Measuring SEO Results, Time to Ditch SERPs, Focus on Results
The most familiar, in fact dominant, metric for SEO has been keyword ranking; and SERP (Search Engine Rank Position) reports have been a favorite tool for tracking and reporting an SEO campaign results. SERP results have been a favorite metric because they are easy to understand. SERP reports show exactly where your website ranks for specific keywords that are being tracked and provide what seems to be a metric you can count on to measure SEO campaign results. If you rank #1 or even#5 for a keyword you know exactly what that means and there is a since of comfort and satisfaction that you are #1 and your competitor is on page two or maybe at the bottom of the page below you. Intuitively this makes sense, we all like a simple scorecard to show how we are doing. But people have changed how they use search engines and Google and Bing have dramatically changed how search works.
In 2012 Google rolled out their Knowledge Graph which is leading the way for a change from simple keyword based search to semantic search which uses an enormous range of data to anticipate what you are likely looking for. The goal is to provide more intelligent search results that are more relevant to what you are actually looking for. In addition, most users seldom type in a single or even two keyword phrase anymore when they are search for something because there are too many search results. Most users have figured out that if they type in a very specific query they get much better results. The SEO term for these longer phrase type search queries is “long tail search” which is actually a statistical term referring to the results outside the middle of the curve or on the tail of it.
What does this all mean?
Search has changed, the way people use it and the way it works. Doing SEO for a obvious two word keyword phrases is no longer a tactic that will deliver good results and tracking your SEO results this way is no longer a good measure of how your are doing. In fact, SERPs can be gamed with an uninformed client. Firstly, the results could be false, and secondly, real SERP results could be presented for words that have little if any search demand. For more information on how SEO results can be rigged see our blog on SEO Scams. So while SERP reports were the be all and end all measure of SEO success, they no longer tell the entire story and can be outright misleading.
So what do I measure for SEO results?
The most reliable source of data is Google Analytics, but there is a lot of data in there and it’s easy to get lost in it. By focusing on a few simple metrics you can easily track the progress of your SEO campaign. We suggest that you track the following as baseline data for your SEO metrics. And by the way, if you don’t have Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools installed on your website you are flying blind and getting both installed is step1 and priority one!
- Website Unique Visits: compare your current traffic to traffic from a previous period or the previous year. If your campaign is working well your traffic should be increasing, but don’t jump to conclusions if it is flat or even down there is a problem. In some cases traffic can go down BUT the inquiries are more specific and better leads. So don’t stop here.
- Search Engine Traffic: in Google Analytics click on Traffic Sources, Overview and look at the percentage of visits from Search (pie chart). If your SEO is working you should be getting search traffic from it. If traffic from search queries is less than 50% you should take a hard look at what is going on, or more accurately, what is not going on.
- Keyword Traffic: again in your Google Analytics click on Traffic Sources, Search, Organic and look at your top 25 or 50 keywords. Are they relevant and the right kind of traffic? If you have good SEO the keyword visits to your site will make sense. If you have poor SEO it will be random words and it will be obvious that you have a problem. Likewise look at how many visits from search you are getting. Good SEO = lots of good visits. Bad SEO, well you figure it out.
- Referrals: no this is referral from friends and business contacts, well maybe in a way it is. Referrals are traffic that is sent from related sites like your Facebook Page, Twitter, and sometimes industry websites that link directly to your site. Analytics shows your referrals on the Overview pie chart and you can look directly at the referral details if you like. Referrals from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus and other social media sites can run from 5% to as high as 25% of you traffic each. At Esotech we include social media as part of our SEO strategy and this traffic is often a significant part of the traffic to our client websites.
- Conversions: this is not someting you can measure on Google Analytics without doing a little bit of setup work. Google Analytics has what they call Funnels and Goals (I hate the funnels name). Goals are obvious, when a user clicks on a specified url that is counted as completing a “Goal”. This could be completing a submission form or perhaps a purchase transaction. The Funnels track users entering your sales or lead funnel and allows you to track their path. With Goals and Funnels you can track actual conversions on your website, but it requires setup on your part and it can be a bit confusing to get it right.
Here’s a some of examples actual Google Analytics graphs from one of our SEO campaigns. These are great examples of what you should be looking for and measuring. We wish we could share the Keyword visit data details, but unfortunately that is confidential and sensitive to the client so this is all we can show.
You can click on the images to see the full size graph.
Google Analytics Traffic Overview Graph
The graph below is a great example of excellent SEO (yes that’s our handy work). Note that 64% of the traffic is from search results and while we can’t show you the keywords, they are very targeted and very specific to this clients market and products. Also note that 11% of the traffic is Referral traffic, this is nearly all from social media.
Google Analytics Traffic Year to Year Comparison
This is another great example of where SEO is working and is delivering more traffic than the previous year. So in this case it is easy to see that yes, the SEO campaign is clearly working. Note that overall visits increased 84%, unique visits up 70% and engagement metrics improved too! Bounce rate down 23% and visit duration up 35%.
Google Analytics Traffic Year to Year Comparison – Second example
This is a more modest example of improved traffic. At a quick glance it doesn’t look like traffic improved that much, but look at the figures. Visits increased by 27% and 70% where new visitors.