Is SEO an Expense or an Investment?

video-41MARK: Hi, I’m Mark Steinbrueck, and this is Kurt Steinbrueck. We’re with our OurChurch.Com, and on this video we’re going to talk about SEO, or search engine optimization, and answer the question is it an expense or an investment?

Part 1

Part 2

There it is. The video’s done.

It’s an investment.

In all reality, it is an investment, but we’ll talk a little bit about why it’s an investment. So Kurt, why don’t you share a little bit of your expertise on that?

KURT: Sure. SEO, like any marketing that you do, should be considered an investment. You’re doing it for the purpose of bringing more into your organization, whether that’s more revenue or more members or more students, whatever it might be, you’re not just spending money; you’re spending money in order to gain. So it is an investment. Really, with some organizations, like businesses, it’s a very easy concept. Okay, I spent $1,000 and I did $2,000 more in business, so I made $1,000. You understand that this is an investment; I invested that $1,000, I made $1,000.

With some organizations, it’s not quite as clear-cut. With churches especially, we don’t even like to think about the monetary side of bringing people into the church. And it’s legit – our focus is on bringing people to Christ, and that’s where our focus should be. But there is a practical side to things. The church does tend to make certain decisions based on whether it can afford to do something. I know with my church, we could use a new sound system. We haven’t done it yet because we don’t have the money to do it right now. It’s such a practical reality.

The same thing goes with marketing. When you’re having that discussion with the church council or whatnot, a lot of times you have the budget guy who’s saying where are we going to come up with the money for this? It sounds like a neat idea, but where are we going to come up with it? The reality is that for churches, this is an investment too, because the people that come in, there should be some of them that are going to be tithing. There is a monetary side to that.

MARK: Right. A lot of churches probably already know exactly what an average family that starts attending the church will start to give on a weekly basis. It might be say $20 a week. It probably should be a lot more, but it could be $20 a week, which over the course of a month means that one family that starts attending will start to bring in about $80 more per month, two families being $160.

So if you’re bringing in $160 as a result of a marketing initiative and the cost of that marketing initiative is $150, you’ve not only met your cost, you now have a surplus. That surplus, month over month over month, and as you add more and more people and you keep the families that have started to attend and continue to give, that surplus is just going to grow. And it’s going to give you the opportunity to do other ministries and other programs that you weren’t able to do beforehand.

KURT: Absolutely.

MARK: SEO is not instant.

This is something that is a little bit different than some sorts of marketing, online advertising being one of them, other more traditional kinds of advertising as well. Why don’t you talk a little bit about SEO and how it’s not an instant return and it’s more of a gradual, over time return?

KURT: Sure. One of the key aspects of this is we’re talking about this as an investment. So you’re going to want to gauge how well am I doing versus what am I getting back. But understanding that SEO isn’t instant is very important. If you’re doing an Adwords campaign, you buy your keywords and you can look at it and say “Okay, I spent $100 and I only got $50 in business out of it. This wasn’t a good investment.” You can tell that pretty quickly with something like Adwords.

But with SEO, like you said, it’s a growing process. It’s a cumulative effect. So when you start out, you might not actually be making back as much as you’re spending, but you will grow into it. Generally what it would look like – and we actually have a graph here – is maybe this is what you’re spending, this line right here, and especially if you’re starting with a brand new website, you’re probably not going to be making much of anything or anything back initially, because you’ve got to establish yourself in the search engines. You’ve got to do the optimization, do the keyword research, all this kind of stuff.

It takes some time to do that, and the search engines take a little bit of time to respond to things. So you may start where you’re not really even getting anything back the first month or so, but then as you start to show up in the search engines, you start to get some of those rankings. It starts to bring in something.

And as you grow, especially if you’re doing link building, you’re doing content development, and you’re sharing things on the social networking sites, all that kind of stuff, you’re going to grow the authority and the trustworthiness of your site. So that’s just going to keep increasing your rankings and how many keywords you’re ranking for, and it’s going to keep growing. You’ll get to that point where you’re breaking even.

And then from there, it’s just going to keep going up, and you’re making that surplus that you talked about. You’re making more than you’re actually spending. And really, looking at this, we could just keep going. We have this little graph that’s got its limited amount of space, but it’s just going to keep going up from there.

MARK: Yeah. And the amount of time – I mean, right now at the bottom of this, we show 3 months, 6 months, 9 months. That probably will vary from organization to organization, website to website. It could be that you’re realizing a much better return a lot quicker. It could be that it takes a little bit more time. That’s going to change from website to website. But the key is that over time, the revenue or the return on the investment will eventually exceed the investment that you’re putting in.

KURT: Yeah, and a lot of it has to do with what your competition’s like, how much are you actually doing in the marketing, and where were you to start? Because if you already have an established site, you may be starting well above what you’re spending.

MARK: Right. The next thing to keep in mind is that:

You need to plan for the cost

And as we showed on the previous slide, there will be a time that you are spending more than you are bringing in. The amount of time will vary, but there will be that time. Why don’t you talk a little bit about the cost of that and the need to plan for it?

KURT: Yeah, there is that growth aspect, and so you need to have that money put aside for those times when you’re not making back when you’re putting into it. And the other aspect, really, with any marketing that you do, you think you’re going to do well and you have your goals, but nothing is guaranteed. So if things don’t work out quite as well as you’d hoped, you need to be prepared for that. That’s all part of it. You just need to have the things set aside so that in case it doesn’t go quite as well as you’d hoped, you are prepared for that.

MARK: Yeah, and something else to keep in mind, as you plan for the cost, once you’ve made that commitment and you’ve started the SEO program, don’t focus on the money that’s being spent. At that time, the focus needs to be turned toward the results that you’re getting from that.

In fact, that kind of leads us to the next point, which is:

Setting measurable goals

As you’re focusing on those results, the measuring of the goals, you actually need to establish that first. You need to be able to have things in place to be able to measure the goals so you can evaluate the success of the SEO program.

KURT: Yeah, it’s very important to have goals. The point of the marketing that you’re doing is those goals, and you need to know what those are, and they need to be measurable. It’s crucial. Because otherwise you don’t know if it’s being affected. You’ll come up to that meeting, six months, a year, whatever, and they’re saying, “Okay, do we really need to keep spending this money?”, and do you have an answer? Or you just say “Well, it was supposed to bring in more people. I don’t know if it did or not, but hopefully it did.” It’d be much better, of course, to have an answer to that, so you set in place, what are those goals, what do we want to reach, and we have to put in place means of tracking that.

That’s really our next point, is you have to not only set the goals, but:

You have to set up ways to track

To see if you are meeting those goals and to see if that marketing is working.

A great example of this, I have a client who we were doing some marketing work, and they were spending a decent amount of money with us. About six, eight months into it, they called me up – and I’d been sending them ranking reports and things like that, but I didn’t have access to their budget or QuickBooks or whatnot. They called me up and they said “Are we really spending our money in the right ways? Is this really something that’s working out for us?” Well, we had set up analytics for them, and they had actually set up a goal in analytics for enrollment. This was a school. So they actually had an online form that people would fill out when they were enrolling in the school.

We were able to look at year over year, and say, “Look, here’s where you were a year ago; here’s where you are now,” and they were up 10%. Which, for them, was a lot of money. It was a lot more than they were spending with us. So as soon as I was able to point that out, “Okay, you’re 10% over year over year for your enrollment,” he said, “We wanted to increase enrollment; we’re clearly making more off of it now than we’re spending, so okay. I’m happy.”

MARK: Yeah, and that’s a great example of something that can track that online. For some organizations, like churches and some schools that don’t have online enrollment, you have to have a different approach. You’re not going to be able to do it all through the website.

So when it comes to churches, you need to be asking people as they come in the doors, if they’re brand new, “Where did you hear about us? How did you find us?” And then not only do you ask the questions, but you need to actually mark it down. You need to check something off, you need to bring all that data and put it into an Excel spreadsheet or some kind of way that you can track it so you know exactly how many people are coming in.

The same thing with schools. If you’re getting a lot more traffic via the school website, that’s great. But as people come into the doors and ask to get a tour around the school and then eventually sign their children up to start attending there, you need to ask those questions. “How did you find us?” That way you can track to see if the SEO marketing initiative or some other kind of marketing initiative is a result of that. But it’s very important to make sure, whether it’s tracking online or tracking offline, exactly how effective that marketing initiative is.

KURT: Yeah. Also, it shifts your focus. Your focus becomes on what the benefits are, as opposed to “What am I spending?” If you don’t know what you’re getting from it, then all you’re going to see, all that’s going to be real to you, is that you’re writing a check every month for the marketing service. But if you are seeing every month, “We’re getting this much in return for what we’re doing,” then that becomes the focus of what you’re doing. So that’s a very important thing to be able to do.

It also leads to one more point that I think is really key, is that:

There’s actually a cost for not doing SEO.

A lot of times we think about things that we lose in terms of things that we’ve had and then we no longer have it. I have a car, I get into an accident, I no longer have a car. I can feel that. That hurts me. I know that I’m missing something. Same thing if I have $15,000 in my bank account, all of a sudden it’s zero – I recognize that. I miss that.

The harder thing to recognize is “had I done something, I would now have $15,000 in my bank account instead of being broke.” That type of thing, it’s a real loss, it’s a real cost to having missed the opportunity. So especially, I think a lot in terms of churches, because I’m very involved with my church. I think about the ministries that we could be doing if we were bringing more people in.

The search engines, I think, are a big part of that. So it’s “okay, if we had brought in 20 people who would’ve tithed say $1,000 over a year, we’d have $20,000 that we could put towards ministries.” It’s 20 people who are learning more about Christ, who are growing in their faith. They’re also hopefully doing things and they’re contributing to the ministry as well. So it’s just all those things which had you not done it, you didn’t get there. So that is a real loss. It’s a real cost.

MARK: Very good point.

So in summary, SEO: expense or investment? I think we’ve clearly pointed out that:

  • It is an investment.
  • It’s not instant; it’s something that does take time.
  • You do need to plan for the cost.
  • Set measurable goals and;
  • Set up a way to track those goals and see if SEO is working.
  • And there is a significant cost of not doing SEO.

So I hope that this has been informative. Thank you, Kurt, for your time. We thank you for taking the time to watch this video. If there’s anything that we can do here at OurChurch.Com to help you accomplish your goals or mission online, please fill out the form below to request a free, no-obligation consultation.

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Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as .

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