SEO budgets and convincing your senior leadership team to give you more money/resources
If you’re lucky enough to work in an enterprise-level or otherwise company that has a dedicated budget for spending on capital costs (e.g. not your team’s salaries), then you’re already in a pretty good place.
If you’re like me and coming in as a consultant, a lot of times you’re being brought in by someone who is already keen on SEO. So you end up in an environment that’s already open to SEO and how beneficial it can be.
If, though, you’re in a business where maybe you feel like a puppet on strings or you never really feel like you’re getting traction with the budget and resources you have, you should sit down and do the work we chat through in my last article about getting buy-in.
Before you ask for more budget over and above what you already have available to you, it’s important that you have that baseline, because asking for more money is rarely an easy conversation.
Before the pitch
Just like how so much of buy-in is the research and preparation beforehand, there is that element here as well, and one element in particular: budget process. You want to know what the process is for requesting budget before you go in and make the request.
Everything else being equal, you’re much more likely to get shut down for a budget request if it’s in the middle of your budget year and everyone is protecting the budget they’ve dedicated to their own projects.
On the other hand, if you request budget when everyone else is requesting budget, your 20K ask will probably look paltry in comparison to the $1 million your acquisition marketing team is requesting for TV ads, and you may get a really easy yes without much fight.
Understanding the how
While it’s great to have the why and the aspiration, a good part of the legwork before a pitch for budget is actually understanding how much budget you need, to as close a dollar value as you can. So that might include:
- Getting a rough quote from a content agencies website or sales manager
- Talking to your content team to understand if they took on this project how many new staff they’d need and how much that’d cost
- Talking to your DevOps manager to understand the same
- Getting rough quotes from any new technology you want to onboard as a part of this
You want to have an ask for budget that could actually conceivably get your project done if it was approved — and this way as well you’ve already gotten the wheels rolling in your key stakeholder’s brains, so if you tell them you have the green light, they know what you’re talking about, are already on-side and are ready to start hiring or onboarding new technologies.
Understand your process and the different breakpoints for different types of budget conversations. For example, if you know the threshold for significant budget requests is $100K, can you do what you want to do for $99K? It provides a context for the conversations you have and the tradeoffs you make with internal stakeholders when you’re getting the details on what it would take to actually get your plan done — the how. It’s going to be a very different approach if it’s a single conversation with your team’s finance manager versus a process like:
- Budget approvals have to be in 6 months before the new financial year with a clear strategy and business impact
- You have to present to a finance justification board because you’re asking for more than 10K/20K/100K
- You have to get your direct manager to sign it off
- You may have to present to another finance approval board
- You have to get your senior leader to sign it off
If you’re not sure of the value of a conversion or customer — if, say, you don’t have an analyst embedded in your team — I’d suggest speaking to the finance team well before any of these meetings, as knowing the value of a customer could be quite important for forecasting for all of those meetings and presentations.
SEO is essentially an ongoing checklist of experiments — you’re always trying to find a way to increase your incremental organic traffic…because it’s your job. If you’re currently in a role in-house as an SEO, keep logs. I edited the metadata and x or y% change. I changed the layout of the product detail page. I finally got the team to remove that old JS library. You’re effectively continually updating your resume with each implementation you do and see change (or no change) from.
If you’re a consultant, speak to your in-house teams. If you’re in-house and haven’t historically been keeping logs, start doing it now — and anything that you can reverse engineer from historical work you’ve done and can pin down, do it. And do it down not just to traffic, but to incremental revenue. You’ll thank yourself for future budget conversations.
How to build the pitch
This is where all your stakeholder management and the research you’ve done already into your stakeholders and what they care about can really shine. Pitching for budget is stakeholder management on steroids.
So when you’re creating a pitch you want to make sure you’re speaking in your stakeholder’s language. If the senior management you’re pitching really cares about market share, and in particular what a competitor is doing, ground your conversations in that.
And a part of positioning it for success with senior stakeholders is talking about it in terms of the company’s 3 or 5-year strategic plan, and the core focuses. You already know these are the things the business is focusing on — if you can even position a toe of this budget in that strategic initiative, you’re much more likely to get some ears perked up in your audience. And more likely to get approval.
Yes, forecasting. As much as we all hate it in the SEO industry, it really should be done, as it can give you a concrete impact, a dollar value you can share.
One of the simplest and potentially most powerful bottom-up analyses you can do is calculate what your current revenue per page is, and multiply that out to whatever you’re suggesting you grow the website by. It’s by no means perfect, but it can give broad strokes analysis that’s a bit more nuanced than a graph that goes up and to the right.
One of the important things to do is to focus on incrementality. By doing all these things you’re suggesting your website will get $x in incremental gain. So that means you need to have a baseline number you use to calculate the value of that incrementality, which is where revenue per page comes in.
Calculation of revenue per page depends on what your relevant transactions are. What your company goals are. But take that total — net revenue rather than gross if you can get it — and divide it by the number of pages you’re targeting with this budget ask. If you want, you can add further nuance, by looking at only non-brand incrementality.
Or if you’ve been keeping your receipts and have the impact of a proof of concept for this project you’re asking for budget for, you can use the incremental impact you found from that, and expand it out to meet the parameters of what you’re proposing.
As Tom Critchlow says in his podcast, “you’re looking for explainability, not truth.” If you have a proof of concept and can explain how you came to that calculation of incremental revenue in a simple sentence, it’s worth using. If there are objections, you can always go back and revisit the way you’re calculating revenue impact.
Having incremental revenue in your pitch is better than not; it’s likely one of the main things your leadership cares about. They may think they care about page speed or page weight or links earned. Honestly, they probably don’t. They care about what those things get them, and that’s revenue.
With bottom-up forecasting, though, you’re limited by reality. And sometimes reality isn’t what gets the budget sold in.
So in comes down forecasting with the aspirational part — the conversation where it’s the this is where we could get to, if we really tried. The competitor that has an established market authority, thousands of articles published, millions of visits to those articles, and an estimated revenue from those articles that you can find through a number of different third-party tools.
Every pitch should have some ambition to it, some aspiration. You need to get emotional to really get buy-in. And realistic incremental revenue numbers rarely get people emotional.
We tend to talk in monthly search volume because that’s what Google and other third-party tools have trained us to do. Monthly impact isn’t how the majority of businesses plan or talk about themselves, and monthly impact rarely lines up with the timescale of organic impact.
So why talk about monthly impact? Go bigger. Talk about annuals. It lines up both with the scale of impact of organic and usually the way a business plans.
Active rather than passive
When you use words like “maintain” and “optimise” or “tweak” it makes what you’re proposing sound passive, or in the least, not very active. An easy shift in that language: “we’re building new processes to continually adapt content to our customer’s needs” can drastically change the perception of this kind of work to portray how active it is, and how important it is to the continued growth of the website, the company and the brand.
And yet, it means the same thing. With a new set of clothes, that gets better reception than the unsexy “maintenance.”
Generally, as specialists and subject matter experts, we can get too in the weeds, too in the detail. We think that will win us the pitch because we had such a clear, detailed plan. Honestly, that may have lost you the pitch because you put your stakeholder to sleep.
When you’re in that pitch, you want to build that hook, draw them in, get them to ask questions and get excited. Share that potentially unrealistic goal as a signpost, as a flag in the distance, a peak to summit. And get excited about climbing that mountain with the new team you’re building, or the help you’re requesting.
A few final thoughts
Asking for more budget can be hard, and important. What I’ve gone through here with you is a top-level way of how to approach asking for budget, so you’ll note I’ve not broken down all the ways you can calculate ROI or revenue generated from organic and SEO teams. Because that depends on your product, your company, and potentially even your department.
But you’ll now at least consider asking those questions and preparing those numbers before you go in to pitch for budget. And just like with getting any stakeholder on-side, requesting budget is not about you. It never is, even though you’re the one asking for budget for an initiative you want to run. It’s about your stakeholders — and with budget, it’s also about your company, and what their current goals are. So go forth and take yourself out of your request for budget.