Friday, March 4, 2011

10 Quick & Dirty SEO Success Metrics

When your job is to drive organic search engine traffic to a website (SEO Director/Manager/Ninja), you will inevitably need to prove your worth. There’s nothing like cold-hard-facts to paint a picture of success (or expose “The Man Behind The Curtain”).
In an ideal world, all digital marketing efforts are managed under one bucket, and the collective measurements highlight the success of the team, or highlight the success of the complete bundle of digital efforts. But, in the end, ROI needs to be justified in order to keep the flow of budget and resources moving to each individual marketing effort.

However, your job is SEO. You know that you are adding value. You just need to prove it.

Dealing With(out) Attribution

Perhaps you’ve had this thought before – “My content brought in the visitor, they learned, they left, and they came back again through a different channel.” So prove it.
Over the past few years, there has been considerable discussion about, and effort to solve, the issue of  tracking sales/leads based on touch points – attribution for the conversion action. The primary stumbling block has been the ability of analytics tools to differentiate between last-click conversions vs. multi-touchpoint conversions.

As the SEO professional, your question might be “did the lead/sale really come in through PPC, or did the visitor first hear of us through SEO content, and then search for our brand name and click on the first thing they saw – our PPC ad for our brand name?”

Of course, this all goes way beyond SEO vs. PPC. It’s the entire digital marketing package. Or, as Richard Fergie at SEOptimise, highlights in The Conversion Attribution Problem, it’s about the entire Marketing mix.
From a purely digital tracking standpoint, Will Critchlow of Distilled created an excellent example of the issue of attribution tracking in an article he posted on SEOmoz:
The idea here is that you want to give attribution for conversions not only to first- and last-touches but also give so-called assists to touch-points along the way (e.g. a conversion path could look like):

long-tail keyword > head keyword > branded search > direct visit

Under this scenario, you might want to give the head and branded searches some attribution for the conversion.

Tracking Tools

Many of the higher-end analytics tools on the market have developed their own methodologies to solve the attribution question.

While Adobe’s Omniture platform comes to mind immediately, you may find this list on Mashable (although maybe a bit dated): Analytics Toolbox: 50+ More Ways to Track Website Traffic – a good resource for finding, investigating and interviewing various analytics companies about their attribution tracking methodologies and technologies.

On the other side of attribution tracking technology is the ubiquitous (and free) Google Analytics. There are a number of good articles out there about how to use custom variables in Google Analytics to track multi-touch attribution. Here are a few articles that I have found helpful in this area:
Another tool, that I have not used myself,, looks to be an interesting way to make Google Analytics integration easier, and provide a cleaner touchpoint dashboard.

Also, Adam Goldberg produced an excellent piece here on Search Engine Land, titled Attribution Technology: What’s Best For Your Needs?, that contains a visual aid in evaluating how you might use specific technology to measure attribution – complete with pros and cons.

10 Quick & Dirty SEO Success Metrics

Multi-touch attribution tracking isn’t for everyone. It’s a pure decision of resources (e.g. cost, programming, value of your time, etc.). It’s true that tracking organic search traffic down to determine its role in influencing conversion is the holy grail of search analytics. However, there are a series of other metrics you can use to measure SEO success.

Many of the metrics listed below have been discussed by other SEO authors (e.g. Eric Enge, Tad Chef, Barry Adams, etc.), but I’ve attempted put them all in one place, and added a few myself:

1.   Keyword Rankings

My least favorite metric, and one that can get confused easily when tools are not used (i.e. manually checking rankings). That said, knowing where your target keywords rank, in a general sense, is definitely part of the scorecard. I’d say that the use of Google Suggest adds one reason to track rankings.
I was told at one point by a Google employee that 40% of all searches are triggered by Google Suggest. And, of course, the suggestions that come up start with shorter phrases, pushing ever more searchers to take the short route first. These short phrases are invariably your starting point for targeting keywords.

2.  Basic Conversion Tracking

Make sure to identify multiple conversion types, including sales, leads, subscriptions, downloads, event sign-ups, etc.

3.  Organic Search Traffic

  • Overall Organic Traffic Growth – Focus on year-over-year comparisons.
  • Growth of Traffic for Targeted Keywords – This is a double check against rankings. Look at month-over-month and year-over-year growth in traffic for specific target keywords.
  • Percentage Of  Overall Traffic Coming From Organic – Track the trend, but be careful of peaks and valleys based on key marketing tactics such as email marketing blasts (which will obviously lower the percentage of traffic generated by organic search for that time period).
  • Progress With Specific Engines – It may be a Google-centric search world, but also track progress with Yahoo/Bing, and others that may be important to your business.

4.  Keyword Diversity

Examine how many keywords are driving driving each month, and track the trend. It’s valuable to be able to report something like “in the first few months we received traffic from about 300 keywords, and now it’s a couple thousand different keywords generating the traffic (yes, this is the long-tail).

5.  Referrals From Links & Website Properties

Link building and content generation is not just about improving keyword rankings/keyword traffic. When done well, links, and websites you develop to support that effort, will bring traffic to the site. Take credit for that traffic, and for any conversions produced through those referrals.

6.  Visitor Engagement

Warning: these metrics may not appear to be “in your favor” as you create content and increase Keyword Diversity. It’s a simple fact that your success will also bring less-relevant traffic, along with the good stuff.
  • Organic Bounce Rates
  • Repeat Visitors
  • Pageviews Per Visit
  • Time Spent On Site

7.  Inbound Link Count

You’ll probably have to report on this whether you want to or not. And, not all links pointing to your site will be due to your SEO efforts. In addition, reporting on the quantity of links can seem silly to the seasoned SEO, who understands that it’s about quality, trust, anchor text, relevancy, etc. That said, keep track of the progress in acquiring links, and consider using something like SEOmoz’s Linkscape to create a quality-links report.

8.  Increase In Branded Searches

While SEO cannot possibly take all of the credit for an increase in people searching for your company’s brand and product line brands, it is also true that some credit has to be given to SEO for people coming to the site after searching for the brand name.
Be careful here though, because it is clear that other media channels can have a much greater influence on this metric. It’s easier to attribute some of the branded searches to SEO when there is less emphasis at the company on mass media and extensive PR (e.g. companies with lower advertising/marketing budgets).

9.  Pages Indexed

As you increase the crawlability of your site, and add new content, you should see the number of pages that are indexed increase. This metric can be especially important to companies with product catalogs or large quantities of technical documentation that have previously been inaccessible to search engines.

10.  Crawl Frequency

This can be a nice way to measure the success of adding fresh content sources to your site.  Keeping search engines coming back more frequently is a key component in getting new pages indexed more quickly, and in getting additional content types, such as news and blog posts, into Google’s Caffeine-crazy algorithm.
Feel free to suggest your own key SEO metrics in the comment section below.

The Bottom Line

Proving that organic search is working for your company can be as sophisticated as multi-touch attribution, or as simple as pulling together easy-to-get data points. Of course, use the metrics to also take an honest look at what might need improvement in your overall SEO strategy, and across your entire digital marketing mix.

by Andy Komack
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily NJ Internet Marketing.
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