SEO Metrics that Matter: Moving Beyond Website Rankings

For years, SEOs have relied on website rankings to estimate progress. High positions in the SERPs have been their major argument which they used to prove to their employer that they were doing their job. But now times have changed, and Web analytical data has been gaining importance. Here are some reasons:

  • Personalization and localization of search
  • Increasing aggressiveness of PPC ads
  • The emergence of Universal Search
  • More factors influencing conversion

Well, there are still top executives who think Google Toolbar PageRank matters. But, for those not stuck in the Stone Age, the new approach to SEO includes more emphasis on analytical data and less emphasis to purely SEO metrics. What does it mean for SEOs?

Rankings are still important, because, no matter what, you still need to know where your site ranks. But they are now only a transitional metric that should be taken into account along with other important statistical data. What is this other data? First you need to evaluate traffic sources performance. Second, you should estimate your page’s performance. Consider the number of real visitors to your site, the time they spend on your site, as well as conversion/bounce rates.

Let’s take a look at the conversion funnel scheme:


As you see, there is so much more to modern-day SEO than website rankings. Now, do SEOs pay enough attention to analytical data? Well, they should, because…

You gotta see that bottom line

Most senior managers would now expect SEOs to demonstrate how SEO helps increase their revenue. As companies now spend more money on SEO, they want to know where this money is going. So, more and more SEOs have been shifting their attention from purely SEO metrics to business metrics.

To put it simple, nowadays, you have to look at the bottom line of your SEO efforts, which is ROI (Return On Investment), since this is what your employers will worry about. It may not be your responsibility to estimate ROI, but you have to build that bridge between SEO metrics and business analytics, see how they are related and explain it in your reports.

Another important reason you need that analytical data is that it will help you maximize the effectiveness of your SEO efforts. As was said before, analytical data is now as important as it has never been before.

Track all you can

The more data you can lay your hands on, the more targeted your SEO becomes. Without having certain metrics at hand, you are missing out on some big opportunities out there. The thing is that the Web has changed. Before, there was (1) less competition, (2) fewer ranking factors, (3) basically no personalization, (4) fewer factors influencing conversion, etc. Before, it was enough to just throw in a couple of keywords, get a few backlinks, and win. While now, this doesn’t work any longer.

So, the more cards you bring to the table, the better your chances. For example, years ago websites had text and perhaps some images on them – not so many factors influenced conversion. Nowadays, it’s not that easy to figure out what may have an effect on your conversion rates. People are now used to seeing video demos on almost every site they visit. They expect a brand to have a Facebook account, a help forum, and what not. Thus, nowadays, it’s harder to predict what they might like or not like. And, here is when analytics come into play.

Thus, track all you can. Set up every possible tag in your Google Analytics account (or any other Web analytics tool). Just a few tips:

Differentiate between branded VS non-branded search terms

Why would you want to do that? Because, as a rule, branded keywords convert better. Because branded terms are easier to rank high for – sometimes even a couple of internal links from other pages will do. And, in any case, it’s best to have 2 sets of reports: one for branded terms, the other one for non-branded ones.

Make use of long-tail keywords

Some niches are so competitive, it’s next to impossible to get anywhere Google’s top 10. In this case, optimizing for long-tail phrases could be more effective than trying to elbow out all those competitors for your hottest search terms.

But even if your niche is not that competitive, it is still well worth tapping into the opportunities long-tail keywords hold. So, don’t simply ignore them like some SEOs do.

Find out what users do on your site

Employ all the available resources to get maximum insight into what visitors do on your website – where they look, where they click, what offers they check out, etc. This is important because user behavior is the critical part of the conversion funnel (see above).

To track user behavior, you can use Google Analytics, website heat maps, split testing, browser cookies, and a multitude of other tools and techniques. The thing is, the more parameters you measure, the less you have to guess what’s working and what’s not working on your site.

Double-check and triple-check

As for how often one should look at that analytics, I would say, do it all the time. In fact, you should collect different analytical data about your site prior to doing any SEO on it. This way you will be able to relate changes in analytical data to your SEO efforts. And, before starting with your SEO, set a definite objective, that is, the end results you would like to get. Because, for one website, the end result would be an online purchase, for another website, this would be a phone call or a visit to the store, etc.

Also, remember, that SEO takes time to pay off. So, don’t expect to see immediate results of your work, but rather look at longer time spans. This will allow you to see the full picture. Because there are such things as seasonal fluctuations in traffic, seasonal interest in certain products, etc.

In any case, the more metrics you collect, the better. Sometimes minor tweaks may have a big effect on the overall efficiency of your SEO campaign. And, even though the recommendations provided here should be taken with a grain of salt, if used right, business metrics can be an effective weapon that allows you to drive your SEO campaign forward.

Tags: , , .
  • Trackbacks
  • Comments
  • Dezz
    June 24, 2011

    That’s an excellent read. I think I should have a closer look at analytical data, I guess I devalued it previously.

  • Comments are disabled.
  • Trackbacks are disabled.