Measuring Search Engine Success

Whether you’re optimizing web pages for top rankings or purchasing paid placement links, it’s crucial to measure the performance of your efforts. A new generation of powerful search engine analytics software makes the job a snap.

A special report from the Search Engine Strategies 2003 Conference, December 9-11, Chicago, Illinois.

In this conference session, representatives from Hitbox, Urchin, WebTrends and ClickTracks Web analytic software vendors were on hand, and case studies showing how to track real life search engine marketing campaigns were presented.

Although each of the Web analytic software packages showcased have a different look and feel, all have the ability to display which search engine refered a visitor your site, what keywords they used, as well as whether the user clicked on a paid search engine link or an organic listing.

The latest versions also track a user’s path through a site and can determine whether the visitor followed through on any number of targeted actions. Each program measures conversions such as signing up for an email newsletter, filling out an info request form, or making an actual purchase from the site.

Matt Bailey from The Karcher Group, told the audience how his company uses ClickTracks to continually rework their site design. When they saw that 60% of their site users ignored their standard navigation in favor of the links embedded in the site content, they decided to build multiple content paths to appeal to various types of visitors. Bailey made special mention of ClickTracks’ intuitive interface, which allows him to show his clients exactly what’s going on with their sites in a way that is easy for them to understand.

Brett Crosby from Urchin Software described some features of his company’s latest product including their ROI analysis-tracking module, along with their new “click fraud watch” and “dayparting” features. A case study using Urchin was presented by Lee Mills, who showed the audience how he was able to increase the traffic to one of his client’s sites from 20,000 to 30,000 unique visitors a day.

Mills was able to determine which paid keywords were not performing, then cut them out of the campaign. He also discussed how he was able to test various landing pages and ad creative, as well as figure out how to lessen the site’s shopping cart abandonment rate — all by studying the Urchin statistics.

JoAnn McNeely from talked about Webside Story’s Hitbox software. She demonstrated how her company uses Hitbox on a daily basis to get a snapshot of key metrics such as traffic, responses, conversions and search engine traffic.

McNeely described how she keeps tabs on where customers are going, how long they’re spending on each page, and their average number of page views. She also showed how using HitBox, you could drill down by keyword and see exactly how organic keywords campaigns compare with pay-per-click campaigns. When McNeely noticed that only 15% of her paid keywords were giving her a positive return on her investment, she was able to quickly stop paying for the non-performers and save enough money to more than cover the cost of the HitBox software.

Jeff Cram from WebTrends discussed how his product increased leads for a holiday travel company by 1000% within a 6 to 8 month time frame. Cram explained how WebTrends segments out paid vs. organic search marketing campaigns, and shows the number of visitors, their average number of page views, how long they remain on a page, as well as their level of engagement.

Cram told the audience how keywords they thought were most popular were indeed popular, but they were also getting many specific activity-based keyword visitors. He explained how before using Webtrends they were focused on the home page as doorway to the rest of site, but learned to create entry pages for their PPC ads, in order to better measure the campaigns.

Audience questions followed. One person asked whether the software packages could tell the difference between PPC campaign clicks (displayed on search result pages) and contextual ad clicks (served by a search engine, but displayed on content partner sites). The Clicktracks, Urchin and Webtrends reps all confirmed that referrals are different between the contextual and PPC ads because you can tag them differently. With Hitbox, they are all considered campaigns; you just plug in the costs and track them individually.

Another attendee asked whether the various programs could import PPC data directly from Google. With ClickTracks you can generate the data at Google and get results imported directly into the software; with Hitbox and Webtrends, you can import the data manually, and Urchin has a tool that grabs data from Google, but it’s not built into the software.

All in all, this was a good session to learn about the latest revisions of some top Web analytic packages. It’s great to see these software companies working with search engine marketers to make our jobs easier and more valuable to our clients. Armed with any one of these latest programs, a search engine marketer no longer has the need to run old-fashioned search engine positioning reports.

Targeted traffic and conversions are now so easy to measure that conversions has become the latest and greatest Web metric to watch closely. By learning how to correctly use Web analytic software, anyone can determine whether their search engine marketing campaigns are producing a positive return on investment and tweak them accordingly.

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