Measuring (Online) Success: Four Elements To Consider For Your SEO Campaign
Businesses of all sizes are now quite aware of the benefits of an effective SEO strategy, and they are keen to employ the services of SEO agencies to increase their rankings in search engines. However, with many smaller organizations, where digital knowledge is often more limited, little consideration is given to creating a clear strategy that is SMART– specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. SEO campaigns can be difficult to measure as results take time, and there are several different elements to consider when measuring success. However, it is worth considering the following when setting up goals for your campaign: rankings, traffic, impressions, and ROI and attribution. By considering these elements together, we can create a clear picture of how a website is performing in terms of organic search.
Traditionally, search engine marketers would prioritize rankings as the number one measure of SEO success with high rankings for selected keywords representing more traffic to the website. This was said because the top 10 positions in the search engine results traditionally received 95% of the clicks, and therefore, the traffic. However, with search engines evolving all the time, we can no longer focus solely on rankings. We see rankings as a base measure to see how the campaign is performing, and, more importantly, rankings are a check to see if something has gone drastically wrong, with big drops in rankings representing a problem with the website or a penalty.
The reason we use rankings this way instead of as a KPI is that the search engine results page has changed in several ways in the last few years. Firstly, with the Hummingbird Algorithm change in 2013, Google started to recognize the semantic relationship between keywords- for example, in the past "motor insurance" and "car insurance" were completely different keywords, and these would have very different search results. However, this changed in 2013 as Google saw that the user would consider these two keywords and products as the same thing, and therefore, the same websites should rank for these two keywords. Knowing this, there are endless combinations and semantically similar keywords that could be ranking, and showing a report with one or two keywords ranking doesn't tell the whole story.
Secondly, the actual layout of the page has changed dramatically over the years. We have gone from 10 simple search results (10 blue links) to maps, images, and knowledge graphs and these are constantly changing. This means that for a given keyword, a website might be the first organic result on the page, but due to several other types of results, it is pushed down to below the fold, and thus does not gain the traction normally associated with a high ranking. Therefore, even though a high ranking is being reported, we can see that not much traffic is coming from this keyword, giving you a false sense of performance.
Traffic is an excellent indicator of the performance of organic search. If traffic from organic search goes up after SEO work has been done on a website, we can deduce that these improvements are working. This can easily be tracked through analytics, with traffic being split into pre-determined channels within your account. It is best to compare this on a year-on-year basis to make sure seasonality is taken into account. It is also a good idea to compare to the previous month to make sure that you understand your traffic patterns- if it has increased or decreased dramatically, you can investigate why. One problem with taking traffic as a KPI on its own is that it can be affected by other factors that are out of your control from a SEO point of view. As a brand, you might see dramatic increases from organic search in terms of traffic, and this is reported as your SEO campaign working, but in reality, this might be due to above-the-line activity with more people searching for your brand in that month due to a TV or radio commercial. Therefore, you have not gained traffic from better rankings, but because of increased interest in your brand. SEO as a marketing channel focuses on gaining traffic from non-branded keywords (any keyword that does not contain your brand). Naturally, your website will rank for your brand unless there is something drastically wrong with it. Analytics however does not report traffic on keyword level anymore, as Google hides this data. It is therefore extremely difficult to accurately report on branded versus non-branded traffic. For this reason, it is important to use the Google Search console to view your results on a keyword level. If your SEO campaign is working, you will be able to track improvement through clicks, impressions, click-through rate, and position. These terms can be explained as follows:
The number of times each keyword generated a click through to your website.
Every time your website appeared in the search results for a given keyword.
The ratio of users who click through to your website who have seen your results.
The average ranking or position of your website for a given keyword.
The number of impressions is becoming a far more vital performance indicator for us, as it merges your visibility in search engines with the amount of times your listing is being presented, thereby giving you an indication that you are not only increasing in rankings, but for the right key phrases as well, which have a lot of searches taking place. Of the information included in Google Search Console, impressions are a clear indication of performance on a keyword level. By saving the data monthly (Google deletes it after 90 days), we can compare impressions and track improvements over time. As search visibility increases, impressions should increase as a result. If we are seeing an increase in position and rankings, but impressions are not increasing with these improvements, it is likely that the wrong keywords have been targeted. An increase in impression share should be the result of increased search visibility, and using impressions as a metric should be reflected by these improvements.
ROI and attribution
When there is an e-commerce element and e-commerce tracking has been set up, there is an opportunity to set up KPI's based on revenue generated from organic search. This means that ROI goals can be set up using the monthly SEO retainer as spend. This can be extremely helpful as it gives the marketing team a clear indication of performance, which can be easily justified. When setting up ROI goals, it is important to consider attribution, as it is very rare that one click equates to one sale. Users tend to go through a purchase funnel with multiple clicks to the website before making a purchase. These are general clicks from different digital marketing channels. It could be made up of PPC, social media, display and organic search. The default setting in analytics is assigned to all the revenue, to the last click at the time of purchase. Therefore, your SEO campaign might be leading to sales, but when the last click is from a different channel, this revenue is not reflected in organic search. By adopting an attributed model for e-commerce tracking, we can assign a percentage of the revenue to each of the clicks along the users' click path. This gives you a better idea of which channels are performing well and how they are working together.
The way SEO is measured has changed from very simple rankings data, to considering keyword performance not only from rankings, but from increases in impressions and clicks. With the advance of e-commerce tracking and attribution modeling, we have a much clearer picture of how organic search works together with other digital channels, and should therefore be able to create much more measurable and integrated digital strategies.