If you're going to get anything out of a search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, whether you're working on it yourself or with an external provider, the first thing you need to do it get to grips with the main metrics, or measures, of campaign performance. This is a bit easier said than done though, as seasoned SEOs will argue late into the night about which metrics are important, which aren't, and even what they are and how they work.
SEO is a fuzzy process, with cause and effect only indirectly linked. Measuring it isn't a straightforward process.
However, we can skip a lot of these problems by focusing on the old adage, "What is measured is managed." So let's look at a couple of metrics that are directly actionable, no matter what your level of SEO expertise.
Unique Search Landing Pages
This is the number of unique URLs, or pages, that visitors have been sent to through organic search, and it's one of the most useful indicators of your site's search health. It's an easy metric to find through your Google Analytics account, or other web analytics software. Just select the organic search traffic segment and view the report on unique landing pages. Remove any spurious URLs and there's your list.
- Why it's useful: It gives you a clear idea of how well your site is indexed by search engines. To succeed with an SEO campaign, you want as many pages of quality content as possible, and you need as many of them to be indexed as possible. If a page is receiving search traffic, even a small amount, you can be sure that it is indexed, even if it isn't yet ranked well for generic search terms.
- How to use this information: Apart from giving you insight into how well your site is indexed, there are specific actions you can take from this data. Search engines use a variety of factors in deciding how much and which pages of your site to index, but the make or break of it is that an external link from a quality source to a specific page of your site almost guarantees indexation. So, your action is to use your list of indexed pages to work out a list of important pages on your site that are not indexed, and build links directly to those pages. This will help your site's overall search ranking as well.
Of course, you can get a lot more insight from this information. For example, are some pages getting much more or much less traffic than you expect? Are whole sections of your site not being indexed? (This may indicate a crawl problem.) Do you have many more landing pages than you thought you even had pages on the site? (This may indicate a canonicalization problem.)
Unique Keyword Visits
The number of unique keyword visits your site gets per month (or whatever time period) is another vital health indicator. Again, it's easy to get through Google Analytics (just go to the keywords report and it gives you the figure right there).
- Why it's useful: It gives you a truer picture of the proportion of possible search traffic that you're getting than just tracking overall search traffic. The problem with overall traffic is that it can be very seasonal, with big variations from month to month. Unless you have a large amount of historical data upon which to look back, this can obscure what's really going on with your campaign. It also hides the fine detail of where your traffic is coming from -- you may have loads of search visits every month, but if they're just coming from a few generic keywords or brand search terms, you're probably missing out on a lot more traffic that you could be getting.
- How to use this information: The goal here is always to be increasing the number of visits from unique keywords that your site gets, so you need to track it over time and keep working at it. Incoming links to the site are always important, especially for indexation and ranking for generic search terms, but the key to receiving traffic from more unique terms is to add more quality content to your site on a regular basis. There are numerous strategies for doing this, but running a regularly updated blog is an obvious answer. There's no need to worry about putting specific keywords into the text -- just writing naturally about your subject works best. And by working with the indexation strategy above, you help to ensure that all the content you write actually has the potential to receive traffic.
So there you have it. Although there are many different aspects to SEO, just working with these two simple metrics and associated actions is almost guaranteed to improve your site's search performance.
This is especially true for small businesses. For a small business, top rankings for generic, competitive search terms can be out of reach in the short term, so going after long tail traffic (more unique search terms) is a great strategy for the short term.
Join us for SES Chicago 2010, the Leading Search & Social Marketing Event, taking place October 18-22! The conference offers 70+ sessions on topics including PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, local, mobile, link building, duplicate content, multiple site issues, video optimization, site optimization, usability and more.
Want to view one of the sessions you missed or listen to an especially informative presenter a second time? SES New York sessions are available for purchase on ClickZ Academy's new e-Learning site. SES is now Online!