I used to think of “building the business case for SEO” only in financial terms, but as I kept asking others about it, I learned that where people successfully implement SEO, they use a combination of strategies to make it happen.
The financial business case for SEO
When you advertise to promote your programmes, you pay for every click to your website. The moment you stop paying, the traffic stops.
SEO is like building your own home instead of renting a place to live. When you own a home, you will still need to invest in maintenance on an ongoing basis, but it costs less than paying rent every month.
Graphically, the return on investment looks something like this:
However, there are a few complicating factors:
Can you get financing today to save money on marketing 1-2 years from now?
Until your “SEO house” is finished, you’ll still need to keep paying to live in your “advertising apartment”.
Paying double rent and getting the same results hurts. So make sure that everyone involved in the decision is prepared for some pain along the way.
(Also, do your future self a favour and make sure it’s in writing. Some stakeholders will forget and there’s nothing more powerful than pointing back to the slide deck).
By setting clear expectations up front, you free up the space you need to make success happen.
SEO is also not like putting money in the bank at a guaranteed interest rate. We simply don’t know how the world will look like in early 2026.
- Will Google’s algorithms still work the same way?
- Will people even still use Google 2 years from now?
As a marketer, you understand that an investment in quality content and the capability to produce and maintain will pay off many times over.
Beyond more SEO traffic, it may bring you:
- Press coverage;
- Better website conversion;
- More prominence in ChatGPT and Bard;
- Applicants who are a better match
But the above may not immediately be seen as valuable by non-marketers.
People with a finance background are trained to reduce risk.
They aren’t going to be comfortable with dedicating a considerable sum of money based only on a nice graph and your promises.
Acknowledging the uncertainty and showing how you plan to reduce and manage it can go a long way in building the credibility of your SEO effort.
Non-financial business cases
You can reduce and manage financial risk by building supporting, non-financial business cases for SEO.
Those business cases can help you get things moving without needing to apply for a large up-front investment.
For example, you may reduce the perceived investment by piggybacking on a website upgrade that needs to happen anyway.
You can also start by picking one topic or course (someone who is keen to get started!) and intensely focus on improving the content for that topic for a few months, for example, to power up your science communication on a specific topic or project. Once you start to see results, you’ll have a case study to share: “We put in this amount of effort, and these are the results we got. Shall we do more?”.
I final way to get started, is to start training the people who are already writing articles for your website or publishing on social media. Show them how they can make anything they publish more impactful by becoming aware of keywords and SEO optimisation.
Found this useful?
This article started as an update from my weekly newsletter, and in some shape or form, it’ll be part of the book I’m currently working on: SEO for Higher Education.
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