By the end of 2021, the total annual spend on SEO across the globe was expected to reach $50bn dollars – a figure analysts say could double in the next four years.
That’s a lot of budget for an industry that’s only quarter of a century old, as this interesting little anecdote about Jefferson Starship explains.
But just because bigger SEO budgets are now becoming the norm doesn’t mean the money is well spent. To probe how resources are being allocated we recently surveyed 150 UK-based SEO managers, with some truly eye-opening results.
The study, SEO Superheroes: Tooling To Propel Brand Profit, shines a light on the immense efforts being poured into tactical – some might say taciturn – tasks, often at the expense of more profitable pursuits.
But our poll also reveals SEOs hold out hope of taking a more financially fruitful focus – and they recognise better technology is the main way to make a difference.
Here are four key facts revealed by the research:
1. SEOs spend longer than their salaried hours on routine work
SEO managers tell us they dedicate well over 40 hours per week (i.e. their salaried hours) to handling routine tasks – from managing agencies and freelancers to sifting through data from different sources.
Regardless of seniority, SEOs claim their own time, as well as their team’s working week, is being swallowed up. This leaves little room for more strategic and potentially profitable activity.
While there is doubtless overlap between tasks that can be conducted simultaneously, and activity can be split across team members, the picture is one of SEO managers and their colleagues valiantly trying to stay on top of tasks that could be automated.
Doing so would allow them to spend more time using SEO strategically to boost revenues and profit for the business.
2. Routine tasks are deemed to be damn annoying as well as time-consuming
All routine tasks frustrate SEOs, with more than a fifth of those polled indicating irritation about every activity – from rank tracking and copywriter briefing, to managing extended teams and building reports.
At the root of this frustration is the knowledge that, were it made available to them, technology could take away some of the pain of working on tactical tasks.
SEOs say the ability to automate the briefing process – top of the list when we asked what takes up most time – and access to a unified source of data would make a significant difference.
In turn, this would enable SEOs to steer away from everyday delivery to concentrate on a range of activities that they believe would make a major difference to their organisation’s sales success.
3. SEOs are clear on the strategic work they’d focus on to boost profit
Given more time to focus on tasks they deem more strategic – and profitable – 41% of SEO managers would choose to double down on competitor analysis, while 39% would spend longer on keyword research.
Meanwhile, 35% want to devote more time to briefing wider content creation; the same proportion would choose long-tail optimisation; and 33% say they’d concentrate on internal linking strategy.
SEO managers and their teams indicate they are spending time on each of these strategic tasks already. However, the amount of hours allocated to this type of activity does not outstrip tactical time.
If some of these tasks could be automated the balance would surely tip in favour of strategy, thus improving the bottom line. SEOs tell us the improved outcomes of a greater strategic focus would include:
4. Automation increases the ability of SEOs to free up time for strategic tasks
SEOs have a technology wish list that mirrors their to-do list: a diverse range of activities they feel can be automated.
Platforms that automate activities including reports, link building and keyword identification are increasingly seen as game changers, bringing broad benefits to SEO teams, and ultimately their wider organisations.
Technology also enables SEO managers and their teams to handle entire workflows in one place – including external agencies and contractors used by 81% of senior SEOs.
The golden thread that runs through the findings is the perception among SEOs that they’re spending too long on the ‘wrong kind of tasks’.
These are many aspects of SEO that can be automated using the latest technology. And, in turn, that would free up hard-pressed SEOs to use their own complex technical knowledge and operational expertise to unlock huge leaps in visibility, reach and sales revenue for brands.
The best SEO professionals can offer something special to any organisation – but even superheroes need the right tools to do the best job.