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SEO Success Metrics: Where Should You Focus Your Efforts?

SEO Campaign MetricsMeasuring the success of your SEO campaign is no easy feat. With so many metrics to consider—keyword rankings, PageRank™, number of indexed pages, traffic statistics . . . the list goes on and on—you might find yourself on overload when it comes to SEO success metrics. So where should you focus your efforts? Let’s explore the tricky world of measuring SEO and break down the facts about four of the common success metrics.

  • Success Metric #1: Keyword Rankings

    There’s no denying that keywords are the foundation of any SEO strategy, and businesses want to rank as high as they can in the organic results. Yet when it comes to actually measuring SEO, focusing solely on the up-and-down movement in keyword rankings no longer provides a clear picture of success. Search engines are currently personalizing search results based on a user’s search history and geographic location, and they’re integrating shopping results, social media updates, news, blog postings, and more . . . all of which are potentially skewing how a site is ranked.

  • Success Metric #2: PageRank

    PageRank measures the quality of incoming links to your website on a 1–10 scale, with 10 being the highest. Site owners have been watching this horizontal green bar for years, and they’ve been checking it daily for any small variance. Keep in mind, however, that PageRank is controlled by a third party (i.e., Google™), and it can change at will. So, would you base your success on a metric that’s controlled by someone (or something) else and that can change at any time, regardless of the SEO techniques you’re employing? We wouldn’t either . . . and even Google has removed PageRank as a default option from the Google Toolbar.

  • Success Metric #3: Indexed Pages

    Another common success metric that site owners tend to focus on is an increase in the number of pages that a search engine indexes for a website. Although site owners should strive to ensure that search engines are indexing the majority of their website pages, an increase in the number of indexed pages does not necessarily mean that the site is seeing dramatic SEO success . . . and the number can fluctuate at the will of a search engine. If a site owner sees a dramatic dip in the number of indexed pages, however, this likely signals a problem that should be investigated. But if you’re regularly adding SEO-friendly content to your site, adding to your link-building campaign, blogging, and so on, you’ll keep the search engine spiders coming back. And like PageRank, you can view indexed pages as a by-product of a successful SEO campaign.

  • Success Metric #4: Organic Search Traffic and Organic Keyword Traffic

    Every website owner should install a Web analytics program—such as the free Google Analytics tool—and continually track data. With Google Analytics, for example, you can view the number of visitors who are accessing your site after they’ve clicked your listing in the “nonpaid” or “organic” results, and you can view which keywords they used to find your listing. From there, you can evaluate the amount of traffic the keywords are generating each month, the bounce rate for each of them, and whether you’ve focused on any of the keywords—or their variations—in your SEO campaign. You can also compare traffic data year over year and from the start of your SEO campaign until the present.

If you’re seeing an increase in traffic, particularly if it’s from keywords that your campaign focused on . . . congratulations! Your SEO campaign is working, and you’ve focused on the success metric that matters. After all, the goal of an SEO strategy is to increase traffic to your website—and ultimately to increase conversions. So shouldn’t you focus on an SEO performance indicator that isn’t controlled by a third party? Now there’s your answer.


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    1. I find that a well-balanced SEO campaign should focus on all of the various aspects and not one in isolation. Whilst things like “indexed pages” may not be the end-point, they can be used to benchmark your website to other competing sites to see how much potential work is required.

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    2. Excellent guide. With Google trying to remove or rename PR, do you believe we need to pay attention to PR? Thanks.

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    3. If you’re using indexed pages as a success metric, one way to help get your pages indexed is by linking to those pages from within your site, and then also linking to those pages during your link-building campaign. And the more pages you have, the more important a sitemap becomes but it doesn’t guarantee that the pages will get indexed. Although a sitemap is helpful, if Google finds the page from another link it’s possible that it will well get indexed that way as well.

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    4. Hello!
      Thanks for the comments, and I wanted to follow up:

      Chris Pangburn—Completely agree. I do see some site owners who tend to only focus on one SEO success metric and allow that to determine whether their SEO is “successful” or not; however, there are so many areas to look at.

      Chris—I do believe we still need to pay attention to PR; however, like I said, an increased PageRank is a by-product of a successful SEO campaign, and should not be your sole success indicator. It’s also very helpful when choosing which sites to reach out to in your link-building campaign.

      Jack—Thanks for your comment, and wise advice! Keeping your site fresh is key as well—regularly adding new SEO copy, making sure your product descriptions are unique, even starting a blog associated with your website and blogging regularly to ensure search engines come back and crawl your site.

      Thanks!
      Alicia

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    5. One that is often overlooked: average time spent on page.

      Your site may be designed so that visitors don’t dwell, which is great if your visitors are all leaving by an ad that will earn you cash. But remember that from a pure SEO point of view, time spent on your site earns you credit. A good metric to know if your site isn’t purely for profit.

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    6. Thanks, Pete. Great tip! Taking a look at the average time spent on the site and the bounce rate are also both indicators of the overall performance of your entire online marketing strategy and website design and functionality.

      The more targeted keyword phrases you choose, the lower your bounce rate (exit rate) should be and the higher your average time spent on the site. Of course, so many other factors play into that as well, such as the design of your site and ease of navigation. If you’re noticing that any of your keyword phrases have an unusually high bounce rate (look in Google Analytics>Keywords>Non-paid), such as 70%, you may want to rethink the keyword phrases you’re choosing.

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    7. I find that the only metric my clients care about is conversion. They would not care if they ranked anywhere if they saw the traffic (although we know one leads to the other). This is why I find that constant keyword research is important. I have had clients ranking for terms we both believed to be excellent . . . and then only see mediocre results in traffic and conversion. It has actually gotten to the point where the ranking reports, PR, and number of indexed pages are tertiary to natural traffic—I include Google Places in this as well—while the traffic is secondary to conversion. Every client is different, and you just never know exactly what demand generators are going to work for them. . . .

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    8. Hi Billy,
      You’ve raised such a great point there. We have been educating our clients on the importance of focusing on movement in organic search traffic as a success indicator, but of course if they’re not seeing conversions from it, we have a bit of a problem! Choosing the appropriate keyword phrases that can actually lead to conversions is an absolute must.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Alicia

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