Demonstrating ROI of SEO In Media & Publishing Companies

In SEOby Jackson RawlingsLeave a Comment

For many of us in the SEO industry, demonstrating ROI is one of the hardest things about our jobs. This isn’t because SEO doesn’t have demonstrable value, but rather that so many factors are at play in organic search, tying down causality and attributing success to just one is very difficult, although not impossible.

For SEOs in certain niches, it can be a real maze, particularly if there are multiple traffic sources and campaigns on the go.

Media and publishing companies is one such niche, but for other reasons besides.

Having spoken with a number of in-house SEOs and marketers in the media and publishing business at the BrightonSEO roundtable, it’s clear that this is the number one concern in this sector.

With many publishers only recently making the transition to digital from print, SEO is often viewed suspiciously by members of the team whose background lies offline, whether that’s the editors and directors above or the reporters on the front line.


It’s a situation that is certainly improving as more and more within the industry come to terms with the fact that online is where everything is headed, but still, even the biggest fan of SEO will sometimes still question its value. It isn’t helped by modern media company successes like Buzzfeed who portray themselves as reliant almost exclusive on social rather than search traffic (despite this certainly not being the case).

With all this in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile running through a few tactics that SEOs in media can use to demonstrate its value and cement its place very much at the heart of the business’ marketing efforts.

What do we mean by ROI in media?

But first, what in this case do we mean by ROI? Because industry to industry, ROI differs. For retail, the ultimate goal of determining ROI is probably an uplift in sales, for a SaaS company it’s likely to be downloads/monthly users.

That’s ROI on a very general scale, but this can atomised much further. The ultimate goal may well be, let’s say profit increase, but there are smaller goals to hit on the way: more traffic, better/more engaged traffic, brand awareness, reputation improvement – all of this falls into the domain of SEO and requires a demonstration of ROI.

For media companies, the ultimate goal is of course, like most businesses, an increase in profit.

So how does that happen for media companies in the digital age? Firstly, traffic, and lots of it.


For sites that aren’t behind paywalls (a model that is beginning to see less and less traction) the way to make money is through advertising. The more traffic, the more you can charge for advertising. Simple, right?

So if you can put a figure to how much traffic=x number of pounds in ad revenue (which you should be able to!), then you can equally demonstrate the ROI of said traffic.

If you can demonstrate the ROI of the traffic increase, you can demonstrate the ROI of the campaign that’s led to the traffic increase. At least, that’s the theory.

For that to happen, you need to have a measurement strategy in place, and that’s what we’ll go through now.


Perhaps the most obvious and most important way to demonstrate ROI – attribution relies on being able to track and measure the exact impact of a search (or any other) campaign – by showing how many visitors are landing on your page by clicking through from search results.

If you haven’t already got this kind of path set-up in analytics, bear in mind it involves a multitude of tags, cookies and code, and is not by any means simple work – really this requires an analytics and dev expert, but if you don’t have that at your disposal, it’s worth reading OptimizeSmart’s Beginner’s guide to funnels and attribution modelling here, as well as the slightly more advanced guide on Search Engine Watch.

If after that, you’re still stumped, we here at SiteVisibility would be more than happy to have a chat with you about how to better understand and implement attribution for SEO.

For media companies, attribution is essential, because there will be plenty of occasions when it appears that, for example, social is driving the traffic, when in fact search is also playing a large role – without attribution, this can’t be discovered.

Essentially, attribution underpins all other aspects of demonstrating ROI – an easy way to think of this: metrics like bounce rate or traffic numbers may be the juice, the actual bit you want, but attribution is the carton, and without the carton, the juice can’t be delivered to you properly. Sure you can try to scoop up the juice with your hands, grab bits of it (data) here and there, but you’re never going to get the full amount, the whole picture.


Let’s assume then that you have the attribution down, that’s all sorted, but you’re still struggling to get the juice out –  to work out which facts and figures best show that SEO is worthwhile.

As mentioned, for media companies, the metrics you should be measuring and checking will be different to the ones for, say, retailers.

Time to break these down:


For many, the be all and end all metric, although perhaps not always the greatest indicator of SEO success.

Generally speaking, as discussed above, for a media outlet, more traffic equals more money, and there’s no denying that being able to show a spike in traffic as a direct result of SEO activity is a great way to demonstrate value – but there has been a trend in recent years towards also measuring the quality rather than just quantity of said traffic, and rightly so.

The reason for this is that if you want pure traffic, then clickbait-y, social traffic is the way to go. SEO can do wonders traffic-wise, but for sheer one-hit-wonder numbers, you can’t beat a social ‘You won’t believe what this guy did’ model. The thing is, this isn’t the model that should be adopted by the more traditional outlets – there’s a reason sites like The Independent and The Mirror have completely separate sites for this kind of content – because it does nothing to grow a loyal audience or convert.

There are a thousand Upworthy clones that do the rounds on Facebook that may make a pretty penny thanks to vertical spiking traffic in the short-term but will die a quick death when the ‘next big thing’ comes along.

For more traditional publishers then, be wary of focussing on traffic alone.

Even from an advertising perspective, there are other metrics that are just as important. Such as:

Time on site/page/Bounce Rate

These are the more qualitative metrics that can be used to demonstrate ROI of SEO. For SEO has, over the years, become bound to UX in a way that means it’s no longer about just about getting people on your site, but keeping them there, and make no mistake, this is something that SEOs need to champion as an indicator of success.


Aside from the overlap of content and UX with SEO, factors such as correct and well-optimised title and description tags do matter to these metrics – for it is the job of SEO to get people to click through to the page their search demanded.

So as an SEO in a media company, if you are doing work on this kind of optimisation, own it. Don’t let the designers or developers take all the credit for a successful metric that is at least in part down to your work.

For traditional media companies, qualitative metrics like these are the measure of true growth. Someone like the Mail doesn’t make ad money on their sheer traffic numbers alone (although this of course contributes enormously), but because they do so well at fulfilling the need of the searcher, and then hooking them in and keeping them onsite for longer. An advertiser is willing to spend more on a site like this because they know that their ad will be seen for longer and more often. That is the simple fact of it.

So when trying to demonstrate ROI of SEO in media, these metrics are just as important as hits.


This might all sound a bit ‘2005’ but for a quick glance demonstration of SEO ROI, and one that goes against what I outlined above and actually doesn’t rely on attribution, rankings are a great tool to use.

The caveat I would add is that rankings should never be the ends in themselves – there should always be a reason you’re chasing rankings and it will usually be to improve one of the metrics above.

But for sheer, obvious, ‘in-your-face boss – you can’t dismiss this’ evidence, rankings are superb.

Best used in conjunction with a benchmarking of ranking positions for your key terms prior to SEO activity (check-out this guide if you’re not sure how) as well as case studies to demonstrate traffic or click through rates relative to position in search results, this is probably the easiest ‘quick’ way to show your somewhat dismissive boss that SEO actually does have an impact.

This can (and most certainly should) then lead into all of the other measuring activities above.


Final thoughts

So there you have it, a few select ways to demonstrate the ROI of SEO within media companies.

So remember:

1/ Know what ROI means to you, your company and in your industry.

2/ Attribution is the facilitator – the carton the holds all of the data juice.

3/ Traffic is a headline metric, but always go deeper.

4/ Focus on qualitative metrics like time on site too.

5/ If all else fails, or as a first port of call, rely on rankings.

If you have any questions or other tips on demonstrating ROI, please do comment, email, call or even Tweet. This is by no means an exhaustive ‘complete’ guide, but one that can hopefully grow with the input of others.

Look forward to hearing all your thoughts!

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