How to Sell Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to your CEO

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Search Engine Optimization

Wow. My last post about search engine optimization from a CEO’s perspective must have struck a chord. I’ve never had such a wonderful response, so I’m guessing that looking at SEO from a CEO perspective must be of interest. With that in mind, I thought I’d focus this post on how to convince a CEO to invest in search engine optimization.

There’s a lot of information here that relates to more than just selling SEO to your upper management. I’d recommend reading through the article to gain insight on tasks you should accomplish no matter what when you are looking to invest in SEO.

I did some research on this topic before deciding to write it. There are numerous articles on how to convince your boss to invest in SEO, but very few on how to get the CEO to buy in.

The few articles I found had some amusing suggestions on approaches to take:

“Everyone else is doing it.”

“Search engine marketing is the future of marketing and sales.”

“SEO won’t add more work for you.”

“Show Graphs, Numbers, Charts & Visuals.”

In a small businesses, most decisions to spend more than a few hundred dollars are still floated by the CEO. So it’s important to put together your strategy before you walk through their door.

How Does a CEO Think?

Let’s talk about the CEO of a business that has 15-100 people.

A CEO’s day is generally filled with wall to wall meetings, with some time for e-mail responses, telephone calls and impromptu person to person conversations crammed in between them. The more people at the company, the more fires a CEO is generally putting out.

Generally, a CEO doesn’t get to make easy decisions. Everyone below the CEO makes the easy decisions. By the time a decision gets to the CEO it’s usually because people don’t know what to do, or don’t want to put their ass on the line.

For the most part, a CEO doesn’t want to come up with their own ideas on how to solve problems. They want the problems presented to them, along with 2-3 ideas on how to solve them. Then they will pick one, or ask the person they’re meeting with which solution they prefer.

A CEO likes things that are tangible as opposed to conceptual. Conceptual says that you haven’t fully vetted out what you are doing. Tangible says that it’s real.

At the same time all of this is going on, a CEO is thinking about the next big thing. What is going to help the company grow? What is going to increase profitability? How can costs be decreased without affecting the ability to deliver – or affecting company morale? What can the company do that the competitors aren’t doing? How do they drive innovation?

And as a small business CEO personally matures, or as the business itself matures, the leader realizes that they need to start tracking numbers and statistics that represent the success or failure of the organization. These are called Key Performance Indicators, or KPI’s, and I’ve written a couple of posts about some KPIs that are good to track (go here and here). As changes are made in the business or the market shifts, you can look at these KPI’s to determine whether you are on the right track, or if you’re doomed.

Why Does This Matter for Search Engine Optimization?

To get a CEO fully invested in a project, you need to approach them with the above in mind. You have to align your project and budget request with the way a CEO thinks.

First, you should look at SEO as solving a problem or innovating a process.

What problems does SEO solve? Flagging sales. Poor brand recognition. Low numbers of leads. What processes does it innovate? Lead generation. Marketing. Sales. Customer acquisition. I’d love some comments below on what problems or innovations YOU think SEO solves or delivers.

Second, there should be a timeframe around this – and for the initial project it should be quick. This is probably the most difficult area to deliver on. CEOs like quick timeframes and are more likely to give you the budget you want if you provide a timeframe. A CEO needs to understand that large percentage increases due to SEO only occur after a large period of time. But, are there things you can do quickly that will show quick results? Perhaps a pay per click campaign like AdWords or sponsored posts on social media. The timeframe needs to be something that you can deliver on or your next request for funding is doomed to failure. Once again, I’d be interested in comments on the types of deliverables that can provide a meaningful impact and be delivered in relatively short timeframes (2-3 months maybe?).

Third, there has to be a reasonable budget wrapped around the project. If a CEO doesn’t understand what SEO can do for the company, they aren’t likely to give you $5k-$10k a month. Is there a small budget of $2k-$3k per month that you can use to deliver small results? Think of it as a proof of concept. Also, always start a little higher with your budget request and then back down. “I need $3,500 per month.” “I guess I can do it for $3,000 per month.” As a CEO, I would always like to knock the budget down a bit, and by using the above strategy you still get what you need.

Fourth, explain to the CEO that the results are measurable. Show a sample spreadsheet of what you are measuring and how often you will be doing it. Find a way to track the measurements all the way to revenue generation if possible (closed sales). This will make the results tangible to the CEO, and as I said above – CEO’s like things they can touch as opposed to concepts. You might track numbers such as unique website visitors, click through rates, followers, form submissions, orders, closed sales, etc.

Fifth, and going along with measuring results, there needs to be a way to tell the CEO about whether or not the project is successful, and you should get agreement up front as to what these criteria are. Is it based upon overall web traffic increasing by a certain percent? Number of leads? Increased closed sales through your website? More followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest? Money spent vs. money earned?

Last, this information should all be provided to the CEO in a clear and concise fashion in a scheduled meeting. The more professional the presentation is, the more “warm and fuzzy” the CEO will feel about investing in the project. Cash flow is king in small businesses, and most small business CEOs make “gut decisions” on what to invest their precious budget on. The fact that you’ve put so much time and effort into thinking about all aspects of the project will go a long way towards making them feel comfortable about the investment. And doing it during a scheduled meeting will ensure that you have more of their focus than an impromptu conversation outside their office. It will create an aura of importance.

Remember, this isn’t a spur of the moment idea. This is a real investment with a real return. Treat it as such.

Wrapping it Up

Your goal is to make the CEO comfortable that they are going to make their business better in some way by investing in search engine optimization. Your job is to present it to them in a way that’s clear and understandable and gets across the benefits.

Remember, to a CEO it’s less important as to HOW you are going to do this than WHAT the results of the project are. I truly believe that most long term SEO projects are doomed at the start because they focus on the intricacies of the work as opposed to the benefits of the results.

Also, SEO isn’t good for every business. Sometimes the cost of search engine optimization vs. the cost of what you are selling will turn the profit equation upside down. Make sure that SEO is right for your company before you propose it to the CEO. As an example, here’s a great article on whether pay per click campaigns are right for you.

One other comment – if you are planning to use a consultant or third party to create your SEO strategy, have them follow similar guidelines to the above so you don’t have to do the work yourself.

I’d love to hear more about your experiences selling search engine optimization to your CEO or other executives.

In last week’s post I said I’d provide more information on the basic kinds of investments you need to make in order to do SEO right, but after numerous received emails I thought this topic was a bit more important. I’ll cover the types of SEO next week.

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Chris is Managing Partner of Fair Winds Strategies. Prior to this he was the Chief Innovation Officer at Internet Marketing Ninjas where he managed M&A activity, legal work, and also focused on the use of technology and other solutions to lead innovation and growth. Before IMN, Chris led the sale of his $10mil information technology company, twice an Inc500 fastest growing company in the US, to an investment banking firm in NYC. He has a strong passion for sailing, and had the opportunity to spend two years travelling from Lake Champlain to the southern Bahamas and back with his family.

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