Understanding SEO metrics

By Caleb Woodbridge - SEO Consultant. 

Understanding SEO metricsHow do you measure search engine optimisation results? Here's a quick guide that will hopefully help demystify the process. When it comes to measuring SEO, there are three metrics that are especially important. If you think of them like a funnel, then they are as follows:

Keyword rankings > Traffic > Conversions

One of the main aims of SEO is to use relevant search keywords to bring in a relevant audience to complete relevant site goals. It’s not simply a matter of blindly chasing any rankings and any traffic, but getting the right rankings and right traffic for your site goals and objectives.

Keyword rankings

A keyword ranking is where a site appears in search results. Some SEO agencies promise to get you to "number 1 on Google" within a certain timeframe. Be careful of such promises: getting SEO results that last for keywords that really matter takes time, and results can't be guaranteed, because of the competitive nature of search. But any SEO provider worth its salt will be able to provide you with metrics to show what effect their efforts are having.

Keyword rankings are an important step in the SEO chain – the purpose is to get people to actually visit your site. You need to rank for keywords that are relevant to your site, and that people are actually searching for. There’s no point ranking #1 for “wodgets” if everyone searches for “widgets”, for example! Similarly, there’s little benefit to first page ranking if no-one clicks on that result, so it’s important to measure click through rates (CTRs) and optimise accordingly. We research keyword volumes to make sure we’re targeting relevant keywords, and monitor how much traffic they bring in.

It’s also important to target a spread of keywords – not just high-volume, general keywords which are very competitive, but also the mass of “long tail” keywords – the mass of low-volume, very specific keyword combinations that in bulk add up to a lot of traffic.

Site traffic

Traffic is the number of people actually visiting the site. Traffic doesn’t just come from search engines results (organic traffic), but also from people entering the web address directly (direct traffic) and via links from other sites (referral traffic, a subset of which is traffic from social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook). If you run advertising campaigns, such as Google Adwords campaigns, then this brings in paid traffic.

SEO aims to boost keyword rankings to boost organic traffic. But successful SEO will also help increase direct traffic, if people who find the website via search return to the site directly; and also referral traffic, through linkbuilding to relevant websites, which both boosts rankings and brings in visitors via those links.

Most sites need relevant traffic, not just any old page views. There’s little benefit getting someone to visit the site once if it’s irrelevant to them and they don’t use it – one of the metrics we measure is “bounce rate” – how many people leave the site straightaway. There will always be a proportion of people who decide the site is not for them within the first few seconds, but part of SEO is reducing that by delivering the right audience to the right pages. We also help our clients make sure that their webpages are as clear and useful as possible (and attractive too, when we’re doing the web design), so that people want to stay on the site.

Goal conversions

Goal conversions are when visitors convert from simply viewing the site, to using it in the way that you want. For some sites, such as blogs or advertising-funded news sites, then readers are an end in themselves – you just want as many people to read your articles and view your adverts.

But in the case of an ecommerce site, the goal is to get you to buy something. Using Google Analytics, it’s possible to track back the source of a conversion (e.g. did it come from organic search, Twitter, etc.) and calculate the ROI of different activities. This can be quite a complex area, but we will set up appropriate measurements and explain what they tell us and what their limitations might be.

For example, if someone discovers an ecommerce site via Google search, starts following the site on Twitter, and later buys something after following a Twitter link, do you attribute that as organic traffic, a social media referral, or share it between them? If you share it, how do you weight the attribution? There’s no 100% accurate “right” model, because the reality doesn’t neatly divide down into percentages, but you need metrics that give appropriate and reliable measurements for your particular site.

SEO reporting

We supply our clients with regular reports so they can see what effect our SEO services are having. Different clients have different goals, and so need reports that are appropriate to them, and at the right level of detail. Some clients want weekly updates, others monthly reports. We try to give our clients the clearest and most useful information possible, and the context to understand and apply it to their business.

So there you have it, a quick overview of three key measurements of SEO success! Successful SEO will improve results in all these areas. But central to any form of online marketing is this: be a site worth finding!


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