There is a never-ending issue all SEOs must face: fighting for budget.
I’ve found this to be especially true when it comes to link building. SEO, although technical in nature, can be explained in real-world measures to upper management. There’s data, traffic levels, technical configurations and on-site elements directly in your control to measure and report.
With link building, upper management often approaches metrics in a single, dogged mindset: price per link. The easiest way to quantify the value of a link is through cost — particularly to the budgetary gatekeeper.
Measuring link-building campaigns by cost is fair, but it creates the wrong mindset. It’s the difference between price and value.
Today, I want to explain how SEOs can and should sell the value of link building upstream, instead of the price.
Three critical stages to communicate value
As an in-house SEO, you’ve reached the point where you need links to achieve your goals. So how do you request additional budget?
It starts with communicating value.
There are three key stages at which you will need to sell the value of link building upstream to obtain buy-in from upper management:
Keep in mind that you’ll need to consistently communicate value throughout the entire project — these are just the most crucial junctures.
1. Securing budget: Emphasize the role of links in SEO
You’ve done the hard work of technical and on-page SEO. You’ve seen solid improvements and gains, but you’ve hit a roadblock: you need links to remain competitive and drive rankings.
You don’t have time to build all the links your business needs yourself. You’ll need additional budget to dedicate serious resources to link acquisition. Now it’s time to convince your boss to invest.
Start your pitch by tying link acquisition directly to the SEO goals you’ve laid out for your department:
Be explicit. Demonstrate on a page-by-page level where competitors are beating you in rankings and links, and clearly define the value of links within search. A few studies you can point to:
You must explain why link building is worth the budget. Your logic chain should look something like this:
Reinforce how your SEO goals support overarching business goals — after all, you’re selling the goals link building can help your business achieve. You must speak to the budgetary gatekeeper’s goals as much as possible.
Explain how links can aid:
Tie link building into your own goals, but also make sure you tie your SEO goals to the business’s goals, and specifically any initiatives your boss is invested in.
The true product isn’t the links, but the results. You could easily buy 100 links on Fiverr — and while you know that won’t achieve the results you need, your manager may not. You must distinguish the types of links you need as part of your pitch.
As much as you can, tie the work of link building to the value it will produce. Otherwise you’ll be embroiled in a never-ending struggle of cost.
Explain that the right links are valuable because they’re a means to a result — better organic search performance for your website.
2. Budget secured and project start: Strategy and execution
You’ve won budget.
You’re ready to proceed with a link-building project. Now, it’s time to execute a strategy that will accomplish the goals you’ve outlined in your budgetary proposal.
To maintain buy-in from management, you’ll need to speak to the strategy you’ve developed, and why it will be successful.
Communicate to your boss that you’re not simply buying links, but instead investing in a comprehensive strategy that serves SEO and business goals alike. You don’t want to build links for links’ sake; you want a targeted campaign that helps your brand succeed online. Your boss needs to know their marketing dollars are being used strategically.
For example, show what your competition is doing successfully using a tool like SEMrush, and highlight opportunities where you can surpass them with strategic, targeted link building. Then speak to the direct benefits of outranking your competition:
As you discuss strategy, introduce lead indicators and KPIs that will signal whether the campaign is successful. By clearly communicating KPIs at the start of a campaign, you’ll be able to demonstrate efficacy later in the project.
Some lead indicators you should discuss are:
At this point, you should communicate a clear strategy and show that the execution is matching strategy.
Explain why these KPIs will translate to completion of the overarching goals discussed before launch. Of course, you’ll want to monitor results (traffic, keywords, head terms) as well, but you shouldn’t expect to see movement on those until the six-month mark.
Demonstrate how lead indicators (relevant prospects, website contacted, quality links) support lag goals (head terms, long-tail keyword growth, organic traffic) to secure buy-in for your link strategy.
3. Six-month review: Monitoring and forecasting growth
You’ve consistently communicated the value of links, and the project has been successful (although likely not without a few bumps).
Somewhere around six months, you should expect management to ask for demonstrable results. You’ll need to show what the project has accomplished to date, and forecast additional growth.
At this point, you should have some results to share. Depending on your specific situation, it could take longer (even up to a year, according to Google), but typically, around six months is when you should be able to demonstrate trends.
Report on how lead indicators have led to results in your SEO goals. Typically, we look at these three critical areas:
You should also know how many links were secured each month throughout the campaign, although you want to speak primarily to long-term goals. Simply listing how many links have been secured to date isn’t enough — point to trends of steady improvement and extrapolate.
Even modest gains signal positive movement and indicate you’re working in the right direction. You should then project the potential results of continued investment into link building. Of course, any technical and on-page SEO work you’re doing will contribute to the gains your site has made, but you should see amplified growth from your link acquisition efforts.
Don’t forget to include projected future success based upon current results. You want to keep management invested in the value of links, avoiding the once-and-done mentality.
Key talking points
Before launch and throughout a campaign, you’ll likely have to communicate the value of link building upstream to secure and maintain support for the project. Here are some key points to emphasize during the critical stages of a link-building program.
Start of the project:
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