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The Real Metric For Measuring SEO Success…

Emma North

by Emma North on 11th April 2014

Measuring SEO Success…and it’s not organic traffic! It’s easy to watch organic traffic climb consistently after a hefty investment in Search Engine Optimisation and automatically assume success. It’s even easier to deem a decline in organic traffic as failure. But is this really the best metric to consider when measuring SEO success?

In actuality, what does it matter how many visitors came to your website, or how that number compares to previous months or years? Would the owner of a brick-and-mortar store be celebrating success he saw steady increases in footfall but was selling less and less product? Of course not. The real measurement of success would be turnover and profit.

The same principle can and should be applied to websites. Sure, not all websites have the same goal of online sales or generating revenue, but every website has or at least should have a very clear and measurable goal. What do you want visitors to do? This should nearly always be the primary, if not only, metric you use when measuring SEO success – how many visitors from organic traffic sources are doing what you want them to do?

Identify and understand your website goals

Understand Your Website GoalsBefore you can effectively measure the success of your SEO campaign, or any website campaign for that matter, it is essential that you understand exactly what your site is setting out to achieve.

In many cases, realising your website’s goal is fairly easy and more often than not can be put into one of two general categories:

  • Sales and revenue – online purchases, bookings, etc.
  • Enquiries and leads – contact form completions, phone calls, etc.

However, for some websites it may not be as clear-cut as this. You may not be immediately sure what your website goals are or may not think you have any specific ones. The problem is; if you don’t know exactly what you want your visitors to do, how can you measure the success or failure of your SEO campaign? How do you measure or even estimate ROI? And how do you know if you’re even providing your visitors with the right information or experience?

It is essential to take stock of your website and establish exactly what you want users to do and why. If you think you want them to view a certain number of pages or stay on your site for a certain length of time, that can certainly be measured and tracked as a success – but is it a real success? What value does it provide you?

If you can answer these sorts of questions confidently and translate your website goals into clear business goals then you are ready to think about goal tracking and properly measuring SEO success.

Track your goals with Google Analytics

The next step is to ensure that your website’s true goals are adequately tracked and monitored. Without this data, you cannot effectively measure or report on the progress of an SEO campaign.

Google Analytics has two main ways to track conversions; Goal Tracking and Ecommerce Tracking. If you have an Ecommerce website where people can buy and pay online, Ecommerce Tracking is the perfect way to measure your website’s purchases and related data. If your website goal is anything other than online revenue and purchases, you should use Goal Tracking to track every time a user completes a desired action.

You can track a number of actions as Goals in Google Analytics and can weight these differently by assigning optional values to each. For example, you may set up call tracking and tracking for contact form completions. If you know that phone calls are twice as valuable to your business as contact form enquiries, you could then assign a value of 2 to the first goal and 1 to the second.

Setting up goals in Google Analytics is fairly straightforward and gives you clear “conversion” data to use as a success metric. For more information on setting up Goals, please read this post or the official Google resource.

Ecommerce Tracking is slightly more complicated to set up and should be done by an experienced web developer. For more information on this, please read the official Google resource.

Measure the True Success of your SEO Campaign

When you understand the true aims and purpose of your website and are tracking these goals in Google Analytics, you can efficiently measure the progress of your SEO campaign and more effectively evaluate its successes and failures.

Organic traffic alone is only a small part of the picture. A steady increase in organic traffic is great, but only when it is contributing to the bottom line, or the fundamental aim of the website. Now you are tracking that, you can measure what impact organic traffic is having on your goals or revenue and if that too is improving.

Of course, organic traffic is no longer the only traffic source resulting from an SEO campaign. You can also extend this evaluation to referral and social sources to see what impact the campaign has had on those. If you have strong new backlinks and increased social engagement as a result of the campaign, you will see this reflected in the traffic and goal/revenue statistics for your website.

Some examples of solid success metrics on which to measure and report include:

  • Conversions from organic traffic sources

Is the organic traffic you’re receiving leading to more conversions (goal completions or sales), regardless of how many visitors you’re getting? This indicates that your site is performing well in organic search engine results pages and is optimised for relevant, targeted visitors.

  • Conversions from referrals and social sources

Are you getting more conversions from referrals and social sources? This could indicate that off-page SEO efforts such as content marketing and brand promotion are reaching the right audience and contributing to your site’s goals.

  • Conversion rate

Higher conversion rates suggest that the traffic is more relevant and/or the site is better optimised encourage users to convert and complete the desired actions.

  • Increased user engagement on social media

While this may not appear to have a direct or immediate effect on conversions, the long-term value of social media engagement is undeniable. This is people commenting on your posts, sharing your updating and otherwise engaging with your brand. By engaging with them in response and nurturing strong relationships with your following, you are keeping your brand fresh in their mind and are more likely to get conversions from them in the future.

Get Better Insights By Measuring SEO Success

With the right insight and by paying attention to the right information, you can make informed decisions on the campaign and your investment. If conversions aren’t moving in the right direction, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your SEO strategy or reassign budget to aspects of the campaign that are working well.

To get a better understanding of how Koozai’s SEO campaigns can be measured and what the implications are for your business, check out our SEO services page or contact us today.

Image Credits

Emma North

Emma North

Emma has more than 5 years’ digital marketing experience and has worked on dozens of websites in a wide range of industries. She has a passion for both SEO and PPC and is driven by the need to develop her digital skills and knowledge. She is always exploring innovative solutions for new problems encountered in the ever-changing digital world.

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  • Laura 15th April 2014

    100% agree – results aren’t just based on Organic Visits. Online Search work today involves so much more than just organic traffic increases, so we should be taking other channels into account and the conversion they bring.

    Reply to this comment

    • Emma North

      Emma North 15th April 2014

      Thanks for your feedback Laura. I feel it’s more about thinking like marketers now than SEOs.

      We still need to deliver results, but we have to make sure the results we deliver are in line with what the actual goals of the client/manager/director/company, providing measurable business benefits.

      Reply to this comment

  • Filippo 25th April 2014

    Hi Emma. Very interesting post!

    I have an Ecommerce, therefore I agree that sales (or conversions) are a better indicator than mere organic traffic. But often, sales are not made on the first visit, and paid searches later can become organic (or rather “brand searches”, which should be considered as “direct”, I think, even if GA brand them as organic). I’ve noticed that Google Analytics cannot always keep track of this and conversions are not always assigned to the right channel either.

    Therefore (among other KPI’s) I keep a record of organic traffic (and its relative growth), carts/unique_visits and orders/carts. If these two ratios don’t decrease over time, I can focus on traffic growth, and sales will follow. If carts/visits get worse, I check the quality of the traffic (with customer behaviour, for instance, or bounce rate).

    Orders/carts tend to be rather steady over time, but it still tells a lot about the website, the sale process, etc.

    As a conclusion, I agree that organic traffic is not the only metric, but sales alone are not enough either. It’s understanding the reason why sales change which is more important (and more difficult).

    What do you think?

    Reply to this comment

    • Emma North

      Emma North 28th April 2014

      Hi Fillippo, thanks for your feedback.

      Some great points and you’re absolutely right that essentially no single metric is ever enough to really understand your website performance. Essentially, in terms of performance indicators, revenue (or whatever goals the site is aiming for) is more relevant than traffic. Of course, that doesn’t mean it is advisable to stop tracking/measuring other metrics too, especially for trends and anomalies. I just feel that measuring success with SEO can no longer be about rankings and traffic, as if that traffic isn’t relevant enough to convert (or the site not good enough of course) then it’s all for nothing.

      Thanks for your feedback and very valid points!

      Reply to this comment

      • Filippo 28th April 2014

        Thank you, Emma.

  • Klaas 28th April 2014

    Hi Emma,

    I agree with Filippo.

    There are 4 types of traffic in my opnion you can get for your money:

    no traffic
    bad traffic
    good expensive traffic
    good cheap traffic

    As you can put a lot of money into SEO and get nothing I would always put traffic targets for this channel. Its better to have traffic and fix the other KPI’s (landing pages) than when there is nothing to fix except how you can get more budget for some much needed traffic.

    Klaas (Netherlands)

    Reply to this comment

    • Emma North

      Emma North 28th April 2014

      Hi Klaas, thanks for your feedback.

      I definitely agree that no traffic, or very little traffic, is a problem which needs to be addressed. However, assuming that an SEO campaign is a success or making progress when organic traffic is on the rise and/or rankings are climbing is a risky business, and has been the norm a lot of the time for SEOs over the last few years.

      In order to understand what is good or bad traffic, you need to know how much those visitors are engaging and most importantly completing the actions that your website is there to encourage. That’s why I think more focus should be put on goals/revenue from organic and referral traffic sources.

      As I said before, I don’t think this is all a webmaster or SEO should be monitoring, but as a success metric it’s a lot better to see a 10% increase in revenue than a 10% increase in organic traffic.

      Reply to this comment

  • Filippo 29th April 2014

    Hi Emma. This is exactly my point! Allow me to give a practical example of a situation I’m facing:
    1) 12% organic traffic growth over the previous year
    2) same bounce rate (and roughly same time spent on site)
    3) revenues: -14%

    It is evident that organic traffic is not a good measure of success! But, I don’t think this is bad SEO (nor bad traffic) either. Why? These are the other KPI’s I’ve measured:
    1) n. of carts: 8% growth (not bad, but expected, if the site is well made)
    2) n. of order: -4% (visitors don’t complete the action!!!)
    3) Av. order value: -11% (other interesting point, isnt’ it?)

    Just 3 more KPI’s give you a better picture of the situation and a much better indication to where one has to act:
    -Competition analysis (same product cheaper somewhere else)
    -Shipping costs (we know why people often don’t click on the last “buy” button)
    -Seasonality (during the sales period people often look for bargains but they are more price sensitive)
    - more suggestions???

    Therefore, I think that:
    1) organic traffic alone is not a measure of success (you’re right)
    2) revenues don’t say much about SEO itself

    My point is that sales cannot be a measure of good SEO if we don’t look at the whole picture.

    Imagine if the numbers I gave you were the opposite: 14% sales growth and 12% less traffic. Would that be enough to say the SEO was good? And would you be happy with the performance of your SEO people?


    Reply to this comment

    • Emma North

      Emma North 29th April 2014

      Hi Filippo, some interesting points again.

      In my opinion, CRO is increasingly a part of SEO, as improving the user journey, encouraging actions, delivering the right information to the right visitors, etc. is what SEO is becoming about. That’s what is different to several years ago when traffic and rankings were the best indicators of a successful campaign. We now need to be more aware of the website’s purpose from a commercial point of view to deliver the best results for the client.

      Also, in the latter instance where you say sales/revenue/goal completions, etc. (from organic traffic) are up but traffic is down, I would definitely say that the SEO is doing something right. That is a good indication that the relevancy of the traffic and/or the readiness/ability of the website to convert visitors have improved which is what it’s all about. I know that business owners and indeed here at Koozai, we aren’t interested in traffic/rankings alone, because if business from organic sources is improving then the campaign as a whole is performing.

      Of course, the more data you analyse and the more metrics you take into account, the better an understanding you can ascertain.

      Reply to this comment

  • Filippo 29th April 2014

    Thank you Emma.
    I agree that, especially with a tight budget, the CRO is where one has to focus.
    It was a very interesting “conversation”.

    Reply to this comment

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