At the same time, we recognize that SEO is a long-term investment, and it simply isn't possible to provide positive ROI right out of the gate. So with that in mind, we usually focus on three distinct indicators of SEO success:
- Keyphrase Ranking Improvements
- Non-Branded Organic Search Traffic
At different stages of our campaigns, we tend to focus on these indicators to varying degrees. Because search engine rankings tend to improve relatively quickly to quality SEO, we can use rankings for individual keywords to measure our earliest efforts. Later on in the process, the additional data that trickles in over time allows us to evaluate success based on organic traffic and conversions.
How You Can Use These Ideas
If you are the owner of a website that currently has an SEO campaign, or if you are considering starting one, I would definitely recommend that you take these ideas into consideration when evaluating success. By looking at the proper metrics at the appropriate time, you will be able to easily and accurately gauge the success of your SEO efforts.
Keyphrase Ranking Improvements
For the first several months, you should expect to see consistent improvements in the search engine rankings for terms relevant to your site. There are no hard and fast rules here: depending on your budget, the quality of your competition, and other factors, the time it takes to see big improvements will greatly vary. But what's most important is the direction of change: a ranking improvement from 90th to 55th is a good improvement and shows progress, but probably won't translate to measurable traffic growth to your site in the short term. Because so much of the early part of your campaign will be more about laying a solid foundation for success, early on in the campaign ranking improvements should be used as an indicator of overall success. But once your major keywords start moving towards the first page of results, more and more users will see your link, and eventually traffic to your site can be a much more accurate measure.
Non-Branded Organic Search Traffic
Once you've invested the time (often a period of several months or more) and resources into improving rankings, you can start shifting your focus towards organic search traffic. It's important to point out that you should already be in a position to rank for your own brand name, so the real goal of this stage of the campaign should be to attract visitors searching for generic terms. So when looking at organic traffic, make sure that you aren't considering people who searched for your company's name.
Over time, you should start to see major improvements in the traffic coming into your site, a result of the increased visibility of your site in search engine results pages. For most sites, this should be seen as a victory in and of itself; more people interacting with your site means increased brand awareness, as well as a many more chances to make a sale.
But this isn't the end of the process. Once you are getting the traffic to your website, it's time to make some money and build on your return on investment from SEO. Assuming that your site is attractive, well built, has good calls to action and doesn't do anything to prevent people from paying you the money you want, the next step is to improve your conversion rate.
A conversion can be loosely classified as the action that you would like a user to take on your website upon reaching it. Lead form submissions, phone calls, completing the checkout process, booking an appointment, etc. are all great points of conversion since they are steps that people are taking to interact with your website and your company. As you continue through the SEO campaign, conversions are what actually make your company money. At this stage of the campaign, you should be seeing bottom-line growth: more sales, more form submissions, more phone calls, or more of whatever you consider to be a conversion.
Once again, the marketplace you are in will determine how many conversions to expect per month, but with anything analytics and data related, absolute numbers are much less important than analyzing trends over time. Keep in mind that only a percentage of visitors are going to convert into customers.
So you've increased rankings, brought traffic to the website and received conversions from that increased traffic, what should you do next? Definitely you don't want to lose the top rankings that you've invested a lot in achieving, but there are always changes in service offerings, products and the perception of consumers. Keep in mind that it's also not always about getting more and more traffic, and sometimes it's about better optimizing the visitor experience so that you can get more conversions for the same amount of traffic. Now that you have tracked everything efficiently over time, let your data help you determine your next step!
Taylor Cimala is the Strategic Director at Digital Third Coast Internet Marketing, a Search Engine Marketing company based in Chicago. You can find Taylor on Twitter and Google+. Connect with Digital Third Coast on Google+.