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This week’s Ask an SEO column is centered around metrics and measurement. In general, I like to think about what makes sense for measurement, and it comes down to three key questions:
What Can I Measure?
There are thousands of different metrics you can try to measure, but only a finite set you can measure. For example, if you’re working for a Fortune 500 company, you probably have data on customer reach, A/B testing, market share, revenue, and many other metrics. If you are a small business owner focused on a single retail store with a small e-commerce website, you probably rely a lot more on your gut to make decisions, and as valuable as that is, it’s not measurable.
What is Important to My Boss and/or Company?
You have to make your boss happy. Maybe you have revenue goals you have to reach per quarter, or maybe your boss is focused more on traffic or even the average position you hold in Google (more on that later). Maybe he or she just wants to be first for their own name. Some of these metrics will be reasonable, and some will be less so, but ultimately you have to measure the things that will make your boss or customer happy. Make sure you know what success looks like for them.
What Can I Control?
You may not want to measure yourself on things you can’t control. For example, if you have no access to change content on your site (don’t laugh, it happens), or if you have no ability to get IT to make changes on your behalf, you wouldn’t want to measure things that are associated with those elements you can’t control. In a perfect world, an SEO can affect change in multiple realms, but in reality, we often have our hands tied. Don’t measure yourself on things you can’t impact.
There are Four Key Areas You Should Measure for SEO
You should track the amount and trend of the traffic (visits) being driven to your site from SEO sources. You may wish to only track Google organic traffic, or you might want to track other search engines or organic as a whole. Lots of people track organic traffic as a percentage of regular traffic, but I think this metric is flawed for a lot of reasons, most notably that any fluctuations in paid activity will render this metric useless.
I like to track traffic to certain sections of the site – the main pages, the category pages, the product or informational pages, and the blog or news pages. This helps me more effectively narrow what impact certain efforts have had on our success.
SEO Position or Ranking
Lots of SEOs have gone on record saying they hate ranking reports, and think they’re a highly flawed metric. This is true in general, because with personalization and localization and the knowledge graphs and the changes in PPC displays and… the list is endless… saying you’re ranked #1 for a term has little meaning.
Instead, what I encourage my clients to look at is the trend. Group keywords in categories and track them over a long period of time. Look at the average position for these keywords over time. Measure the “true rank” of the result – is it #1 for organic, but actually #7 when you factor in PPC and local listings? And finally, track the page that is ranking for that keyword. Does it remain consistent, or fluctuate? This could indicate internal competition for the phrase. Is it ranking really well for a certain group/category of keywords? This may indicate that you’re doing something right on this page; something you can apply to other areas of your site.
This is a very difficult element to track because it could be made up of so many different things. Ultimately what you want to know is – once you get the visitor to the site, do they take some sort of action? What that action is may vary by site. One site may want the customer to hang out and read a lot of pages, in which case, a long time on site and many pages viewed per session may be the ideal. Another site may want the customer to make a purchase, in which case the funnel and progression to sale is the ideal. And still another site may want the customer to complete a lead form, in which case the completion of the lead form is ideal, and this will probably require very few steps and maybe no funnel at all, with a very short time on site.
Some sites will want returning customers, and some will want new customers. Most will want a good combination of both. Often a key metric is the number of new customers that SEO drives.
While customer engagement metrics vary greatly, it’s a key element of measuring SEO success, and it should be part of your overall goals.
Revenue, or Leads Generated
Finally, we come to what is most important for most sites. Revenue. This may take the form of completed sales, or it may be the generation of quality leads. Revenue is pretty easy to track, but where people often get hung up is lead tracking. What I’ve done with several clients is to set up a lead tracking system. When they get the lead, the first thing they do is classify it, using a system of points like the one below.
By classifying the leads, they can let the SEO team know how many “points” in leads were generated each week. Then it becomes a viable metric that can be trended and tracked.
Now, on to the questions!
As an in-house SEO Manager, I lead our SEO Agency in the work for our Enterprise.
My question is straight forward: what metric(s), or goal, can I hold them accountable to? Part of the challenge we face though is that we manage many websites within enterprise that have different KPIs. Some KPIs are engagement related, and others are more direct response related (i.e., bought a product). We’ve used organic traffic in the past, but I’m curious what other, more strategic metrics, other Enterprises have used that have many website properties in their portfolio? Things that we have control over (or as much as we can).
When working with an agency, it’s important to track each website in your portfolio separately, and with its own unique set of metrics. They’re likely charging you separately for each site, so they should be reporting on each site separately. That being said, the agency should be held accountable to the same KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) you use internally; setting up a different set of KPIs for the agency is a recipe for disaster. They won’t be working towards the same goals you are internally, and will be left blindsided when you fire them for failing to meet objectives. Your agency should fully understand what your corporate goals are, and should be responsible for determining what KPIs are most appropriate. Don’t try to get too fancy or “strategic” with your metrics. You need simple, measurable KPIs and goals that you can clearly say yes, they achieved, or no they didn’t.
One thing to keep in mind, though (having been on the agency side myself), is that if your company puts up roadblocks, you need to re-evaluate the goals you’ve set for the agency. If the agency goal is to increase traffic by 20% by the end of the year, but your IT team is unable to implement any of their recommendations, you can’t hold them accountable to that original goal. When I work with clients, we often have revenue and traffic related goals in addition to what I call “effectiveness” goals.
The effectiveness goals are things like that I respond to all emails within one business day; that I provide all deliverables on time; that I shepherd a certain number of JIRA tickets to completion per quarter… the things they’d measure a full-time employee on as well.
I would like to ask how you write a title tag today. Would you be using primary keyword | alternative keyword | company name? (exact phrase) or would you drop the keywords in the title tag in any order? If the keywords are residential builders and commercial builders, would you write it as Residential Builders – Commercial Builders | Company Name or would you be writing it as Residential, Commercial Builders in Location | Company Name
What is your take on this? How does Google read title tags today when you search for terms?
We get a lot of questions where people ask about specific tactics. I wanted to use one in this column about measurement because I want to encourage people to test and measure these things! While I can tell you that Google’s spider accesses words in the order in which they are presented in the code, that doesn’t really answer your question, and could lead you down the wrong path.
Lots of SEOs will tell you that the title tags should have the most important keyword first, and then the company name at the end, if you choose to include it. This is generally a good way to start, because it makes sense based on what we know about how Google’s spider parses code.
However, what’s far more important is how it actually performs. Google needs to present a Title tag that will compel users to click through the result and then hopefully have a great on-site experience. That’s why they sometimes edit the Title tags you provide for this purpose.
You should try some different ways of presenting the information based on what you know. Is the prospective customer likely to see some value in your brand name? Then you should probably include it in the Title. What about the location? Important for builders and dentists, less so for t-shirt sales.
You don’t need to do an exact match in your Title tag. “Residential Builders – Commercial Builders | Company Name” is just awkward.
You need to consider the device the customer is likely to see your ad on. If it’s a desktop or tablet most likely, you have more room for the Title. If yours is a restaurant, you better get the name of the restaurant in the front of the Title so it will show on a mobile device.
Keep in mind you also have the description tag to communicate key information. Without knowing anything about your company or your location, I suggest you emphasize the more important keyword and the location first. Something like:
Residential Builders in City | Company Name
Home and commercial builders, licensed in state. Another sentence that contains a key selling point. Contact us for a free estimate today.
If you also do commercial building, I suggest emphasizing that on a different page. Remember, you have lots of different pages on your website, and the home page is rarely going to be the most relevant. If someone is looking for a commercial builder, they’re looking for a much different experience than a residential one. Commercial is all about efficient, licensed, bonded, budgets, etc. While these things are also important to people searching for residential builders, they’re more interested in beauty, comfort, quality and probably price. Commercial sales will be mostly made based on facts, while residential sales will be mostly made based on emotion.
Ultimately, the decision maker will be the click-through rate and the position. Do you lose or gain average position when you make a change? Do you have a higher or lower ratio of impressions to clicks?
Measure Twice and Cut Once
Since we’re on the subject of building, a key saying for builders is “measure twice and cut once”. It refers to the importance of getting things right the first time. Cutting a block of wood too short is a deal-breaker; you have to start over. Making a mistake in SEO doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start over, but making changes without measurement is a good way to end up with a crooked house (or website). With all things (especially SEO), you need to measure and test. You can use theory and “what SEOs say” to get you started, but measuring and knowing is always better.
Want to ask Jenny an SEO question? Fill out our form or use #AskAnSEO on social media.
Featured Image: Image by Paulo Bobita
In-post Photo: Einstein Quote, Licensed under Creative Commons
All screenshots by Jenny Halasz. Taken April 2016.