5 Ways to Sell SEO to Your CMO

Written by , founder and CEO of BrightEdge:

To increase the chances of winning budget, you need to sell SEO like a CMO. Here’s how to find the data you need to get buy-in from the decision-makers.

If I came to you and asked to borrow $40,000 for a business venture I’m considering, and I said that you needed to trust the idea was going to work based on my knowledge and experience, what would you say? Would you give me the money, no questions asked?

I’m guessing your answer is no. That’s the same answer the CEO is going to give you as the marketing representative in charge of the brand’s SEO – whether you’re in-house or on the agency or consulting side.

As an SEO professional, you need to think of yourself as the chief marketing officer of every project you propose.

In days gone by, it may have been easy to throw some SEO jargon at the decision-makers along with some documentation from Google and other quick SEO wins to get buy-in for budget.

Today’s SEO professional is much more than just a competent optimizer. The SEO of today has a sophisticated skill set and knows how to prove the performance of SEO and communicate its business value, just like a CMO does. Now more than ever, performance tracking is key as SEOs deal with more channels and more data.


So where does that leave the SEO today? What are the factors that make SEO strategies work to keep the investments coming? How do you think like a leading-edge CMO?

How to Prepare for Tough Questions About SEO

When dealing with the decision-makers about your SEO plans, put your CMO “hat” on and be prepared to answer questions like:

  • What potential does the organic search channel really have?
  • How much do I have to invest to see what type of return?
  • How can my business even compete online when the competition is so fierce?
  • What sort of resources are needed to make this project work?

This takes planning and research. You have to be able to benchmark:

  • Where the business is today with little to no investment and where it could be in the future with that same effort.


  • A projection, in dollars, that shows what an investment in each SEO and content marketing initiative could bring to the business’s website in terms of traffic, leads, and lifetime value of a customer.

Let’s say optimizing pages was one of the SEO initiatives you wanted to forecast. You would create a simple projection that shows the traffic coming to the site today, what it could be if the pages and content were optimized, what it could be based on rank of those pages, and factor in estimated conversion rates to get to dollars.

If you can take it a step further by knowing the lifetime value a single customer brings, even better.

I guarantee that if you put this type of thought and effort into your proposal, you’re going to be talking the language of the decision-maker, and your chances of winning budget will massively increase.

The 5-Point Data-Driven Decision Plan

Preparing to answer some of the tough questions means knowing where to look for data. It can’t be ignored that you’ll need research tools. A few years back, a prediction by technology research company Gartner that stated CMOs will spend more on technology by 2017 than chief information officers got people’s attention.

Starting with the data source of your choice, consider the following research avenues:

  1. Understand the available channels online and how they might impact the ROI of SEO, for example, SEO + social, SEO + PPC, SEO + mobile-optimized site. This will help you identify the resources needed (that is, do you need a social media professional to promote your website content? Do you need a team member to spend X amount of hours optimizing pages?).
  2. Benchmark the historical performance and trends for any given channel, or content topic (a.k.a., keyword). Know historically how one channel has impacted another, or which topics on the site tend to drive the most targeted performance. This gives you baselines for your calculations.
  3. Segment pages of the site and groups of pages to correlate with various audiences or business units, as well as those that show the most ROI today. Ensure you measure content performance at page level. Also be sure to identify those pages with the most potential to make an impact (Which page or pages would be taken to the next level very easily?). This helps prioritize your plan.
  4. Know website best practices inside and out that are necessary for a website to even be considered by the search engines or to create a good experience. Explain the ramifications of not having a well-optimized site or a quality content strategy. What does that look like in quantifiable terms? What losses are possible in one year as a result? What about five years?
  5. Find data sources from companies like Pew Research Center, Forrester, eMarketer, comScore, Nielsen, or any other reputable research company to present facts related to the organic search channel and its use. Pepper this into your case for SEO.

Data and the Enterprise SEO Team

Enterprise SEO assumes that there are different roles within a marketing organization – the vice president of marketing interested in revenue from portfolio of sites; director of search looking at rank and conversions from a subset of sites; and SEO managers seeking insight into content, keywords, page, and rank performance.

Ensure that a clear understanding and agreement on your team objectives such as:

  • Who does what – how do search, social, and content teams align?
  • How will you define KPIs for each team member?
  • How are these KPIs related to the overall goals of marketing?
  • Is every team member aware of how their KPI is related to the overall goals?


CMOs care about mapping strategy to business outcomes because that’s how they win and maintain budget for their initiatives. As an SEO in today’s landscape, you are the chief marketing officer of your projects, and you’re usually up against a very discerning crowd when selling concepts related to content and organic search marketing.

Be well prepared with data points and projections that speak to the goals that matter to different decision-makers.

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