SEO vs ROI: Should SEO be judged by the same criteria as other marketing efforts?

Some people feel that SEO should not be judged by the same criteria as other marketing efforts, but others feel that SEO should be held accountable.

I read an interesting article entitled “SEO Should Not Be Held To An ROI Target — Here’s Why” written by David Waterman. I won’t quote the entire article but to summarise, Mr. Waterman addresses two main points: that SEO is not a marketing channel and SEO is not an investment; it’s a requisite.

In making the first point he states: “SEO is a layer of checks and balances that exists within the mechanics of all online communication to help your brand’s message reach as far as it possibly can. Through ongoing maintenance, SEO can help ensure that the value of your website is properly identified by search engines, which can help maintain and improve organic visibility.”

With the second point Mr. Waterman contends: “You can pay tens of thousands of dollars to get a website built, but unless it’s been built with the proper SEO components in place, who’s to say the website won’t ‘fall apart’ when Google comes to crawl it?”

And his conclusion was: “So stop trying to squeeze an ROI out of an activity whose primary function is to ensure the integrity of your brand’s online existence. Simply accept that it’s a necessary component of maintaining your brand online.”

Okay, these things seem to make sense on the surface, but I was more intrigued by some of the comments that readers posted.

One reader said: “You're not going to be in business for long if you can't measure ROI. It's going to be an uphill battle, if you're simply going to ask them to except it as part of branding. When you are dealing with the many, primarily successful business minded people, ROI is the bottom line.”

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And others seemed to echo this sentiment.

Another poster stated: “SEO absolutely IS a marketing channel - Anything done to increase a brand's reach and exposure is a marketing effort.” And: “SEO is an investment AND a requisite.”

Another one: “At the end of the day, the focus is always going to be on the bottom line and whether you're a marketer, SEO specialist or website owner, if you can't improve your results then you probably need to review the quality of your SEO strategy.”

It’s an interesting debate. Should we view SEO as a way to ensure that content is accessible (like hiring an editor to check spelling and grammar) and simply build it into the budget in the same category as business cards and logos – things that are necessary in order to do business but not necessarily money makers? Or should SEO be treated the same as any marketing or advertising efforts and be held accountable for the end results?

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Let us know your thoughts in the comments.