As we close out our four-part series on the SEO Tactics chart, we touch on the most powerful of all of the pillars – measurement, reporting, and analytics. This is the subject I’m most passionate about as it lies at the core of a solid organic strategy and ultimately the long-term success of an organic program.
It’s striking that there is still such casualness when it comes to the discipline of SEO. There are still a remarkable number of companies that can’t differentiate organic traffic from direct load and referring traffic.
If you’ve managed or been close to paid search campaigns you understand the degree to which measurement and analysis impacts successful efforts. One of the first pieces of advice I give to clients and colleagues is to apply this same mindset to organic search.
Data is useless. Insight, and then action, is the key to advancing your program. This article will highlight some of the more important, and underutilized, metrics that can help you find performance breakthroughs, as well as discuss exactly why it’s so critical that you get this part right.
Justify Your Existence
If you aren’t tracking conversions, then you’re probably in for a short ride. Rankings will only get you so far.
Justifying your retainer (agency) or salary (in-house) is going to be difficult without demonstrating the business impact you are making. We’re talking about revenue, leads and margin – not rankings.
Be persistent about the need to track these metrics before you engage with a company. If the tracking isn’t present and they aren’t willing to put forth the effort to measure these goals, you should pass on the opportunity until the proper tracking is in place.
Without taking the time to analyze data it becomes incredibly easy to chase your own tail. Chances are you’re putting forth a ton of time, energy, and effort to make an impact on your program.
But what’s really moving the needle and what’s simply an effort of futility? If you find yourself asking this question, slow down half a pace, execute, monitor, measure, and make note (as best you can) of which tactics indeed moved the needle.
Conversions, Then Traffic, Then Rankings
Focusing attention on keywords that have the highest likelihood to convert to a sale or lead isn’t always synonymous with high traffic terms. Spend the time in your analytics package to understand the difference and apply more pressure to keywords that will increase revenue/leads. As mentioned earlier, if you keep your eye on conversion, you have a better chance of keeping your job.
Differentiate Between Brand & Non-Brand
In relation to measuring keyword-level conversion (and in proving your value), be sure to clearly differentiate performance of brand and non-brand terms.
Non-brand growth is the leverage point in most programs. If you’re analyzing, or worse presenting, data that is only rolled up as overall organic traffic, it’s possible to be misleading yourself and others. If the overall organic program experienced a 36 percent year-over-year lift in traffic and 14 percent lift in conversions – ask yourself why and where. Was it driven by brand terms as a result of an aggressive offline campaign that is running?
Know why, take credit for your efforts, and be transparent when you’re riding the wave of brand terms. Transparency and honesty go a long way.
It’s easy to get caught up in your own site and analytics and forget about external factors that impact your program’s performance. One of the most critical is seasonality. It can impact everything from traffic volume to competitive pressure and conversion rate.
Many verticals have peak seasons, some more dramatic than others. These peaks are sweet spots, and you should be planning around them.
The graph above is an example of peak query volume for a client in the home services vertical. Knowing that 45 percent of the annual query volume occurs within a three-month window is critical knowledge and impacts both what you do and when you do it. Google Insights for Search is a great tool to model this data.
Benchmarks & Baselines
Early on in my SEO endeavors I can’t tell you how many times I wished I had a time machine so I could go back and capture benchmarks that I missed as I was begging to work on a program. Live and learn.
Fortunately, you’ll have many of the most critical KPIs captured within your analytics package. Obviously you will want to capture a benchmark of the rankings of keywords you are focused on.
A few suggestions: Use SEMRush to capture a more holistic view of all keywords that are ranking as you begin. You might be surprised at what you find here. Download this, and keep it! Watch the growth in non-brand terms that rank over time. Consider the same for inbound links. It’s a snapshot in time, so be sure to take the picture before you begin. Open Site Explorer makes it easy. Do the same exercise for major competitors so that you can track their velocity versus your own. These all become compelling stories over time.
Track Your Calls
Whether your goal is to be driving leads or revenue, you should be taking credit for organic conversions that are resulting in the call center. More than 90 percent of the businesses we’ve encountered have overlooked this – even in instances where they are tracking call center conversions from paid search.
The technology is there (e.g., ClickPath), and if your business model is reliant on call center activity for conversions, the information available through this tracking typically opens up new opportunities and gives you a much more accurate view on the entirety of the results you’re driving.
This is just a snapshot of some of the tracking and analytics themes that are performance drivers, but certainly not the entire list. I welcome you to add to it through your comments, as your insights can likely help others who find interest in this topic.
And that wraps up our four-part series on Successful SEO Tactics. If you missed them, check out Keyword Selection, On-site Optimization, and Off-site Optimization. Hopefully, you’ve found the information relevant and useful. Good luck in your organic efforts!
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!