The companies I’ve interviewed with are pretty big corporations with some scary budgets who definitely want to do everything you listed. Drive Sales, Increase Branding Visibility, Displace Competitors, plus a surprising number of major web properties will gain dramatically in web site ad sales. But most simply want more sales, period.
Conversion is partially the job of the SEO in that once you discover high traffic pages that don’t convert to sales (or ad clicks) that you bring it to the attention of a copywriting team in the marketing department or propose tweaks and split testing of copy re-writes for conversion. Sometimes it just needs a bit of Title Tag Tweaking to encourage clicks on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP’s) and doesn’t involve other departments.
But nearly everyone finds that if they increase traffic, sales move up in proportion. Improvements in conversion can always be made. More traffic means more opportunity, very simply. And if more traffic comes from searches, you have more exposure.
I’ve got a client that fluctuates between position #3 and #6 in the Google results for their main keyword phrase. When they are at #3 and “above the fold” in the visible screen real estate, their sales quadruple. When they drop back to #6 or sometimes #8 on page one of results, they drop back to normal sales levels. Clearly we want to stay in those top 5 positions.
For this client, a 400% increase in sales is significant enough to easily earn back in sales in less than a single day what they spend with me each month.
For many sites though, it’s (prepare yourself for one of those tired new catch phrases) about the “Long Tail” concept of being found for dozens, even thousands of variations on their main keyword phrases.
We’ve found that some unexpected results come from optimizing for “hidden” search phrases that occur when people start using made-up descriptive phrases for a product because they don’t know the proper name.
There is no question that having a full time person monitoring search, optimizing for the “Long Tail” and maximizing “hidden” phrases, can very easily recoup their salary hundreds or thousands of times over.
I’d go so far as to say that any company bringing in over a million a year from their web sales could justify hiring an in-house SEO since the salary is less than a tenth of yearly sales and will easily increase sales beyond the salary cost.