Rankings Don’t Matter and Other SEO Metrics

Visits increased last month! Visitors spent more time on the site and viewed more pages per visit.


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 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.

[pullquote]Trends are the best indicator of success.[/pullquote]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:

Non-Paid Visits

Next, exclude your brand names in the Keyword Filter at the bottom of the list:

Filter Keywords

Finally, you’ll have an accurate count of organic, non-branded search visits:

Non-Paid Filtered Keywords

Advanced Tip: Set up an Advanced Segment 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:

Advanced Segments

Now, your Top Landing Pages report will show your most popular landing pages for organic search traffic:

Top Landing Pages

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, re-consider 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

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?

[pullquote]Search rankings are best considered an ego metric.[/pullquote]Search rankings are best considered an ego metric. 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.

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.

In Conclusion

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.

Guest Posts Galore

I’ve been a little quiet on this blog lately, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped sharing my innermost thoughts on SEO and web analytics. Okay, maybe not innermost but certainly some detailed, juicy morsels of insight.

I would encourage you to read my latest entries, “Adding Phone Call Tracking to the Conversion Optimization Mix” and “SEO for Mid-Sized Businesses – All Aboard!

I also want to thank Unbounce.com for the opportunity to share some call tracking knowledge with their incredibly passionate and forward-thinking audience of conversion optimization experts. And of course my friends and partners at Wax Custom Communications for allowing me to evangelize Search Engine Optimization to their diverse set of healthcare, insurance and corporate clients.

Happy reading!

Call Tracking for Marketers Presentation

[Update: Slides posted]

Here are the slides from last night’s meeting. The crowd may have been small, but the vibe was enthusiastic. Most of the content was voiced over and the slides are sparsely worded. Hopefully the images and text convey enough meaning, otherwise you’ll never understand the references to the Dharma Initiative (and cake).

Wondering how to measure phone calls in addition to standard web metrics and online conversions? Are you in or near Richmond (or can be next Tuesday)?

I am presenting Phone Call Tracking for Marketers at Refresh Richmond‘s monthly meetup. I’ll come up with some interesting ways to cover the following topics:

  • What is phone call tracking?
  • Why track calls from your marketing campaigns? (hint: because your clients don’t know they need it yet)
  • Build or buy?
  • Merging call data with campaign data
  • Optimize, refine, repeat

Here are the details:

  • Date: Tuesday, January 18th
  • Time: 6:30 – 8:00 pm (after party at Popkin’s Tavern)
  • Location: INM United office, 201 West Broad Street, Richmond, VA

Hope to see you there!

Google Boost: Warning or Welcoming?

Heard about Google Boost? No? You’re not alone. And you’re probably the perfect victim, er, candidate.

Boost is a new feature that allows local businesses to purchase Pay Per Click (PPC) ads directly through their Google Places account instead of messing around in AdWords. It’s only available in a few areas now, but should be rolled out nationwide soon.

Evil Genius or Innocently Helpful?

Boost is simply a stripped-down AdWords integration with a slight improvement on how the ads are presented on a results page and within Google Maps. It’s a brilliant move by Google to reach the companies that don’t yet buy AdWords ads and may not want to learn how. They even have telemarketers reaching out to local businesses to upsell them on Boost and Tags.

With a couple clicks and a credit card, a locally-targeted ad will start showing for keywords that Google deems relevant to your business.

Sounds great, right? Here’s the warning – Boost automatically creates terribly inefficient AdWords campaigns with no easy way to know if the campaigns are successful or not! Even if you log into your AdWords account (same Google account as your Places page), you can’t manage the keywords, bids or ad text associated with the “Places Ads” campaign:

Edit Google Boost Campaigns

Optimize this...

The First Hit is Free

AdWords Boost Campaigns

See what we did here?

Campaigns generated by Boost are automatically added to the Place user’s AdWords account. Didn’t have an AdWords account? You do now. Sneaky!

See where this is going?

Google Boost is simply a gateway into the AdWords cash machine. Almost like magic, Google creates multiple campaigns with hundreds of broad and modified broad match keywords with extremely high automatic CPC bids.

Wow, that’s bold. And dangerous. And potentially a huge windfall for Google.

Once a business realizes they have an AdWords account, they are more likely to increase their spend, add to their campaigns or simply “let it ride” and let Google collect a hefty residual to keep showing the Boost ads in perpetuity.

This could be construed as better than not having any PPC visibility, unless you are the type of person that likes to know whether or not your  marketing investment provides any type of return.

Cons: Transparency, Metrics, Customization

I can’t emphasize this enough: Google Boost campaigns CAN NOT be edited in AdWords.

Advertisers have to go all in.

Within the Boost interface, advertisers only see click and impression volume by keyword category. Cost data are aggregated across the entire Boost campaign. Conversion data are not available because clicks from Boost are not differentiated in Google Analytics unless you link your Analytics and AdWords accounts. This leaves unsophisticated advertisers with no ability to determine if the ads are actually helping build their business or refine the Boost ads for greater efficiency or effectiveness. This leads to my theory of PPC’s intractable problem.

Keyword-level data are available in AdWords but it’s useless if it can’t be changed.

The ad titles themselves are fixed based on the Google Places business name. If a business name is longer than 25 characters, too bad. It will be truncated. The 70 characters of body copy are customizable but only one ad can be run at a time.

Finally, the advertiser can only choose between two destination URLs: the Google Maps Place Page for the business or the home page of the advertiser’s website. Specific landing page URLs are not an option.

Pros: Save Time, Improve Visibility

Some businesses haven’t yet experimented with AdWords, and that’s okay. Using Boost, they can advertise immediately with minimal effort. There’s no need to hire or train anybody to manage a complex AdWords account. (but you get one anyway…)

Search results are enhanced with a blue map pin and details from the Places page that normally are not found in AdWords ads. This could lead to greater visibility and higher interaction rates. This is possibly the ONLY reason to choose Boost for tightly controlled campaigns.

To Drink the Koolaid or Not?

So how well does Google Boost work? Based on my preliminary, unscientific data, not well when compared to existing Google Places content and AdWords campaigns.

Here’s the breakdown after a week:

Channel Actions
Impressions CTR Avg. CPC
Google Boost 7 (7) 1,858 0.38% (0.38%) $4.99
AdWords 7 (7) 475 1.47% (1.47%) $3.34
Google Places 16 (11) 100 16% (11%) $0

The final verdict?

Here are some key takeaways:

  • A tightly controlled AdWords account will outperform a Google Boost campaign with little effort.
  • Businesses that are not on Google Places or haven’t optimized their listing are missing the biggest (and cheapest) opportunity to improve their visibility in search results.
  • Boost is a stripped-down AdWords gateway. If your business is interested in advertising online, skip Boost and go straight to AdWords. Even if you have to hire somebody to set up and manage it for you, the cost savings over Boost will likely pay for the consultant.

You’ve Optimized Your Site. Now What?

Are you running out of ideas to further optimize your site and online presence for search engines? Did a recent redesign or SEO campaign address ALL of the accessibility, relevance and credibility issues your site faced? Do your internal processes include SEO input and are all your customer-facing teams active contributing to your SEO success?

Congrats, my friend. You’ve reached SEO Nirvana. You should write a book!

In reality, SEO is never done. But for the sake of argument let’s assume you’ve maxed out your SEO potential and need something else to justify your salary and follow up on your “big win”. What do you do next to continue to improve your business?
[Read more...]

CallTrackingBlog.com Launched

Call Tracking Blog LogoJust a quick post from the self-promotion category. A couple of weeks ago I launched a new blog at CallTrackingBlog.com.

To get things started, I’ve begun a 5-part series on creating and optimizing Google AdWords click-to-call ads for mobile devices. I have tons of good content ideas in the hopper so please subscribe to the RSS feed or sign up for the email newsletter to get updates!

Why this? Why now?

The goal is simple: de-mystify phone call tracking for marketers. Nobody is really talking about how to measure phone calls from online sources and most online marketing books and blogs gloss over the subject if they even mention it at all. Even Avinash Kaushik, analytics evangelist for Google and author of Web Analytics 2.0 only devotes 1 page (out of 475!) to the topic.

Given that more than 50% of leads and contacts generated by websites are phone calls, I was amazed that more people are not using and discussing call tracking as a necessary marketing analytics function.

It boils down to 2 things:

  1. Call tracking is vital for anybody buying online ads or trying to generate leads through a website. Without it, more than 50% of leads are not calculated into ROI metrics or conversion optimization and testing!
  2. There is no centralized, unbiased site for best practices, vendor reviews or industry news…unless you want to believe the hype coming directly from the vendors’ blogs.

If you have a moment, please check out the site and let me know what you think. Want to submit a case study, question or post? Please leave a comment here or contact me.

The Types of Results I Like to See

Most companies are not sure what kind of ROI to expect from SEO efforts. Some want a guarantee, others trust that the results will come with proper implementation and support from a qualified consultant.

I thought I’d share a quick glimpse into the results I achieved for one of my favorite clients in Ann Arbor in early 2009. We are not talking about huge traffic numbers, but when you sell a niche service in a small market, even a few hundred extra visits a month can be the difference between a good month and a GREAT month!

Keywords Report

Organic, Non-Branded Traffic (click to expand)

For those not intimately familiar with Google Analytics, here’s what we’re looking at:

  • A comparison of March 2010 (blue line) to March 2009 (green line)
  • Organic (non-paid) visits from search engines
  • Non-branded keywords that do not include the company name (important!)

The results speak for themselves:

  • Visits more than doubled (+103%)
  • Visitors are spending more time on the site and viewing more pages
  • More visitors click through beyond the page they land on instead of abandoning the site without clicking deeper (bounce rate)

The results for other clients have been as dramatic (or better in a lot of cases), but this a simple way to measure the success of any SEO effort.

Perhaps even simpler, the client has mentioned he is overwhelmed with new customers and has to hire more help to fill the need. Those are the types of results I like to see!

How Much More Traffic Will I Get From SEO?

Note: This is the first in a series of “Free Advice” posts that I will start publishing in response to Twitter requests. Want your SEO or PPC question answered? Ask me on Twitter.

“How much more traffic will I get to my website if I optimize it for keyword X?”

It’s a very common question from prospective clients and was posed by Rick Whittington on Twitter. The answer should help build value for the SEO engagement by demonstrating the potential gains and how to measure them. In this example, we’ll focus on ACME, Inc., a Richmond-based widget reseller with operations throughout Virginia.

Step 1: Determine Your Current Search Traffic Segments

Segmentation is the key to deriving value from your website analytics package. In this case, I am talking about segments of keywords related to a particular theme. For ACME, the keyword segments can be defined as:

  • “Branded” – Company name, brand names, etc. (including common misspellings)
  • “Virginia” – Containing “VA” or “Virginia”
  • “Richmond” – Containing “Richmond” and surrounding towns
  • “Widgets” – Containing “widget” or “widgets”, i.e. “blue widgets” or “widget for sale”
  • “Doo Dads” – Other names for widgets and keywords consumers are also likely to use

In your Google Analytics Keywords Report, select only the keywords from each segment. For example, to select only “Virginia” OR “VA” keywords, use the | separator in the Filter Keyword box at the bottom:

Keyword Filter

Do this for each segment, noting the total traffic volume and number of unique keywords for non-paid search traffic:

Keyword Volume

Plot all of your keyword segments on a chart and you’ll end up with something like this:

Keyword Segments Chart

Now we know how many unique keywords we have and much traffic we are getting from each segment. Hold on to this chart for a minute.

Step 2: Gather Search Volume Estimates

Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to calculate rough estimates of search volume for particular keywords. To find it, click on the “Opportunities” tab in AdWords, then “Keyword Tool” in the Tools section on the left.

Type in your keyword segment seed keywords and make a table of the estimate local (U.S.) search volume for Phrase Match to include all combinations of your keywords. DO NOT use Broad Match, it will give you the wrong results for this analysis. You’ll end up with something like this:

Keyword Search Volume

Step 3: Look for Patterns and Gaps

Notice the pattern in the search volume data? “widgets” keywords (and many of the most popular variations) are searched more frequently than the same variations of “doo dads”, by anywhere from 25-100%. Example: “virginia widgets” and “virginia doo dads”.

Now, look back at your chart from step 1. ACME’s site is drawing a fair amount of traffic from a wide variety of “widgets”-related keywords but almost no traffic from “doo dads” keywords.

This is certainly not in proportion to the search volume that we KNOW exists for “doo dads” keywords. Hence, a gap in the SEO strategy and an opportunity to optimize the site for “doo dads” keywords (without taking your eye off of the “widgets”) keywords.

Step 4: Take it One Step Further

Want to be a true analysis ninja and really impress the client? Perform the same analysis but instead of looking at JUST organic search visits in Step 1, substitute conversion rates or conversion counts (leads, sales, revenue, or whatever) by keyword segment and demonstrate a tangible benefit to their business.

But This Doesn’t Answer the Question!

Before you say that this analysis doesn’t tell the client exactly how many more visits their site will receive, keep in mind that that is an unknowable number and no legitimate SEO consultant will guarantee particular rankings or traffic volumes. Clients that are only focused on traffic volume are usually focused on the wrong metrics. It’s all about finding the RIGHT traffic, not just the MOST traffic.

It’s not a perfect answer, but it’s an honest, fact-based assessment of how to improve the client’s business by segmenting data and looking for patterns and gaps. That should make any client happy. I know mine are.