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The business case for SEO investments

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Is there any hard data to justify investing in search engine optimisation? In 2021, UC Berkeley published research by Berman and Katona that found SEO works best where it provides authentic value for the user. 

The Role of Search Engine Optimization in Search Marketing found that “the organic ranking is improved by SEO if and only if the quality provided by a website is sufficiently positively correlated with its valuation for consumers.” The words authentic and value are important. Don't fake it - and make sure users find what they are looking for.

By using various scenarios, they discovered that users have high expectation of unpaid (organic) search results, which is why they opt for unpaid listings over paid ads: “As a result of the high expected quality on the organic side, consumers begin their search with an organic click.”

A much earlier study by Harold Davis of O’Reilly Media recommended that paid ads be used as part of a double-whammy strategy.

“AdWords (now Google Ads) should be used as an auxiliary to SEO programs, not as the primary focus of a SEO campaign,” the author wrote. That was written over a decade ago but it remains true today.

Berman and Katona stated that the “the majority of online advertisers invest in both SEO and sponsored links, and face an important dilemma as to how to allocate their budget between the two activities.

“Our results imply that high quality sites have an advantage as they can always use sponsored links as a backup option if their organic link does not place well.

“Consequently, the main value of SEO for them is to avoid the potentially hefty payments for sponsored clicks.”

So the bottom line is that there is good research that underpins the business case for investing in SEO.

As always, plan strategically, set KPIs, measure, review and adjust accordingly.

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