SEM, Measure for Measure

Grab your notebooks and pens. Search Analytics 101 is now in session.

I’m currently working on a huge European account, in conjunction with my friend and colleague Thomas Bindl and his new company. Last week, we traveled to Amsterdam, Netherlands and Helsinki, Finland, to meet with two operating companies within the organization.

We’re dealing with huge Web sites and potentially millions of pages across the group. Bindl has a laser-focused analytical approach to dissecting large Web sites. Between us, we’re swimming in a huge pool of data we have to make sense of.

Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about metrics and analytics recently, as I’m a regular speaker at the Emetrics Summit in London. Web analytics has come a long way since it was referred to as “looking at log file stats.” This is both good and bad. The more sophisticated analysis becomes, the more data we have to deal with. Knowing what to measure and why is the trick to avoiding blank stares at graphs and charts.

I remember a presentation my great friend and Web analytics guru Jim Sterne gave some time ago. He started by saying something like, “We can measure the movement of a mouse across a screen.” After a slight pause, he continued with, “But why would you ever want to do that?”

Analyzing your SEO (define) and SEM (define) campaign success has a huge effect on measuring your entire online business’s success. Yet clients often only have a meager knowledge of the success ratio (or lack of it) of their Web sites. Most can tell me at the drop of a hat how many keywords they spend on and how much they spend. They can also tell me that where they get most of their organic search traffic from, but not a lot more. That’s usually because they haven’t set goals.

This isn’t a criticism at all. Even in the best-staffed companies, it’s hard to find the person solely responsible for analytics. Or the person solely responsible for SEO and SEM. Usually, they’re the same person or a mixture of people who also have other responsibilities.

For those who constantly try to do a dozen things at once and have no idea about goal setting (and little or no time for it), let’s set you up with the basics.

Define Goal Conversions

Marketing is all about conversions. Tracking a campaign’s effectiveness is only a small part of the analysis. You must measure how the campaign affects the number of people who reach a defined goal on your Web site: goal conversions.

To get to goal conversions, you must monitor source conversions, medium conversions, and referral conversions. You’ll then get a good grip on your ROI (define).

If you’re only managing a handful of campaigns, this isn’t too difficult. But if you’re handling many campaigns, it can get a bit scary. More than once I’ve talked to someone about the organization’s analytics vendor or solution and been told, “I know we have one, but I’ve never really looked at it.”

At a very basic level, you must think about source conversions. That is, which search engines send traffic to your site. I don’t much like the term “medium conversion,” but it’s what a lot of analytics people use. Generally speaking, it applies to which online marketing efforts are working best: e-mail, affiliate, search, and so on. You could call organic search one medium and paid search as another, for example.

Finally, you must look at referral conversion. You may get traffic from a number of sources and search engines, so this conversion gives you a better idea of the traffic’s quality.

This is really just Search Analytics 101. But I know many readers are only now realizing that they must justify their time, effort, and budget for SEO and SEM by coming up with tangible evidence.

It’s easy to get bogged down in data mountains. Before you so much as peek at your analytics solution or talk to your vendor, you must know what you’re looking for and why.

There are many great sources of information relating to analytics applied to SEO and SEM. Here at ClickZ, you can check out Analyzing Customer Data, Actionable Analysis, and ROI Marketing. There’s tons of info over at the Web Analytics Association, too. There really is so much more to analytics in search than keyword lists, ranking reports, and back-link checks.

Today’s column ran earlier on ClickZ.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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