Having worked in the SEO industry for quite a few years now, I’ve heard myself uttering the same words over and over again: “SEO is a team game.” Clients of mine understand that SEO is truly something that requires effort on both sides, and potential clients hear it all the time.
Unlike many other industries, there are many different ways to define “success” in Search Engine Optimization. Below I’ve detailed four schools of SEO success thought. For fellow SEOs, it’s important to know which school of thought you belong to. For business owners, it’s important to understand how your SEO of choice defines success, and based on which school of thought you want them to fit into this should provide some guidance on how to find the right SEO agency.
How it’s measured: Google is doing all that it can to prevent SEO agencies and website owners from tracking changes in their website rankings, in many cases even threatening to shut off their API to reporting packages who offer rank tracking tools. With that said, there remains several providers who continue to track rankings and changes in rankings (including SEMrush, Moz, and a whole host of desktop applications and browser add-ons). Quite simply, this metric tracks where your website is ranked for given search terms, and tracks the changes over time.
Why it’s great: Almost every client I’ve ever done SEO work for has been obsessed with Googling themselves to see where they show up. Improved rankings are great because they often lead to increased search traffic, and certainly lead to increased credibility and increased visibility in the search rankings.
Where it’s lacking: Do rankings really matter!? Judging “success” by an improvement in rankings seems strange to most SEOs because it’s easy to get things to rank when that’s all you focus on. To see why this approach is lacking, think about this: why do you care about improved rankings? Because you want more web traffic! Fifty #10 rankings can be more valuable to your bottom line than two #1 rankings depending on the keywords, consumer preference, conversion rates, and search volume. On top of that, hardly any keyword rank trackings are accurate as Google personalizes searches based on browsing history, location, and a wide range of other factors.
Questions to ask: If your SEO is bragging about your improved rankings, as the following questions:
How much is traffic changing for these keywords that had improved rankings?
Are we focused on broad or long-tail traffic?
What’s our next milestone? How much do you expect traffic to increase?
Increased organic search traffic
How it’s measured: For most SEOs, the ultimate goal is to see an increase in organic search traffic. This is measured directly by the number of visits obtained from organic search engine searches. It’s a simple metric to track through Google Analytics, and can easily be compared month over month.
Why it’s great: When a business hires an SEO, it’s because they want more people to their website! Success in this arena proves that that’s exactly what’s happening: more eyeballs on your website! It’s as simple as that. With increased traffic to your website, that gives you more chances to convert and sell to more customers.
Where it’s lacking: If an SEO points to an increase in organic search traffic as success, they may not be aligned with your true ultimate goal: more money. Oftentimes this is a watered down version of focusing on actual conversions (read: sales), so I’m always skeptical when an SEO considers their campaign successful simply because of increased traffic. On the other hand, there can be no increase in sales without an increase in traffic, so this is a great first step in the process, and is a great “initial win.”
Questions to ask: If your SEO is telling you about some wins in this area, try the following questions:
How are we working to convert these new visitors into conversions?
How do we know this increase in traffic is good, targeted traffic?
Where on the site are these new visitors going? What are they doing? How engaged are they?
Increased overall site traffic
How it’s measured: Site-wide traffic is the easiest metric to track and measure over time. Google Analytics provides top-notch tracking in this case, and is the single most important metric regarding whether or not the number of visitors to your website is increasing or decreasing. Shockingly, most people outside of the SEO world don’t know their sitewide traffic numbers, so if you’re unsure head over to your Google Analytics dashboard today!
Why it’s great: This is what marketing is all about! You hire an SEO so that you increase the number of eyeballs on your website, and this is the way to tell if that is working. Without visitors to your website you’ll never get conversions from your website, and no one will ever be learning more about your business, products, or services. Who doesn’t love website traffic?
Where it’s lacking: Unlike simply looking at an increase in organic search traffic, an overall increase in site traffic can show you that your traffic sources are diverse and flourishing. Even if your organic search traffic is lacking, by having strong direct traffic and referral traffic numbers you know you won’t be hit hard if your rankings ever drop. With that said, overall site traffic only indicates so much. More often than not quite a few of those direct visits are website owners themselves, and in many cases referral traffic from sources such as Facebook can be friends or family members who are just keeping in touch with what website owners are up to. So where it’s really lacking is that it doesn’t give a glimpse into the targeting and effectiveness of the traffic. Is it converting? That’s the really important thing!
Questions to ask: Try these on for size:
Where is the traffic coming from? Organic, paid advertising, direct, referring? What’s the strongest driver in the increase and why?
How engaged is the audience? How do the engagement numbers differ across traffic sources? How do organic visitors compare to the rest of the visitors?
Are there any plans to A/B test the pages since we’re seeing overall site traffic increases? What are we doing to increase conversions? How are we even tracking conversions? Where are the clicks going once the visitors land?
How it’s measured: Hooray! We finally got to the final school of SEO success thought, and almost everyone will agree that this is the most important school of thought: and increase in conversions! All of the above metrics are great, but if a website’s traffic isn’t converting into more customers, sales, engaged readers, or whatever your goal is, then none of the above metrics matter. Conversions can be measured in a few ways:
People who submit a contact form
Orders and/or purchases
Visitors who reach a certain page
Visitors who reach a certain level of engagement (five or more pageviews, five minutes or more on the site, etc.)
People who call
Why it’s great: We all have websites because we all have goals and/or business objectives. The ultimate goal with any investment in marketing is for increased conversions. This method of measuring success is great because it means more customers/clients and more money!
Where it’s lacking: The funny thing about pipelines is that seeing clients get to the end (the close!) is the best thing ever… until we begin to worry about how we’re going to continue to have potential customers fill in the beginning of the pipeline. While an increase in conversions is great, it’s imperative to think about who’s still funneling in and that a consistent stream of traffic is coming in. More importantly, it’s important to know that a strategy is in place to keep it coming!
Questions to ask: You’ll surely be happy with your results, and this is when asking questions are easiest:
What do we have to do to keep this going?
What new things are we trying?
There’s no one way to measure SEO success
Yes, all signs pointed to the fourth and final school of SEO success thought being the winner. In most cases, it is. But even then, an increase in conversions has several weaknesses and important questions to ask, so it’s imperative that website owners and business owners investing in SEO – or any form of marketing for that matter! – understand how their account manager is measuring success and ROI. On top of that, at all stages of the process it’s important to ask the right questions to make sure that you’re accomplishing your goals and building a sustainable strategy for the long-run.
Which school of SEO success thought have you found yourself stuck in? Where do you find most SEOs stuck? Comment below!
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