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March 15, 2011

Understanding Business Cycles and How They Relate to SEO – A SPN Exclusive Article

As the song by The Byrds goes “To everything – turn, turn, turn/There is a season – turn, turn, turn/And a time for every purpose under heaven.” The same principle applies to Internet marketing – different aspects of Internet marketing campaigns run on different cycles. These business cycles have to be understood and accounted for when developing any SEO strategy, because they can directly affect the success of the campaign. While one company’s business cycles may greatly differ from another, especially when comparing B2B companies with B2C businesses, the bottom line is that you have to be aware of your own company’s business cycles to more effectively measure SEO success.

There are three main types of business cycles a company should keep track of: the sales cycle, the conversion cycle, and the SEO cycle.

The sales cycle begins the moment a company gets a lead. It could be a phone call from a prospective customer or client, someone submitting an online form and so forth. Each business has to decide when they are dealing with a real lead that is worth pursuing. The sales cycle doesn’t stop until that lead has either gone cold or been successfully closed. Some leads may remain active for months as potential clients hem and haw over making the final purchasing decision. Depending on the complexity of the products and services your company sells (medical testing equipment versus office supplies, for example), your business sales cycle could take a few days or even up to a year to complete. E-commerce sites typically have a much shorter sales cycle since visitors arrived at that site with the driven intent to make a purchase. Typically, the more expensive and complex the product/service being sold, the longer the sales process takes.

So how does the sales cycle relate to a company’s SEO? Let’s say your company sells scientific equipment used in chemistry labs. Your average sales cycle from getting the lead to closing the sale takes about nine months. If it takes you six months to really ramp up your SEO activities (from on-site optimization to really working through a strong link building plan), you can’t judge if the SEO efforts are having any effect on your business until nine months after they are in full swing. You have to allow for your average sales cycle to occur, since that’s how long it takes to see ROI anyway. Deciding a few months in that your SEO campaign isn’t delivering any new leads is preemptive, and you can cut the legs out from under what could have been a very successful plan.

The conversion cycle is all about prompting website visitors to action. This is a common point of failure for a lot of websites, but B2B sites in particular seem to have the hardest time. What is the goal of your site? What actions do you want visitors to take once they find your site? A site has to lead visitors down a predetermined path and encourage them with the appropriate call-to-action. If the goal of a site is to get visitors to pick up the phone, there better be a phone number listed everywhere. Don’t make it hard for visitors to act or find the information they need to turn into a lead for your business. Offering demos is a great way for B2B websites to start a relationship with visitors and engage them to start the sales cycle.

Many argue that SEO shouldn’t worry about the conversion cycle, that SEO is just about delivering the traffic. They argue that it’s the website owner’s job to see that traffic gets converted into leads. But SEO professionals and marketers in general have to be accountable for every dollar of the marketing budget. They have to prove that SEO is worth the investment of time, money, and manpower. A good conversion rate is essential to proving ROI. Sites need to be built so as to not sacrifice the brand in favor of SEO, or SEO in favor of the brand. SEO and user-experience go hand-in-hand when it comes to conversion.

The SEO cycle is how long it takes for a site to start seeing their SEO efforts be rewarded with better ranking for targeted keywords in the search engines. A company’s SEO cycle ties into several factors: the level of competition, the past and current SEO efforts of competitors, and the room for growth available. Websites often find themselves facing two common scenarios when they are trying to determine their SEO cycle.

Scenario one: the competition is dominating the search engines. Even if you work in a small, niche industry, one competitor who incorporated SEO into their Internet marketing a few years ago has carved out a pretty sturdy place for themselves in the rankings. They have the trust of the search engines and own top ranking spots for industry keywords. If you find yourself facing this kind of scenario, be prepared to buckle down for the long haul. Your site is the new kid on the block trying to usurp the king of the playground.

Scenario two: what every site should hope for when they begin their SEO – no one is doing a good job! Regardless of industry size or level of competition, if no other company is dominating the online space, this is the perfect opportunity for your company to seize ownership. If your site has been online for a long time (5+ years or so), it already has a good level of trust with the search engines. Even basic SEO tactics can help propel the site to the top spots of the SERP. This scenario also gives you more room to go after competitive industry keywords and win.

Business cycles vary from industry to industry, company to company. They depend on the type of product being sold, whether a site is B2B or B2C and the amount of competition in the field. But sales cycles, conversion cycles and SEO cycles are all critical components of any Internet marketing plan. They can directly affect the success of your SEO efforts and should always be considered when evaluating the overall outcome of your online marketing campaigns. Failing to take them into consideration could mean you end up stopping a campaign just as it was starting to gain momentum.

Nick Stamoulis is the President and Founder of Brick Marketing, a Internet marketing and SEO consulting firm in Boston, MA. With over 12 years of industry experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting daily updates to his blog, the Search Engine Optimization Journal (or SEO Journal) and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter. Contact Nick at 781-350 or