Hint: Bypass ranking reports.
SEO is getting harder and harder.
If I was using search engine optimization as a key component of my marketing today - which I am - I would make damn sure I know how to track success.
Because SEO is harder, it's also more expensive than ever.
If you plan to use cheap links and content outsourced to third-world countries, you are living in a fantasy world of search engine optimization.
There are many ways to measure SEO but using ranking reports is not one way.
Have you looked at Google recently? With video results, image results, and social results all being injected into the search engine results pages (SERPs), how are you going to judge success based on a ranking report?
In the last 30 days, here are my rankings (with clicks) for the phrase "google plus local" from Google Webmaster Tools:
|6 to 10||21|
|2nd page||< 10|
|3rd page+||< 10|
Which position would you show your boss?
I'm fairly confident that I am somewhere between position 1 and 10 (except when I'm on page 2 or 3).
Look, I still run these reports. Old habits die hard. But I do really wish they would die. Positioning reports are meaningless, ego-driven search babble.
You Want Results!
You aren't trying to rank well for your health. You are trying to get some sort of action. The action is what you need to be tracking. Ranking is just a means to an end.
The end results could be things like getting people to:
You get the idea, right? Track the thing you want them to do.
Here are five ways to measure SEO.
No. 1: Segment, filter, and compare.
Google Analytics is your friend when it comes to measuring success.
Get comfortable with segmenting your traffic using the built-in advanced segmenting reports in Google Analytics. First, segment on your "non-paid search traffic."
Then compare your non-paid search traffic with another time period. My favorite time comparison is year-over-year. That way you are filtering out seasonality. If your stats don't go back a full year, then compare what you can. This month compared to last month is better than nothing.
Finally, filter out as much of your branded phrases as possible. Anybody can rank for their company name (with various key phrases attached to it) and product names. Use the filter tool to get rid of all that branded stuff when you are in the "Search/Organic" area of Google Analytics. Like this:
This report is going to do wonders at telling you what you need to know. You will get a valuable snapshot of how you are doing overall for non-branded organic search.
No. 2: Hang out at Google Webmaster Tools.
I love this information. It's crazy fun. What you are interested in is currently under "Traffic/Search Queries."
You can also create a filter here to exclude branded phrases and you can also star phrases so you can easily come back to those.
This data shows you impressions and clicks in interesting ways. Unfortunately, you can't compare search query data to another time period in Google Webmaster Tools. But that leads me to:
No. 3: Integrate Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics data.
Use the "Search Engine Optimization" data by linking your Webmaster Tools data into your Google Analytics data.
That in itself is something I see very few companies having done before they come to us. The data is useful and special. You definitely want to link this data together.
But if you have already done that, perhaps you haven't used the explorer tool within this tool:
You can find this report by clicking on the three-circle icon on the right side of the screen after selecting "Queries" within the "Search Engine Optimization" section of Google Analytics.
You can slice and dice this data in all kinds of visually telling ways. There is a "play" button that lets you watch your top key phrases dynamically move in average ranking, impressions, or clicks over a specific time period. This is an interesting comparison within itself. It also lets you appreciate the fluidity of rankings for particular phrases.
No. 4: Use goals within Google Analytics.
Hopefully by now you have inserted some goals into Google Analytics. You probably are looking at things like how many people have filled out a form, using events to track downloads of PDF files, and more. But how closely are you looking at your goals from a segmented perspective?
The easiest way to do that is with the "Goal Flow" report:
Within the Goal Flow report, you can segment your traffic by non-paid search traffic and then you can look at that traffic by keyword.
It gives a really interesting comparison when you look at the data from one period of time compared to another period of time.
No. 5: Show the big picture.
Executives don't want to micromanage SEO. They want to see the big picture: Is SEO working for us?
For this kind of report I recommend a simple high-level custom report that shows all organic visits, comparing one time period to another time period. And then showing total goal completions and goal values. You want to give each type of goal a monetary value because not all goals are created equal. The report will look like this:
This shows organic results across a wide array of search engines.
If your numbers are going up, you should be able to show your CEO this and that will be that.
I have worked my butt off this year for creating good keyword-rich content on our site. This report shows the results. No positioning report needed. Who cares what the rankings are? What I'm doing is working.
If you would like that custom report for Google Analytics, click here.
Sage Lewis is the president of SageRock Digital Marketing. SageRock has been a leader in Web marketing since 1999, offering search engine optimization, paid search marketing, social media marketing, and analytics.
Sage speaks nationally with SES and other prominent Web marketing organizations. He is one of the most sought after speakers and coaches in the field of Web marketing. From coast to coast, Sage has trained, coached, and consulted with some of the largest brands and conferences in the country.
Sage is also "The Web Marketing Video Guy" with nearly 500 Web marketing videos published. Sage writes as an expert for ClickZ in the "Search Engine Marketing" section. He lives in Akron, Ohio with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.
His columns can be found in the Search Engine Watch archive.
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