If you’ve ever eaten a stew or chili, you can appreciate how many different ingredients go in to it. But, what makes it delicious? Is it the beans? The carrots? The cumin? The pot that you cooked it in?
I’m sure you’d agree that it’s all those things and more, with each ingredient contributing to the taste, texture, and overall edibility of the meal. Well, this same idea applies to organic search engine optimization (SEO).
Just as there are many different ingredients that go into a delectable chili, there are many different factors that make SEO work. The 2015 Moz Search Engine Ranking Factors Study recently looked at over 90 ranking factors. As the study points out, there isn’t one key ingredient that will make your SEO strategy successful.
With that said, there are ways to evaluate and measure SEO performance over time. There are also approaches to measurement that aren’t effective. Let’s start first with three productive things you can do to measure the success of your SEO.
Evaluate your site’s usage & traffic via an analytics tool such as Google Analytics on a Monthly, Seasonal & Annual Basis
This will allow you to see whether your organic traffic (unpaid traffic from search engines) has increased over time; what your bounce rate is; how many users are accessing your site on mobile devices; where your website visitors are geographically located, etc. Analytics tools give you valuable information about your users, their interests and habits, and help you look at a plethora of metrics and their performance over time, such as month-over-month, seasonally, and year-over-year.
Look at the search queries that are driving traffic to your site, and how your site ranks for those queries
In Google Analytics, go to ‘Acquisition,’ select ‘Search Engine Optimization,’ and select ‘Queries.’ This information is pulled from Google Search Console (formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools), so in advance of this step, you’ll need to ensure that your site’s Google Search Console & Google Analytics accounts are linked.
If you sort by ‘Average Position,’ you’ll see what the average search engine results page position is for the queries that are driving traffic to your site. Queries with lower positions indicate that there may be opportunities for you to improve the ranking of those keywords if you improve your site’s content around those specific terms. If you sort by ‘Impressions,’ you’ll see which queries are driving the most organic traffic to your site. Keep in mind that position one rankings may not always correlate to the largest drivers of traffic to your site.
Look at your landing pages
It’s important to evaluate how your organic landing pages are performing. For example, if they have a high bounce rate (which is an indicator of low page or site quality to search engines), this can negatively impact your site’s SEO. To view a simple list of your top organic landing pages in Google Analytics, go to ‘Acquisition,’ select ‘Search Engine Optimization,’ and select ‘Landing Pages.’
To easily view the bounce rate of your organic landing pages in Google Analytics (not displayed in the report just referenced) along with additional useful metrics, you can download a custom report which will take you to your Google Analytics account if you already have one and are logged in. If you identify organic landing pages with high bounce rates, look at improving the content and/or user experience on those pages.
Now that you know of some helpful things to do to help measure the success of your SEO, here are some things not to do:
Solely focus on one “Holy Grail” search term
There are many keywords that will impact your site’s traffic and, in turn, your conversions. It’s fine to have a Holy Grail search term and work on improving your site’s ranking for that term over time. However, focusing all of your attention on that one term and neglecting to optimize your other keywords is counterproductive. In addition, this may cause you to lose out on traffic that may be more easily won. It’s also important to ensure that any pages that include your “holy grail” term – and all terms for that matter – are leading to landing pages that convert well.
Obsess over your page ranking on an hourly or daily basis
Reviewing your site’s rankings for particular terms on an hourly or daily basis is not a productive use of your time. Why? Because search results are based on a lot of personalization (e.g. where the searcher is located geographically, what they’ve searched for historically, etc.). There are also some temporary inexplicable fluctuations that occur from hour-to-hour and day-to-day that affect rankings for Google and other search engines. Frustrating, but true.
Therefore, it’s much better to look at your page rank over time (we recommend reviewing them on a monthly basis). You should be looking for dips in page rankings due to things like a recently announced Google search algorithm change, changes to a competitor’s site content or strategy, changes made to your own site, etc.
Cannibalize search terms
While paid and organic search efforts typically bolster one another, an often overlooked culprit for drops in organic traffic could be attributed to your paid search terms cannibalizing your organic search terms. Look at what keywords are being successfully optimized for organic search and ensure that there is no competition between your paid search and your organic search terms.
For example, there may be an issue if you concurrently see dips in organic traffic and peaks in your paid traffic. To maximize your SEO success, your paid and organic efforts should support one another, not detrimentally compete against each other.
Have unrealistic expectations for results
When it comes to SEO, there isn’t a set time-frame for when you should see results for the targeted search terms you’re optimizing for. For example, if you were previously unranked in search engines, there will be upward movement, but there will also be fluctuations to that movement. SEO is a long-term game. Typically there should be a general upward trend, but that really depends on multifarious factors that impact movement and improvement, including your content, competitors’ content, site speed, etc.
Overlook user experience
Once people get to your site from a search engine query, they should be able to easily move through your site’s funnel to conversion.
In addition to utilizing the three SEO measurement tools mentioned above, here are a few other important things you should do to help ensure better SEO results:
DO: Understand your audience and what they are looking for. Then, address their pain points in your on-page copy, your meta titles, meta descriptions, image alt tags, H1 tags, etc.
DO: Commit to consistently developing quality content that your users will find to be relevant and interesting once they get to your site.
DO: Develop brand affinity and loyalty via a blog. Post to it regularly, share those posts via social media, and encourage user engagement on your blog and social media channels.
DO: Optimize your pages so that they create a better user experience for your site visitors. The better user experience, the better your SEO results will be.
DO: Use the annotations featured in Google Analytics to make note of Google Algorithm changes, key changes to your site or your competitors’ sites, site outages, and other key events that may impact your site’s metrics.
To find out more about how your SEO and other website factors could be improved, including conversion optimization, request a digital marketing strategy audit from Acceleration partners.