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How To Measure SEO Performance - Leading Indicators of a Successful SEO Campaign
Whether you handle your search engine marketing in-house or hire an SEO agency to develop and manage your campaign, it is extremely important to be able to measure the performance of your SEO efforts. The ability to accurately evaluate your progress will allow you to review tactics that may not be working or potentially focus more on the aspects of your campaign that have proven to make improvements in traffic, revenue or lead generations.
How To Measure SEO Success
It may seem somewhat counterintuitive to determine how successful your SEO campaign has been in hindsight if you never established any goals before the campaign started. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - if your company set a goal to improve organic traffic by 5% year over year, allocated the appropriate resources towards attaining that goal, and then achieved an organic traffic increase of 10%, you could view this campaign as extremely successful. However, if the goal had been to double organic traffic, the campaign would be perceived as a complete failure. For this reason, your SEO goals should be well established before the campaign truly begins. Without establishing these goals, you will have no baseline to grow from. Determining how much of your marketing budget should be allocated to online marketing is also nearly impossible without proper goals in place, meaning you have a very good chance at either underspending or overspending, neither of which are good for business.
On the other hand, not every company will find it simple to so readily define these goals, especially if we're talking about a startup company or even an existing business attempting to adapt to an increasingly digital world with no idea where to begin. If that is the case, I would strongly recommend scheduling a consultation with a professional SEO agency that should be able to walk you through the basics. For a reasonable price, a reputable SEO company can perform an audit of your website, identify preexisting weaknesses in your website,analyze your competition and provide you with a high level overview of what you'd be up against. They will also be able to use their expertise to help you create realistic goals based on data and research.
Once your SEO goals have been defined, how do you quantify success?
There are a number of things to look at when gauging the success of your SEO campaign. To make informed decisions, you must be armed with data about your website, which can be achieved by connecting your website to an analytics software. Google Analytics is the most popular analytics software for websites since it is free and plenty powerful for most applications.
While analyzing each and every source of traffic certainly has it's role in crafting your SEO campaigns, for the purposes of learning how to evaluate your campaign in this article, we will be focusing mainly on organic statistics. In the digital marketing world, organic search results are the results that the search engine has listed due to relevancy to a user's query, not due to "inorganic" reasons such as paid placement. The word "organic" has transformed into a digital marketing industry adjective, which indicates that you are discussing "free" search traffic from the search engines, mainly Google, Yahoo! and Bing.
1. Organic Search Traffic
Of course one of the most important metrics of your website is how many users visit your site. Track your organic search traffic monthly and make sure that overall it is increasing. You may have some drops once in awhile due to seasonality and other variables, but it is important that in general you see an upward trend in organic search traffic to your site. You can view this data in an number of ways, including graphically.
Above, you can see a strong correlation between organic traffic and total traffic to the site.
Improvements in keyword positions will increase organic traffic to your site as your results will be listed more prominently at the top where searchers are most likely to click. Compare your organic search traffic with your overall site traffic graphically to get a better understanding of the role organic search plays on your website's overall traffic. You can also hone in on your organic search traffic data to learn new things about your visitors, including which search engines they came from and a lot more.
2. Organic Revenue
If you are dealing with ecommerce SEO and have properly implemented ecommerce tracking, you will have access to your organic revenue data, meaning revenue your site earned strictly from organic visits to your site. Of course, you want to make sure that revenue is increasing month to month and year to year, but don't be discouraged by occasional dip here and there from things like seasonality. When you notice a dip that you lack an explanation for, it's time to dig deeper into your data. More about ecommerce SEO services.
3. Bounce Rate
A website's bounce rate is essentially the percentage of visitors who leave your site after only viewing one page. These users often "bounce" back to the search results page to find something they deem more relevant to their query.
A high bounce rate is not necessarily a bad thing as it could simply mean that users have immediately found the information they were looking for on the page they landed on and left. More often, however, a high bounce rate is an indication that your visitors are not seeing what they had hoped to see when clicking on your result, and that is a problem. This could mean that you are not targeting the right keywords, that your site doesn't look "legitimate", or that some other factors are at play preventing the visitor from engaging with your website.
Looking at your entire website's bounce rate can give you a high level understanding of your website's usability and engageability, but to make this statistic more meaningful, analyze your website's bounce rate from a page, category, or visitor-type basis to get a more actionable understanding of what exactly is causing your organic visitors to bounce back to the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). More about Bounce Rate & SEO
Above, just one of the ways to hone in your bounce rate. The above example shows only data coming from pages in the /categories/unicorn category of our site since we have entered /categories/unicorn in the filter field.
4. eCommerce Conversion Rate
Your ecommerce conversion rate is the percentage of visits to your website that resulted in an ecommerce transaction. In Google Analytics, you can hone in by traffic source to see your organic ecommerce conversion rate, which will help you understand if your organic traffic is actually converting to a sale. A good ecommerce conversion rate is hard to define, as in some industries even converting 1% of your visitors into a sale or lead could be considered terrific. Make sure that your organic ecommerce conversion rate is at least always staying the same or slightly improving, and analyze your checkout funnels for drop offs to determine what might be preventing your users from making a purchase. Sometimes, it can be as simple as adding some trust badges to your store to make users feel more confident their transaction is secure.
Any changes that you make to your website with the intent on converting a larger percentage of visits is known as Conversion Rate Optimization. Conversion rate optimization is the process of making strategic changes to your website with a hypothesis that they will improve your conversion rate. Any ideas that you think will improve sales on your website can be tested with a number of Conversion Rate Optimization softwares, arming you with the data needed to make an informed decision on what gets your users to convert. More about Conversion Rate Optimization
5. Time Spent On Page
Another important metric you can view in Google Analytics is the amount of time your visitors are spending on your pages. This is especially important on your organic landing pages as these are the pages your organic visitors will see first. This statistic is really beneficial for understanding the search intent of your visitors and how you might improve upon that. If users are arriving to a landing page and quickly navigating to another section of your website, you may want make it easier for them to find what they are looking for. The goal is to make your website as user friendly as possible.
6. Goal Completions
Think about the overall purpose of your website to determine what actions you'd like your visitors to take and track their completion monthly in Google Analytics. Compare your organic goal completions to your total goal completions to understand where your goal completions are coming for each month. Ideally, your organic goal completions will increase each month as your site's visibility in search improves, resulting in increased leads and revenue.
7. Percent of Total Traffic That Comes from Organic Search
The larger the percentage of your total traffic that comes from organic, the more you are relying on organic search to drive traffic to your site. Typically, we aim to have as high a percentage of traffic come from organic, as this traffic is "free" once you have earned the rankings. Pay attention to how much of your site comes from organic and if you notice this percentage starting to drop, you may need to rethink your SEO strategy. Of course, other sources of traffic are very important too, and a shrinking organic traffic percentage may just mean you've been paying more attention to Social Media traffic or Pay-Per-Click traffic. Either way, you should always have a good idea of what percentage of your total traffic is coming from organic search.
8. Pages Per Visitor
The more pages a visitor views after arriving at your site, the more engaging your site is. At its core, Google aims to serve people the most relevant and useful websites that offer value that cannot be found elsewhere, or at least cannot be found easily. Looking at this statistic from an organic standpoint may tell you that you are targeting the right users or users who ultimately don't have interest in your website after arrival. On the other hand, your visitors may be interested in your content, but your site may not be user-friendly enough. Remember, data is objective but your interpretations are subjective. Be sure to dig deep enough to find causation in your data, not just correlation.
9. Returning vs. New UsersThe amount of visitors that return to your website can help you to understand how engaging your website is and whether or not users are identifying with your brand. Even if you convert 100% of your visitors, if none of them return to convert again in the future, you are losing out big time source of revenue! Ideally your visitors won't just make a sale, they will share their purchase on social media, post links in online forums like Reddit, and return to make another purchase!
Google Analytics provides this data in a number of visual ways, but I prefer to look at the graphical pie graph they provide. Hovering over the pie graph will provide the actual number of visitors. Of course, it's important that the amount of new and returning visitors to increase indefinitely each month, however it is also important to pay attention to the ratio of new visitors to returning visitors to understand how your site is growing organically.
10. Crawl Errors
Search engines rely on automated programs that "crawl" your website in order to add it to their index. No matter how great your website is, if Google and the other search engines can't understand your website, your rankings will suffer. Fortunately, Google provides a function in their Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) that allows you to check for crawl errors, and it will tell you if it is having difficulty crawling any of your pages. If you have thousands of crawl issues showing up in Search Console, odds are have some other glaring SEO problems. Here is a list of common crawl errors and how to fix them.
11. Traffic By Device Type
With mobile ecommerce stats showing that more and more users are accessing the web without conventional desktop computers, it's more important than ever to be paying attention to which devices users are using to access your website. These days, the majority of online traffic comes from mobile devices, which is why it is important to know what devices your visitors use to make sure you are delivering the most user friendly view of your site to each visitor. You can check to see how "mobile-friendly" your website is with Google's Mobile-Friendly Test page.
You can dig deeper in this data to see if most of your users prefer one type of device versus another. For example, if the majority of your mobile users are on the Android OS, you can prioritize optimizing your site for Android devices before worrying about IOS devices.
In the example shown to the right, the majority of organic traffic is coming from desktop users. It is not until #5 that we see a mobile operating system, the Android Browser. This website is mobile-friendly but it's target audience does not often shop for their products from mobile. Still, if the owner decided to improve the mobile experience, they would know to focus on Android before worrying the Apple's IOS, which (you can't see but will have to take our word for it) didn't make the top ten.
12. Phone Tracking
You're not getting a clear picture of your SEO campaign results unless you're tracking phone calls from your site. This is especially true for lead generation sites and is more important for some industries than others. Depending on the industry, up to 100% of your leads can arrive via phone calls! Without call tracking implemented, you will have very little insight as to how they found you.
Call tracking provides you with customer data and information that enables you to make more informed strategic decisions and focus your efforts on the traffic sources that work for you. Some call tracking services are more robust than others, but the majority of them will allow you to see the traffic source that drove the call, the duration of the call, the search query that the customer used to find your site, and other relevant information.
Some companies offer products and services that will lend themselves to discussion over a phone call before. This is especially true in many B2B (Business to Business) industries. Call tracking is one of the most important elements of a digital marketing campaign and should absolutely not be overlooked.
Apart from analytical website data, there are other things we can track that don't necessarily occur on your site but are still important indicators of a successful SEO campaign. Above shows a screenshot from Google's Keyword Planning Tool, which is designed more for PPC advertising but is also just one place to begin your keyword research. Most SEO companies utilize third party software to track their keywords each month. These softwares will track your keywords historically so you can see which are improving and which are losing traction. Here are some things to keep in mind when analyzing your website's keyword rankings:
13. Keyword Volume
Are you targeting keywords that are actually searched frequently? Ranking on the first page for hundreds of terms that nobody searches for is worthless. Imagine your business sells dogs, cats, monkeys, unicorns and lizard. All other things equal, it would be wise to focus your efforts on "dogs", since it gets the most search volume. However, we know that all things are not equal and profit margins on unicorns are just outrageous these days.
14. Keyword Relevance & Search Intent
Are the keywords that you are targeting relevant to your audience? Is there a clear search intent that you are delivering what the searcher is most likely searching for? For example, if your website sells unicorns, ranking for "free unicorns" is not nearly as beneficial as ranking for "unicorns for sale". Still, a fraction of those looking for free unicorns may be persuaded into buying some, so don't completely write those keywords off.
15. Keyword QuantityOf course, we want relevant keywords that are searched frequently ,but we also want a lot of them! Each month, you should track the amount of keywords that are ranking #1 overall, how many are on the first page of the results, as well as the second and third pages. Look for increases in these numbers each month and avoid losing rankings on keywords that have already proven successful sources of qualified traffic. Each keyword that your site ranks for will result in an increase in organic traffic, so as long as they are relevant to your operations, the more keywords the merrier!
Apart from dissecting your website's analytical data and tracking your keyword rankings, what else can we do to measure the effectiveness of our SEO campaigns? One of the most important aspects of performing SEO is earning new links to your website and content, so it is important to analyze every aspect of your backlink profile to check if you are earning relevant links from quality domains. Just like every other aspect of SEO, "there's a tool for that". There are plenty of tools available to check your backlink profile. These tools crawl the web and take note of each hyperlink they encounter. Do some research on the best backlink checker for your needs(there are free and paid versions and many offer a free trial), enter your domain and you'll be given tons of data relating to all of the links on the web that point to your site.
Google uses your backlink profile as a ranking factor, but this isn't the only reason to be concerned with links. If you are consistently earning new links to your site it means that you are creating engaging content that your users find valuable, which is an indication in and of itself of strong SEO. Here's what to look for:
16. Domain Quantity
How many separate domains link back to your site is an indication of how trustworthy you are. Generally speaking, the more domains that link to your site, the better.
17. Domain Quality
Links from CNN.com are likely more valuable than links from TommysAwesomeBlog.com, since CNN.com has a very strong backlink profile of its own. The quality of a domain is assessed by the search engine by using a number of metrics, including backlink profile, age of domain, and a lot of other factors.
18. Domain Relevancy
It's not just the amount of domains and their quality that matters, but relevancy as well. Google's search algorithm is capable of making many different types of associations. If you sell spaceships, a link from NASA.gov is much more beneficial than one from the NSA.gov. .
19. Page Quality
Similar to domain quality, but on a page basis. If your links are coming from "low quality" page(s) on strong domain(s), it will not have as big an impact as if it was coming from a high quality page on the same domain.
20. Anchor Text
With the recent iterations of Google's penguin algorithm, the anchor text ratio of a websites backlink profile has become a huge point of importance for maintaining the overall "health" of your website. The short and simple explanation is that your website should have as natural of a backlink profile as possible, including the anchor text of those links. If you look at any big brand website, you will see a very natural distribution of the anchor text being used in inbound links. For example, let's look at Lowes.com.
In the above image, we can see that vast majority of inbound links to Lowes.com have "branded" anchor text simply containing the company's name. Rest assured, the grand majority of Lowe's backlinks were naturally occurring links that were built by customers and other internet users. Looking at their anchor text profile, we see hardly any keyword optimized anchor text. Why is this the case?
If you look at any "big brand" website you will see that this is the case. Google recognizes these patterns among legitimate and trusted websites and websites that have unnatural anchor text distribution containing more keyword optimized anchor text than branded or generic anchor text stick out like a sore thumb. It's one of the easiest ways for Google to put your website on a list you do not want it to be on.
In the below image, you can see that the affiliate website, Custom Printing Deals, has a very unnatural anchor text distribution. Over 85% of their referring pages have keywords in their anchor text that they are targeting. It's quite obvious that this is attempted rank manipulation and unnatural links are being built. Please, don't ever do anything like this:
If you're going to be building links as a part of your SEO campaign (which you absolutely should be), try to keep 95% or more of the links branded (name of company), raw-URL (www.website.com, website.com, and other variants), or generic (click here, this website, source, read more, etc). The other 5% of links that you are building can contain keywords that you are targeting. Remember to be natural about it and use variants such as brand name + keyword. So if we imagine we own company called "Poppashawts" and a targeted keyword was "orange widgets", we would want the anchor text to read something like "Poppashawts Orange Widgets".
Analyze, Strategize and Revise...Repeat As Desired
Every SEO campaign is going to include some strategies that are more effective than others. The key to measuring the effectiveness of your SEO campaign is not just determining if your campaign has been successful overall, but to identify which aspects have proven beneficial. This will enable you to channel more resources to the strategies that are working for you, and to replace those that haven't with new ideas.