“What stats should you measure to see if an SEO campaign is working or not?”
Great question. And one that merits a more detailed answer than the rushed response I gave at the seminar.
The only correct answer in this instance is, “it depends”. That's not because I'm being awkward. It's because our interpretation of “SEO” dictates how we analyse the results of the actions we undertake.
What does “SEO” actually mean?
“SEO” attracts a number of different definitions. Wikipedia's version is:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine's unpaid results—often referred to as “natural”, “organic”, or “earned” results. (Source: Wikipedia)
Based on this narrow definition, the first objective of SEO is to get a broad selection of web pages indexed in the organic search result listings for a variety of relevant keywords. Or, in other words, widen the website's “online footprint”.
Having your URLs pop up regularly in the search results is a good thing. But it's one thing being at the top of Page 1 and another languishing at the bottom of Page 3!
So the next, and probably most critical purpose of SEO is to get your URLs to show up near the top of Google search for relevant keywords. Preferably in positions 1 – 5.
The crucial missing part in most SEO definitions
Wikipedia's definition ignores a 3rd crucial strand of SEO which impacts heavily on visitor traffic, i.e. the formatting of the search result listing to encourage optimum “click-through” rate.
What do I mean? See this example of Google's search results for the popular query “what seo costs”
These are the top 3 organic results in Google (Irish version). You'll notice the meta tags in each listing are written and formatted to try and encourage the visitor to click-through to the associated page. Because I target an Irish audience, I wanted mine to appeal to that audience specifically. Consequently, my click-through rate for this search query is over 40% which is well above average for #1 Position listings.
The most important SEO metrics
Taking the narrow definition of SEO, success should be measured by looking at:
- The increased visibility of website URLs in Google SERPs (pages 1 – 3) for relevant queries.
- Whether there is consistent & sustained improvement in Google rankings for critical search queries.
- The click-through rate for your site listings that appear on page 1 of Google SERPs.
Notice how I don't include stuff like volume of backlinks or “domain authority”? When considering SEO in its pure form, the impact should be measured strictly in terms of organic search visibility. Other critical metrics like visitor engagement, lead conversions and online sales do not come under the umbrella of SEO.
So what's the point of SEO if sales don't go up?
This is the $64,000 question in the whole “SEO” debate. And one which leads to disputes and misunderstanding between SEO companies and their clients.
If you hire a reputable agency to “do SEO” for you (refer to my comments above), they'll do what they can to boost your Google search rankings. As a consequence, your site should get more traffic. But don't be surprised if the massive jump in sales or enquiries you're hoping for don't materialise. After all, you're not paying them to redesign your website, or write new content for your blog, or work on conversion optimisation.
The fact is, “SEO” isn't a catch-all phrase for anything related to website performance, or how your brand is perceived online. As the definition states, it's just a set of processes to get your site more visible in Google's organic search listings. That's all. Nothing more.
The reason most websites, how shall we say, “under-perform” is that they're cobbled together by cheap, low-skilled “web designers” who couldn't care less about user-engagement or conversion optimisation or sales performance. They weren't getting paid enough to worry about those things.
I wrote before about why most company “about us” pages fail and this is indicative of the self-indulgent posturing that happens on most website builds. Rather than treat a website as a channel for offering really valuable information to help potential customers make decisions, it's seen as a way to boast about company achievements.
And don't get me started on those ridiculous slider galleries that pervade every inch of the web these days. Companies seem to spend more time squabbling over what drivel should go on the home page slider than how to improve their products. It's utterly ridiculous.
The sad thing is, if SEO agencies improve your rankings, ironically all they're doing is driving lots more people to a site that reflects badly on your company. As Trump would say, “Not Good!”.
OK, enough with the put-downs. What's the right way to do this?
Stop thinking of “SEO” as the panacea for all your website's problems. If you don't have all the other engagement and conversion elements sorted, you're wasting your time.
Start by making your customers central to everything you do. Ask yourself these questions:
- Who are our typical customers? (think in terms of individual decision-makers, not corporate entities)
- What critical content do customers need to help them make their buying decision?
- How should the site be structured to give customers access to the critical information they need?
- What content should we omit? (i.e. does not add any customer value)
- What obstacles do we need to remove to reduce friction in the buying process?
Remember, it's not about you or your company. You need to view the process 100% from your customer's perspective.
Try this exercise: Think about the last time you ordered something online, or hired someone's services after visiting their website. What made the decision easier for you? What stopped you ordering from the other sites you visited?
Do you need professional help?
If you're totally committed to doing this stuff properly, you have another option. You could hire in someone who knows they're onions. Someone who understands the bigger picture, not just “SEO”. Who'll bring in tried and tested processes for gathering the information you need, and use it to help you develop a website and online strategy that ranks, converts and makes sales.
If you want to save money in the long run by doing things right, first time, I'm available for hire. I only work on a small number of projects at any time and currently I have an open slot. I expect this will get filled up quickly so get in touch now if you need my services.