Defining your business goals is one of the most important things you can do at the start of any SEO project. For example, your goal might be to increase your non-branded search traffic by 25 percent.
Once you've defined your business goals, you can then think about the things that need to happen to meet those goals, and the nature of the SEO team required to meet them. Let's determine how to measure the results of your SEO efforts.
Frequently, our clients tell us that they want to achieve a certain ranking for a specific search term. Many products that help you set up and monitor your rankings are available on the market. However, we prefer not to focus on this way of measuring results.
First, these types of programs scrape search engine results, and this is against the terms of service of the search engines. For this reason, it probably isn't a good idea to do that in any volume.
Second, this data is deceptive. These types of rankings exercises always focus on high volume terms, the ones that make up 10 percent or less of total search volume. Even if you successfully achieve a goal to rank in some position for a given term, achieving your business growth goals is unlikely unless you also implemented a companion long tail strategy. In addition, rankings data can fluctuate for numerous reasons, including what search engine server is serving you the results.
Check your rankings, but just don't make it the determining measure of SEO success. Also, you should check them manually.
Number of Links Added?
Many times, potential clients ask how many links per month my company will get for them. But this depends on how many links they want.
If a client wants 1,000 links per month, we can get those simply by contracting cheap services overseas. However, these links are of little value. In these cases, we remind clients that one link can be worth 100,000 times more than another.
It's certainly interesting to track the links added, but only if you include a measurement of link quality. So go ahead and do that, as a measurement of activity, but not as a defining metric of success.
Non-Branded Search Traffic
This is great to measure. Focus on daily unique visitors and chart that over time.
It's also important to factor out branded search traffic because few Web sites need SEO help to rank for their brand name. This is because one of the most popular forms of anchor text that others will use in implementing links to the site home page will be the organization's name.
There is still a trap door here, though. You can find yourself getting all kinds of irrelevant traffic to your site, and this may not help you get additional conversions. Don't forget to evaluate that separately.
Visitor engagement, which includes bounce rate, time on site, and page views per visitor, are all useful to keep track of. Definitely include visitor engagement metrics in your mix for measuring SEO success.
A higher than normal bounce rate or a drop in time on site of page views per visitor could indicate that you're beginning to get less relevant traffic. It can also indicate some sort of problem on the Web site itself.
This is the most important thing to measure. You want to see how your organic search traffic does in converting into business.
For many companies, the basic metric is sales of a product. However, conversions can also include "contact us" requests, completed forms, whitepaper or widget downloads, visitors to a particular Web page, and other types of goals.
While traffic and engagement can be a factor in measuring the success of an SEO project, measuring conversions from organic search traffic is a must. If your traffic goes up by 50 percent and your conversions increase by 30 percent, the gain to your business is 30 percent, because conversions matter most. Note that this type of discrepancy doesn't necessarily indicate a problem, and could be perfectly normal.
All of the metrics outlined in this column are useful in one way or another. The last three are the best to use in measuring project success.
You can consider adding many other metrics into the mix. Just be careful how you use them -- don't let them mislead you. Ultimately, make sure that measuring non-branded traffic, visitor engagement, and conversions are in the mix.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!