Forget Rankings: Here Are 6 SEO Metrics That Matter

It would be an understatement to say that the SEO landscape has changed a lot through the years. In just the last two years the changes have been dramatic.

Panda and Penguin top the list as the most visible game-changers, but there is another one that occurred somewhat under the radar – but has been equally dramatic in its impact on SEO.

That change is Search Plus Your World. In a nutshell, Search+ personalizes your search results. Google evaluates your location, brand mentions, your friend’s search history, who is in your social media sphere and even your search history.

Think custom-tailored results.

What that means is you and I could both search for “swine flu” or “tablet” and come up with different results. Each of our respective result pages will be tailored toward those factors I mentioned above.

When the number of searches for those terms multiply into the thousands – now you, as an SEO practitioner, have a problem. A typical client is looking for consistent rankings in the top three spots on a number of key terms. That’s what he’s been trained to expect. He or she is thinking old-school search, and will be sorely disappointed in your results.

What you need to get him to think about are the new-school SEO reports, because Search+ killed normal rankings. What exactly are those new reports? Here are the six you need to pull from Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.

1. Average Rankings

Obviously Google knew what they were thinking when they developed Search+ from both sides of the equation. They are trying to give the end users the best possible results out there, while giving SEO practitioners, who are on the other side of the equation, the tools they need to stay on top of the game.

This is where the Average Rankings report comes in. Here’s how Google explained it:

google-average-ranking-example

Average Ranking gives you the ability to gauge how many links in Google are being seen across the board. In other words, it’s a weighted measure of all impressions.

Start with this metric because the client, no matter what you tell them, will still want to see ranking reports. You probably won’t be able to break him of that. So, generate an average ranking report and show them how their pages and website is performing overall.

2. Impressions

An impression report used to be the redheaded stepchild of SEO. Who cared about how many times your search query listing appeared? Who cared about eyeballs? What you want is action – people clicking through to the site.

So in the old days of Internet marketing you’d use impression against click-through rate to develop a conversion ratio. That was something you could visibly improve upon.

Well, now that we're in the world of Search+ it’s again important to know how many eyeballs there are on a comparative search term. You can’t work the white hat tactics anymore and nab number one, so now you need to know who is seeing what, where and how often.

What you really want to know is if your page is even showing up for your keywords. And where.

But impressions probably don’t mean what you think it means. And this is critical if you want precise tracking. See, Google looks at two things when it comes to impressions.

For example, if you do a non-personalized search on Google with “Search Engine Watch,” this is what you will get:

search-engine-watch-google-sitelinks-non-personalized

Google displays seven possible URLs you could click on. But don’t count that as seven separate impressions. What you see above is one impression.

Here’s where it gets tricky: a hit on one of the sitelinks equals a hit to the top level domain. When people are clicking through to a page from a search query listing you might see an inflation of your top-level domain hits. So, if you want to deliver accurate reports, make the necessary adjustments.

However, if on the same page you have two different listings (your root and an interior page), then these listings will count as two separate impressions.

3. Visitor Growth

visitor-growth-graph-google-analytics

The next report you need to train your client to love is the visitor growth report in Google Analytics. It’s a baseline growth metric. What I like about this report is its simplicity: the trend shoud be going up. If it’s doing that, then you're succeeding. If it is flat-lined or going down, you're failing.

The other thing about this report your client might like is that you can calculate expected qualified leads from traffic – or your reach.

It’s necessary to report accurately by separating the new visitors and the repeat because that will impact your reports. For example, pulling in repeat visitors is a good sign that your content is compelling. If the ratio is skewed to new visitors, however, you might be delivering good headlines, but not substantial content.

4. Conversions

campaign-conversions-google-analytics

A conversion is what happens when somebody successfully completes a goal you’ve created in Google Analytics. These goals include things like buying or subscribing on a landing page.

This report will help your client see how those impressions that lead to visitors are actually turning into profit. This is also how to evaluate ads, copy and keywords. Are they working together? Can you isolate the weak link? Where are people leaving your site in your sales cycle? Conversion goals will help you decide.

This report is all about conversion, and that is decided on two measurements:

  • One-per-click: A one-click conversion means you're measuring a single action like signing up for a newsletter or downloading a report. A conversion equals someone successfully performing your goal. Your ratio is simple: impressions versus conversions.
  • Many-per-click: Sometimes you have goals that don’t end with a single action – like when you're trying to measure the path an agent takes through your purchase path. This will demand you use a many-per-click measurement.

5. Exact Match

adwords-keywords-google-analytics-exact-match

If you take a peek at the Google Analytics exact match you’ll notice that it looks a lot like the PPC exact match: you're targeting a specific URL, and will only get reports delivered on that particular URL.

Who should care about this? Established businesses that are going through a rebrand (you’ll want to avoid domains with keywords and focus on your brand name, which is what people will search for). Or even new businesses where local search (establishing the city name in the URL) is a key part of your SEO strategy.

This is important because you can narrow your efforts to one very precise URL – and eliminating any confusion that might come up from similar URLs. Say you're targeting /purchase-chickens. Google Analytics will ignore all variables that might fall under that variable (/purchase-chickens.html for example. If you want to measure that URL, then create a separate goal).

6. Regular Expressions Match

I like to view regular expressions match as an extension of exact match because it allows you to bring under one umbrella similar goals. Using our example from above, inside Google Analytics identify your regular expression match by typing in “^/purchase-chickens”. In essence, you're telling Google Analytics to hunt down metrics on any page within that family of URLs: /purchase-chickens.html, /purchase-chickens/blog and so on.

What you won’t see are URLs with those keywords, but flopped: blog/purchase-chicken or subscribe/purchase-chicken (you can find that data, however, by using the $ symbol instead of the ^ symbol).

Conclusion

Being a metrics rock star is definitely a requirement in this new world of SEO rules where the landscape is changing daily and c-level executives are demanding more and more accountability when it comes to your SEO endeavors.

In other words, you have to validate your work.

But that’s always been the case, really. Yet, now, validating your work is getting easier when you know the right metrics to share – and how to explain them to your client or boss.

Armed with these new tools you can explain how high rankings alone are not enough (or even the most important factor) when it comes to search. You can tell them that conversion is what counts. And you know how to increase their conversion.