SEO Battlezone

Round 3

Slashing Your SEO Budget

Michael King and Zach Chahalis vs. seo budgets

Episode Time Stamps

  • [0:00] Intro
  • [1:11] Why You Should NOT Slash Your SEO Budget
  • [3:37] Budget Cuts Are Situational
  • [6:06] C-Suite Did Not Learn From The Past
  • [9:44] Expand Keyword Coverage And Content
  • [11:39] Use Technical Stories To Your Advantage
  • [13:53] Final Thoughts
  • [16:24] Outro

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In episode 3, Mike King and Zach Chahalis of iPullRank give their takes on whether or not you should be divesting in SEO during an economic downturn.

They discuss why it’s important to think through your SEO plans and not make careless decisions that can impact your brand long-term.

Mike and Zach also share thoughts on where your money can be best spent for maximum returns.


When the budget is tight, should you cut SEO before Ads?

Mike’s Take:

I truly don’t believe it makes sense for you to cut the SEO budget at this point.

Particularly because you gotta think about how the two channels function. When you turn that off (paid ads), you’re not gonna get anything else.

People aren’t gonna suddenly start looking for your ads and trying to find them in other ways unless there’s a really interesting ad.

Organic channels will continue to drive traffic and conversions and business down the line. 


Zach’s Take:

No. I would definitely not be cutting organic.

I think, to Mike’s point, it’s like investing in your 401K in a long-term investment, right?

You don’t just stop doing it at any point in time. When the market’s down, that’s when you start to buy more.

I’m not cutting my investment into my 401k because the market’s dipping a little bit because it’s gonna come back. But if you don’t keep investing in your SEO, that can fall. Things start to get stale.

Competitors are doing better. Competitors are investing their money into SEO and you’re not, and you start falling down that line.

In theory, you are getting more per dollar that you’re putting in the market for SEO than you’re going to get on the paid side. It’s just not that immediate return on investment.

So yeah, you shut off paid, you’re not gonna get that immediate lead or sale that might come out of it, but if you shut off the SEO, how long is it gonna take you to recover once you turn that back on?

That could be several months. That could be years. That could be you digging out of a hole depending on who you’re going up against.

If you’re a retailer going up against Amazon, any time you give up (on SEO), you’re automatically clawing.


Did the C-Suite learn their lesson from the pandemic when it comes to investing in SEO?

Mike’s Take:

Apparently not.

I mean, just the fact that this is a conversation that we’re having now. They clearly did not learn their lesson. 

And there’s been so many studies about this, just from a macro perspective, (I think it was McKinsey or Bain or one of them) they compared the compound annual growth of companies that pulled back versus ones that didn’t through recessions over time. And it’s always the ones that didn’t pull back that just win in the end, right?

So we all just went through it. We literally just went through it over the last two years and you saw brands that were like, you know what?

Nope, we’re gonna keep spending and you just saw that they had better brand awareness coming out of it. Cause to Zach’s point, just like with your 401k, everything is on sale right now.

So the more money you put in there, the more value you’re gonna get out of it. And so when there are so few people in the marketplace, and when you think about paid media, it’s an auction.

So when there are fewer people in the auction, things cost less. What you do find is if let’s say five out of ten of your competitors aren’t investing in SEO, well that allows you to close gaps or build the moat that’s bigger around your brand, whether that’s through content creation, link acquisition, through just deploying more things faster from a technical perspective.

It’s a really good idea to continue to invest through this, rather than pulling back if you actually wanna win.


Zach’s Take:

Yeah, I’m gonna agree with Mike.

I don’t think that they have. I mean, that’s kind of what we’re seeing again, they’re starting to make the cuts there first.

I work with sites over time where you’re talking a four-to-six-figure-a-month SEO engagement, but you’re talking an eight-to-ten-figure-a-month paid budget, right?

What’s your return on investment comparing those two tactics?

The other thing I think people are forgetting about too is there’s a large amount of overlap in optimizing your site for organic that benefits you on the paid side too.

So if you stop investing in that, what’s that doing to your quality scores?

Then you’re paying more in your bids because you have to overcome poor quality scores or not having good content for something that you’re going after.

If you’re running dynamic search ads, that’s pretty much mostly based on the organic optimizations of the page and how Google AdBot is looking through and evaluating that content.

So, if you stop investing there, you’re also hurting yourself on the paid side in the long run.


What should the C-Suite be doing with SEO and the marketing budget?

Mike’s Take:

So I’ll give an example from a client that we have been working with for a number of years. They’re specifically in the home lending space and at the end of 2019, they came to us. They’re like, “Things are going really well, but we need to figure out how we can expand this.”

We went back to them and said, let’s expand the keyword coverage and effectively create more content so that we’re up and down the journey in more redundant ways.

We laid out this bigger keyword strategy, this bigger content plan, and we actually got started on it at the end of 2019.

Then 2020 hits and then the pandemic hits. We had already laid this foundation with all this content. They were already ranking for all of these keywords once the rate environment got so much better for people looking to buy houses.

If you are thinking about doubling down or even if you’re not thinking about doubling down, like maintaining your existing investment, I would say how do you expand your keyword footprint?

Because the reality of it is, a lot of behaviors are also changing as a result of the “recession.”

It’s worth revisiting your audiences. It’s worth revisiting your keyword research and targets. It’s worth updating existing content and also expanding that. There are two benefits to that.

  1. You’re gonna meet the audience where it is right now.
  2. You’re gonna be in a better position as compared to your competitors that are cutting back.

Zach’s Take:

I agree with Mike in that sense.

Investing in that keyword portfolio and investing in your content is really the most effective way.

You could consider investing in some technical stories if you’ve got technical roadmap stories that can help make your site more accessible for SEO. And you can start to justify the usage of some of your budget in that sense or some of the development hours needed too. That could be a great area of opportunity.

I think to Mike’s point with as much as the way that people are searching has changed and the way that they’re buying products has changed, one big area of opportunity, if I’m a retailer, I’m looking at how can I elevate that content?

How can I go after those people that are searching differently?

Is that creating a buying guide? Is that creating content that supports where people are looking now and trying to get them into that realm? That’s, that’s the big area of opportunity for me.

And I’ll, I’ll stick with retail, but if you’re creating buying guide content, for example,  it’s constantly evolving, right?

The product that you recommended buying in 2019 is not the product that you’re recommending buying in 2020.

So don’t let your content get stale in that sense.

Invest the money into that, and maintain that ranking. Maybe consider shifting that older content to a different page and maintaining it, but it can kind of depend on that use case.


Your SEO Battlezone Fighters

Michael King | Founder & CEO | iPullRank

Zach Chahalis | Director of SEO | iPullRank

Michael King

Title: Founder and CEO

Business: iPullRank

Bio: An artist and a technologist, all rolled into one, Mike King is the Founder & CEO of the enterprise SEO and content strategy agency, iPullRank. Mike consults with companies all over the world, including brands ranging from SAP, American Express, HSBC, SanDisk, General Mills, and FTD, to a laundry list of promising eCommerce, publisher, and financial services organizations.

Mike has held previous roles as Marketing Director, Developer, and tactical SEO at multi-national agencies such as Publicis Modem, iAcquire, and Razorfish. Effortlessly leaning on his background as an independent hip-hop musician, Mike King is a dynamic speaker who is called upon to contribute to conferences, webinars, and blogs all over the world.

Zach Chahalis

Title: Director of SEO

Business: iPullRank

Bio: Zach Chahalis has over a dozen years of experience in digital marketing focused on developing and executing SEO strategies for Fortune 500 brands including Genuine Parts Company, GameStop, Michaels Stores, Sodexo, CoStar Group, and Global Payments Inc.

Zach also has experience working both agency-side and in-house with companies of all shapes and sizes ranging from local universities and regional home builders to national hotel groups and multinationals. Additionally, Zach leverages his experience and degree in business administration to develop data-driven marketing strategies beyond SEO, including developing several national loyalty rewards programs as well as leading analytics implementations and PPC campaigns for large brands.

Zach is also the co-founder of the ATL SEO organization.

Referree: Garrett Sussman

Title: Demand Generation Manager

Garrett loves SEO like the 90s loves slap bracelets.

Each week he officiates the fiery hot takes that Zach and Michael are slinging.

Enjoy this? Check out Garrett’s video show round-up of everything search engine optimization, The SEO Weekly , and his weekly SEO podcast Rankable.

Aaron Johnson

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