Visits increased last month! Visitors spent more time on the site and viewed more pages per visit. Congratulations!
Now what do you do with that information? If you’re stumped, please keep reading. If you never get past your Google Analytics dashboard, please keep reading. If you still refer to website visits as “hits,” please keep reading.
The Most Costly Mistake Website Owners Make
There are lots of places to spend money to market your business online. You could buy banner ads, pay for premium listings in the online yellow pages, bid on clicks from Google AdWords, hire an SEO firm or build an email marketing campaign.
There are countless ways to spend your marketing dollars. It doesn’t matter which tactics you deploy, the biggest mistake you could make is not measuring how well each marketing dollar performs.
I’m not just talking about overall visits, page views or time on site. The most important metrics are based on outcomes, such as a lead form completion, phone call, e-commerce transaction, or white paper download. These are the visitor actions that actually propel your business forward and generate sales. We call them “conversion events” or simply “goals.”
How to Measure SEO Campaigns
SEO campaigns are a bit trickier to measure than a normal advertising campaign. It can be hard to tell what constitutes a successful SEO strategy, but we have a few tricks that will help you understand how effective your efforts are.
Remember that trends are the best indicator of success. When possible, look at data over a period of weeks, months or years to compare to previous performance rather than just focusing on one data point.
Metric 1: Organic, Non-Branded Visits
Let’s break this down. “Organic” visits are simply clicks from a search engine’s primary search results, not the sponsored links. “Non-branded” refers to clicks on keywords that don’t contain your company name or other clues that could indicate the visitor already has some awareness of your company and was seeking you specifically.
For example, Bob’s Used Autos in Miami would want to increase traffic from non-branded keywords such as “used car dealers in Miami.” An increase in searches for “Bob’s Used Autos in Miami” might indicate his TV ads are helping build awareness, but the non-branded traffic is purely incremental.
To track this metric, filter your Traffic Sources > Keywords report by “non-paid” visits. Next, exclude your brand names in the Keyword Filter at the bottom of the list. Finally, you’ll have an accurate count of organic, non-branded search visits.
Advanced Tip: Set up an Advanced Segment (https://www.google.com/support/googleanalytics/bin/answer.py?answer=108039&hl=en_US) to make this analysis easier in the future, and to compare goal conversion rates for this segment against branded terms, PPC traffic and other sources.
Metric 2: Unique Landing Pages
To get an idea of how Google values your content, you’ll want to know how many unique pages are receiving organic, non-branded traffic. This is a great indicator of how many pages rank well enough in Google to get clicks.
If your site has 10,000 product pages, wouldn’t you want to know if only 100 of them are getting any traffic from your SEO campaigns? To track this metric in Google Analytics, use the Content > Top Landing Pages report and change your Advanced Segments to Non-paid Search Traffic. Now, your Top Landing Pages report will show your most popular landing pages for organic search traffic.
Spend some time reviewing this list and looking for gaps in your site structure. You might be able to identify pages or sections of your site that are noticeably absent.
Over time, you can use this report to see if Google is sending traffic to more of your pages as your search visibility improves. If not, reconsider your SEO strategy and focus on filling in the gaps.
Advanced Tip: Compare bounce rates on your top landing pages to identify pages where visitors land but immediately leave without clicking deeper into your site. Are you missing any opportunities to convert them into customers?
Metric 3: Goal Conversion Rates
Remember, traffic is good, but conversions are the real reason your site exists. If your site isn’t converting visitors into customers efficiently, you may be wasting money and missing opportunities to grow your business, lead pipelines or ad revenue.
Website objectives depend on your business objectives. If you need sales leads, measure lead form completions and track phone calls. If you sell products online, measure your e-commerce transaction rates and ROI. Whatever it is, it can be measured.
If you don’t know how to measure your desired outcomes, consider hiring a web analytics consultant to configure your site to track these events and design a simple reporting structure that shows you the information you need to make more informed business decisions.
By comparing the conversion rates from your organic, non-branded search visits over time, you can see whether or not your SEO efforts are attracting higher quality traffic in addition to (or instead of) higher quantities. Quality always trumps quantity.
Advanced Tip: Assign dollar values to goals that don’t necessarily generate direct revenue so you can measure the impact of your traffic sources and compare them apples-to-apples. For example, if 10% of the people who download your white paper become customers, and a new customer is worth $100 to your business, assign a goal value of $10.
Wait, What About Search Rankings?
You noticed I didn’t even mention search rankings as an SEO metric? I don’t think rankings matter anymore. Given the highly personalized, geo-targeted, socially influenced rankings that Google and Bing provide today, no two people see the same search results in the same order.
Try searching for a keyword from your office computer and compare it to results you see at home. Search while logged into Google and when logged out. Compare your search results pages to your office-mates. They will be tailored to each person’s search history and preferences.
Once you realize and acknowledge this, search rankings are best considered an ego metric. Higher rankings make us feel better, but if traffic, sales and other metrics are not improving, your business is no better off in position 1 than position 100.
Sales matter. Leads matter. Total visits and rankings are fun to look at but provide no real insight into how well your website is performing. Focus on the metrics that drive your business and adjust your strategies to continually improve them.
Andrew Miller is a Search Engine Marketing Consultant based in Richmond, Virginia, and a frequent contributor to our clients’ success online and offline with SEO, PPC, web analytics and conversion rate optimization strategies.