Why Measuring SEO Performance Is About More Than Rankings

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“I guarantee you page 1 rankings on Google!”

Said no reputable search engine optimization (SEO) firm — ever.

Yet, you still get a few emails every week from someone promising you page 1 rankings. And sometimes, deep down, you start to think, “Maybe I should reach out. Page 1 rankings ARE really important.”

Should you reach out to someone who can guarantee you SEO keyword rankings?

Short answer: No!

Some SEO firms will offer you rankings for the keywords of their choosing based on their (air quote) “keyword research”, which allows them to help your business rank on non-competitive terms. Unfortunately, this almost never actually helps you drive to your business’ desired conversions and sales. So, in these cases, the rankings mean nothing.

This digital marketing hustle has been around for 15–20 years now and, at times, given a bad name to the SEO industry, as per Google’s incredibly straightforward guidelines on the subject. As Google states,

  • Be wary of SEO firms and web consultants or agencies that send you email out of the blue. Amazingly, we get these spam emails too: “Dear google.com, I visited your website and noticed that you are not listed in most of the major search engines and directories…” Reserve the same skepticism for unsolicited email about search engines as you do for “burn fat at night” diet pills or requests to help transfer funds from deposed dictators.
  • No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”

How should you measure SEO to improve ROI?

This is where many marketers go wrong. It is essential to have a clear understanding of how you can measure your SEO strategy to actually help improve your business’ bottom line.

Are keyword rankings significant when measuring your overall digital success? Absolutely. But, only if the keywords for which you are striving to rank contribute to your company’s return on investment (ROI). Ultimately, the most important thing you can measure is whether your organic SEO efforts are driving qualified leads that turn into a conversion or sale.

And, why is this so important? For the vast majority of companies, leads generated through website organic traffic tend to be the highest converting.

There are several reasons for this, the primary one being that your website plays host to those individuals researching your brand and, therefore, those closest to the purchase stage of the marketing funnel. It’s also important to note that, oftentimes, those who fill out a lead generation form on your website have engaged with your brand multiple times, often through paid media and other upper-funnel marketing tactics, and are, therefore, more inclined to convert.

SEO professionals all know and understand search engine optimization (SEO) is a blend of art and science, of technical and content strategy, of data and creativity, of owned and earned digital marketing tactics, all of which must be considered, measured, analyzed, and evaluated as a part of a holistic digital strategy.

What SEO metrics should be most important to your business?

The best (and, in our opinion, only) way to measure the effectiveness of your search engine optimization efforts is to understand the return on investment (ROI) driven for your business. ROI is best measured using the below metrics, in order of importance:

  1. Website Sourced Revenue: Using tracking parameters and lead sourcing, you should have the ability to track leads that are sourced to organic website traffic through your purchase funnel. This is often done for lead generation industries using their customer relationship management (CRM) systems.
  2. Organic Leads: Measure the number of organic leads your website is generating. Make sure to add filters to your analytics system to filter out your company (and your advertising agency’s) IP addresses to eliminate test leads and traffic. Take this measurement one step further by measuring both Marketing Qualified Leads and Sales Qualified Leads using your Marketing Automation or CRM systems. The goal is to increase Sales Qualified Leads. See above for how I can drive meaningless traffic and leads through the site; that is not our goal.
  3. Website Sourced Phone Calls: Utilize a dynamic tracked number on your site to measure phone calls that are sourced to your site. Track those phone calls through your CRM system to determine if they turn into sales or opportunities.
  4. Organic Traffic Value to Site: When tracking organic traffic increases, certain tools like Spyfu allow you to evaluate the total traffic value (in dollars) of the traffic driven to your site. Unfortunately, this method only takes into account the value of the keyword’s average bid for paid campaigns. It doesn’t necessarily say whether the keyword has value in driving sales to your business. Though you should be wary of this metric, it can be a good way to get a handle on your organic market share as compared to your competitors.
  5. Organic Traffic Visits to Site: The initial measure of success for your SEO efforts is whether Organic traffic visits to your site are increasing, particularly when reviewed in a year over year, and more recent month over month/quarter over quarter, trending period. Your SEO efforts are initially deemed successful if they drive more organic traffic clicks to your site, which means you have driven more high-quality interested potential customers through your SEO ranking gains. Again, be wary that you’re evaluating that these clicks are translating into more leads and, ultimately, higher revenue from the channel.

So, where do keyword rankings come into play?

Ranking on page 1 for keywords that are not properly selected as conversion drivers will get you nowhere. Increasing keyword rankings for the right keyword terms will make a world of difference. During initial search engine optimization, complete keyword and phrase research to determine your target keywords. Search volume, historic keyword conversion data (typically from your Paid Search campaigns), and competition on each key term should play a role in determining the final keyword list. If you track your paid campaign revenue back to the keyword level, it is helpful to mine this data to identify high-value keywords. To further understand whether your content efforts are increasing your keyword rankings, the keywords deemed most important to your business should be tracked and monitored for ranking gains over time.

That said, if those ranking gains do not lead to an overall organic traffic, click value, leads, or revenue increase, you must quickly pivot on your keyword strategy. Optimizing for the wrong keywords and ranking gains will not help your business, but careful data analysis will pay off.

One challenge with any SEO strategy is that you cannot just “pull the SEO lever” and increase your traffic and leads in a instantly clear, measurable way (like you can with Paid Digital Advertising campaigns). As a result, your analysis and optimizations must be thorough and constantly evolving.

I know the last question you will ask yourself when reading this is …

“Can anyone actually measure ROI by marketing tactic or source?”

We can. And, it’s very cool.

Connecting disparate data from dynamically tracked phone and lead generation systems, advertising platforms, web analytics software, and marketing automation and CRM systems can offer insight down to the marketing source and keywords that are driving a ROI boost to your business.

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