Calculating Online Marketing's ROI: Why CFOs Must Get Involved in SEO

Tracking of website visitors opens opportunities for new customers, for one thing. But without finance, the efforts are limited.

By Karen M. Kroll
Thu, January 19, 2012

When it comes to marketing expenses, conventional wisdom holds that half of all dollars are wasted -- but it's not possible to determine which half. The online marketing world challenges this adage. "With online marketing, you know what's a waste and what's not," says Bruce Clay, head of Internet marketing firm Bruce Clay Inc.

And that brings the CFO in the picture -- or should.

With the proper tools, every visitor to a website, as well as his or her actions, can be tracked, says Bradley Joe, marketing manager with the firm Webmarketing123. "You can tie website conversions (from visitors to customers) directly to dollars." That allows companies to determine, for instance, which search terms tend to attract more visitors that actually make purchases, as opposed to those who simply browse the site and leave empty-handed.

SEO 101

Of course, before a company can track visitors on its website, it first needs to get them there. That's where search engine optimization, or SEO, comes in. This term refers to the tactics a company can use to boost its rankings within the results produced by the major search engines, like Google and Yahoo. That's key, since few consumers bother searching beyond the first page of results. In fact, 60% of searches are contained to the top three search results, and 90% remain within the top 10, according to a 2011 study by Optify, a provider of marketing software.

"If you're not on the first page of Google, you really don't exist," says Jared Roy, search and social service director with WebTrends, a provider of digital marketing analysis tools.

Not surprisingly, achieving a top ranking within the search engines requires effort, Roy adds. "You need to have great content and provide reasons for consumers to come to your page," he says. That may mean incorporating whitepapers, promotions or videos of product demonstrations within your site. "You have to do the math, and ask what you're willing to pay for the cost of acquisition (of customers)."

CFOs, working with marketers, can choose from a variety of tools developed to calculate how effectively their online marketing initiatives are attracting visitors, and then converting those visitors to consumers. The systems range from those available for nothing, such as Google Analytics, to enterprise level solutions, Clay says.

Tracking 'Cookies'

The solutions can provide such information as the number of visitors to a website, and which marketing campaigns or search engines drove them there; the number of people that clicked on a search result, and the percentage of those that actually made a purchase. The more sophisticated systems can track consumers' initial and repeat visits, as well as purchases that occur even months after an initial visit to a site, Joe says.

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