Many small businesses measure the performance of their SEO agency based on keyword-level data. They believe the value proposition stems from better rankings on specific keywords that they select. Small businesses generally approach SEO firms with the assumption that better rankings will equate to more business.
Small Business SEO Monthly Reports
As time goes by, the small business will receive a monthly report that will explicitly show that great progress has been made moving the rankings of the selected keywords in Google and Bing/Yahoo. More sophisticated agencies transform raw keyword analytics into several buckets.
It has been popular to bundle keywords that are branded (i.e., use some form of the company's name or brand in the search phrase) against those that are non-branded. An increase in non-branded traffic has been attributed to SEO, while increases in branded traffic were attributed to other marketing efforts.
'(Not Provided)' Kills Specific Analytics Reporting
Regardless of the politics of the decision, Google’s recent move to 100 percent secure search has decimated the branded/non-branded keyword analysis used by many small businesses to evaluate their SEO firms. But this is OK.
SEO is Changing (Again)
Google has made several large algorithmic changes in 2013. The net result of these changes is that many old tactics for link acquisition are no longer helpful.
Additionally, both small business owners and SEO firms need a new orientation to remain successful.
Brand is Important to Rankings
The death of branded versus non-branded keyword traffic may be a blessing, as many now believe that branded mentions are a key signal in the Google algorithm.
While no one will deny that backlinks remain the primary driver of rankings, the anti-spam filters have also become much more sophisticated.
Mentions of a small business company name, even when not accompanied by a backlink, are believed by many to be a signal of legitimacy.
Breadth of a Website Matters to Hummingbird
Whereas small businesses used to obsess over the rankings of their top money keywords, Google's new Hummingbird algorithm implies their focus needs to be elsewhere.
It is now critically important that the website answers questions for end users.
Yes, content is still king. In fact, content that answers specific questions may be critical for Hummingbird success.
Replace Non-Branded Keyword Traffic with Entrance Pages
A healthy website is constantly expanding in breadth. In other words, SEO post-Hummingbird requires that a site gain new keyword rankings every month to demonstrate that it is a helpful resource.
The easiest metric to review is the number of unique entrance pages used by users to get to the website.
A website with more entrance pages:
- Is a stronger resource for answering questions.
- Offers expertise on more topics.
- Ranks on more long-tail keywords.
- Has more breadth in a specific space.
How to Grow Website Entrances Pages
Websites can't grow their entrance pages without introducing new content regularly. While hard to believe, there are many webmasters who don't update their websites, have no blog, and refuse any assistance.
While introducing new pages of helpful, high-quality content is a great start, the issue of syndication and recognition remains a barrier – particularly in highly competitive keyword spaces.
Webmasters and small business owners need to be very creative to be noticed:
- Newsjack hot stories in their areas of expertise.
- Create infographics.
- Make videos to post on YouTube.
- Utilize staff to promote in social media.
- Use a small budget to promote the best content via PPC.
Measuring Keyword Traffic Was Wrong Anyway
While new alternatives to keyword-level analytics, branded and non-branded traffic are rapidly emerging, the punchline is that measuring keyword rankings and traffic was the wrong criteria. The real return on investment from SEO comes from an increase in new customers.
Lead tracking remains the single best measure of how a small business website is performing. Many websites lack the appropriate web-to-lead and phone tracking (up to 50 percent of leads come through phone calls even when the website was found via a search engine) integration to have a complete picture.
This year has proven to be very dramatic for SEO with major changes from Google in the form of Hummingbird and "(not provided)". Small business owners who once obsessed over their top keyword rankings and traffic from a few "money terms" now need to adjust their thinking.
Google's secure search has removed the popular branded keyword traffic data, but offers an opportunity to instead focus on the breadth of a website via entrance pages. And Google Hummingbird clears the path for small business owners to generate high-quality content that really answers questions.