driven decisions.
- Proof of value: Whether you’re an in-house employee or you work with an external agency, you need to demonstrate the value of your work. By measuring ROI, you can continue to make a strong case for the value your work creates.
While ROI can tell you a lot, it isn’t the only SEO metric to measure. Most SEO professionals also monitor metrics like keyword rankings, search visibility, click-through rate (CTR), and organic traffic.
These metrics can indicate a positive ROI. If your return isn’t where you want it to be, these metrics can break down the problem and reverse-engineer better ROI.
Common challenges with calculating SEO ROI
While calculating SEO ROI is relatively straightforward, you may encounter a number of issues as you gather and analyze data. Beware of these common challenges to avoid problems and improve accuracy.
Tracking SEO ROI trends over time
Measuring the value of SEO over time requires a lot of data. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need complex tools to track it.
For example, Ricardo Fayet, CMO at Reedsy, has grown the publishing company’s monthly organic search traffic from 200,000 to 2 million visitors over the past five years. His team uses Google Analytics and Google Sheets to track SEO and acquisition data.
“We use a pretty data-driven approach to calculating ROI,” Fayet shares. “I keep a Google Sheet that I update on a monthly basis, where I list all posts and pages that have contributed to our bottom line over the years.”
It includes the following data:
- Lifetime traffic
- Cost (estimated based on the time it took to write the post, or build the page, backlinking effort, and number of times it was updated)
- Lifetime conversions (by conversion goal)
- ROI of the post/page
- Lifetime conversion rate (by conversion goal)
- Lifetime estimated revenue generated by the post/page
“This allows us to immediately identify our bottom-of-funnel content as well as get an overview of how much time it takes a particular post to ‘break even,’” continues Fayet. “All conversions are tracked using a first-interaction model, to attribute conversions to the first touchpoint a user has with our site.”
Accounting for assisted conversions
As useful as Google Analytics is, its attribution model may not reflect all conversions from SEO. One way to get more in-depth insights into your conversion data is to use Google Analytics’ conversion path report.
This report reveals the different channels that contribute to conversions and the average number of touchpoints most visitors have before converting.
For even deeper insights into your customer journey, HawkSEM can help.
“We use ConversionIQ to granularly track every single step of the buyer journey so we can understand what aspects of a campaign are working and where we should trim the fat. This allows us to optimize towards a higher ROI year over year,” explains HawkSEM CEO Sam Yadegar.
“Further, tracking with ConversionIQ provides more insight about the target audience, which allows us to take that data and apply it to another marketing channel to further scale while maintaining profitability.”
Another attribution tactic is going right to the source. “We changed our contact forms to allow self-reported attribution,” explains Mark Hayes, Head of Growth Marketing at Task Software. “So that when they complete a form they can in their own words tell us how they found us.”
This allowed him to prove the ROI of SEO to the wider executive team and also provide additional information from the client that shows how SEO is part of multi-channel strategy.
“This is not a dropdown box. It’s a free text field to allow the prospect to tell us rather than us giving them a limited list that may not reflect their customer journey.”
Measuring enterprise SEO ROI
If you’re managing enterprise-level SEO for a large business, the math may look a little different. The same basic principles still apply. However, you’ll have a few line items in your SEO budget that smaller companies may not have
Some costs to factor into your enterprise SEO ROI calculator include:
- Technical SEO: Includes elements like website architecture and page speed. Although technical SEO is always important, it’s a bigger factor the larger your website grows.
- Scaling content: Requires a larger budget for content production, on-page optimization, internal linking, and backlink management.
- Enterprise tools: Often cost significantly more than the base pricing listed above. For a large team with a large site, SEO tools can easily cost thousands rather than hundreds per month.
Measuring the ROI of SEO is crucial to understand the value of your content marketing efforts and the real impact of your digital marketing campaigns. With these insights, you can make data-driven decisions about your investment in SEO and make progress toward key business goals.
Whether you need a hand calculating the ROI of SEO or want to improve SEO performance and return, we’re here to help. Get in touch with our in-house experts for a free SEO consultation.