Editor’s Note: This is a section of our completely redone SEO Guide. Enjoy!
In the world of SEO, how do you plan on measuring your success? In other words, what metrics will you use to ensure that your SEO strategy is working? When your boss or your clients ask you the million dollar question of whether your SEO strategy is creating ROI (return on investment), where will you get the data to supply the answer?
In this portion of the SEO guide, we’re going to discuss the metrics you can track to determine the overall progress of your SEO strategy along with some specific ways to determine actual conversion goals from particular SEO tactics.
Start by Setting up Conversion Goals in Google Analytics
If you haven’t already, the first thing you need to do beyond the basic installation of Google Analytics is set up Google Analytics goals. Goals will help you track actions visitors take on your website, such as submitting a lead generation form, submitting a quote form, signing up for your email list, or making a purchase.
You will find the goal setup area in your website’s Google Analytics admin area under the view column. The easiest way to get started is to choose a template.
Choose the Destination type.
Enter the URL that a visitor would land upon after completing the goal that you are tracking. You would enter the URL of a thank you page, for example, that the visitor would go to after submitting a form or the URL of a confirmation page that the visitor would go to after making a purchase.
From here, you have the option of filling in a goal value, if known. If your average order is $100, you will enter that. Or, if you just want a dollar amount to show up in your Google Analytics reports, you can just enter $1. You’ll see how that can come in handy later.
Once you have created all of the goals you need to track, you will be ready to start tracking the metrics that count for your SEO strategy. But before we get into that, there are some other things that you should also keep an eye on to determine if your SEO strategy is working.
Monitor Your Keyword Rankings
One of the things you will need is a keyword rankings tool that can help you keep an eye on your keyword rankings. As you put more time and effort into your SEO strategy between optimizing key web pages for specific keywords phrases, creating keyword-optimized content, and building links to your website, your target keyword phrases should start to get higher in search results.
That’s when you know you are doing things right.
Find out Which Keywords Lead to Conversions
In the past, you would have also been able to link specific keywords that visitors used to find your website in organic search to the conversion goals you set up in Google Analytics. Unfortunately, thanks to Google’s change in privacy settings for Google search users, Google Analytics shows (in most cases) over 90% of organic keywords used to drive traffic to a website as not provided.
While you will be able to see a small percentage of keywords and how they translate into conversions, you will be missing a large majority of the data, making it mostly useless.
An alternative way to get this data is to look at the Landing Pages report under the Behavior section of your Google Analytics to see what pages visitors enter your website upon. Then determine what keywords they used by looking at what you optimized those pages for.
For example, if your homepage ( / ) is your highest converting landing page, that might tell you that the keyword phrases your homepage ranks for are the highest converting keywords.
Of course, unless you target only one keyword phrase, it’s still going to be hard to determine the exact one that drove traffic to your homepage and led that specific visitor to a conversion.
If you have set up Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) you can get a clue into the top keywords for your top converting landing pages by going to the Search Analytics report, selecting Pages, clicking on the landing page that gets the most conversions, then selecting Queries again.
This particular report in Google Search Console will allow you to see the top keywords that visitors clicked upon from organic search to that particular landing page. You can then assume that it is one of those keywords that is your highest converting keywords. Do this for your top converting landing pages to collect your highest converting keywords across your entire website.
You can also resort to third-party tools to unlock the ‘not provided’ keywords. In Rank Tracker, there’s a special “Not Provided” Keyword Traffic tab that brings in the crucial data to substitute your Google Analytics stats.
Determine the Link Building Methods That Lead to Traffic and Conversions
In most SEO strategies, links are built with the goal of boosting the rankings of a website’s target keyword phrases. But let’s think about link building in a different way. Let’s think about link building with a goal of driving traffic and conversions to your website.
If you approached link building with that in mind, instead of the usual what site has the highest Mozrank and how many links do we need this month to meet our quota, you would automatically be building links that were relevant, high quality, and good for your website’s authority as a whole. And that is what is going to benefit your website’s positioning in search in the long run.
So with that in mind, how do you determine what link building methods are leading to traffic and conversions? First, let’s back up for a moment and look at why we need to see what link building methods are leading to traffic and conversions.
Let’s say that you’re investing in a few different link building strategies, such as:
- Local directories
- Niche directories
- Guest blogging
- Forum posts
- Q&A networks
- Media outreach
Whether you are doing them yourself or outsourcing them, you are investing time or money into them. Hence, you’ll want a return on that investment.
So here’s what you can do. You can go into Google Analytics and use the Segments feature to create segments for each of these different link building strategies using the traffic sources (domains) that you posted your website link upon. For example, take the local directories.
You would create a segment that looked like this.
The downside of segments is you can only compare up to four at a time. The upside is you can see data like this.
Here, you can see that guest blogging and forums are killing it when it comes to conversions, compared to Q&A and local directories. Of course, this isn’t a local business, so it’s no surprise. If you switch over to a local business website’s analytics, you get a completely different perspective.
On that site, you see that it’s not the local directories, but the niche directories that are driving conversions.
Does this data mean that you shouldn’t build links if they don’t provide traffic and conversions? No, of course not. But, it does mean that if you can focus on links that can provide traffic, conversions, and SEO value, why not do that instead?
That way, you don’t have to wait on your organic search rankings to make it to the first page for your target keywords to start getting traffic. You can start getting traffic directly from the links you build while you grow your rankings in search.
Determine Whether You Should Focus on SEO or Other Digital Marketing Strategies
If you ever come to a point where you decide you have to focus your efforts on search, social, content, or advertising, then again, look at your Google Analytics to see what your best bet would be. You can start by looking at your Acquisition Channels to see what channel drives the most traffic and conversions to your website.
Let’s say you have a report that looks like this.
Here, you can see that organic search traffic and referrals are your bread and butter (since direct traffic can’t be directly linked to a source). Since your referral traffic is likely linked to your link building activities, it’s a good sign that SEO should be a top priority.
In most cases, organic search and referral traffic are going to be the winners, with exception to direct traffic. If, however, you find you have stronger social, paid search, or email channels, you may want to focus more of your energy (time or money) there. But also note that if those channels are stronger than your organic search, you may want to do the following.
Diagnose Why Organic Search Isn’t Driving Traffic
Google Analytics isn’t just useful for ascertaining your SEO successes. It’s also designed for diagnosing SEO issues. For starters, you can go to your Organic Keywords report under the Acquisitions section, change your date range to the last year, and see if your organic search traffic has stayed consistent.
If you see steady growth, then that’s a good thing. If you see stagnation, it’s a sign that whatever you have been doing for SEO hasn’t made a dent. But if you see a decline in organic search traffic, you know you have a problem.
First, look at the time your organic search traffic started to decline and think if there might be a reason for the decline on your end. For example, maybe you redesigned your website, changed the URL structure of your links (such as going from http://yourdomain.com/page-title to http://yourdomain.com/category/page-title), and forgot to redirect the old links to the new ones.
That can make for a huge SEO problem as you lose the link “juice” you acquired to your old URLs, leading to an overall loss of domain authority in search and thus, a loss in keyword rankings. Depending on how long it’s been since you made the switch, simply creating 301 redirects from the old URLs to the new ones may help you recover some of your losses.
If that’s not the case, the next place to look is Google Search Console (Webmaster Tools). If you’ve been using it for a long time, you may have been alerted to a manual action that might have affected your website’s rankings in search. So be sure to check your messages there.
If you don’t see any messages, then the next thing to check is the time of your organic search traffic decline in relationship to Google search algorithm updates. There are tools that can help you do that, like the FEI Website Penalty Indicator or Rank Tracker’s Google Penalty Detection. Both tools will use your public or private analytics data (respectively) to match your decline in organic search traffic to specific Google search algorithm updates.
When a Google search algorithm update is to blame for a loss in organic search traffic, your next goal is to learn what the update focused upon and how that relates to your website. For example, if the update focused on bad link building techniques, you will need to go through your backlink profile to see if you have any bad backlinks that you will need to prune. Or if the update focused on “thin content,” you will need to look at your web pages to see if you have any that have useless content and weed them from your website.
You may have expected us to talk about monitoring your Mozrank, other authority rankings, your number of backlinks, the authority rankings for those backlinks, or the authority rankings and number of backlinks your competitors have. Surprise, we didn’t.
Why? Because the truth is, what your website ultimately needs is traffic, and what your business needs is conversions. Getting to the first page in search results for your top keyword phrase is just a piece of the puzzle in getting the traffic and conversions you need. The way you get there can make a huge difference in having a successful website and business. That’s why you should focus on the metrics that count and achieving actual goals for your business.