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Ranking Matters? Some Additional Key SEO Metrics

6 May 2010 BY

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There has been a lot of thought-provoking debate and discussion of late, (both here and elsewhere) around the issue of the importance and validity of keyword ranking as a sole measure of success in search engine optimisation.

As personalised search is now default for Google users, rank variations and swings can be witnessed first-hand by anyone trying a few searches; interacting with certain results, rinse and repeat.

Whilst I personally, think that rank checking; (providing clients are informed and educated as to the individual and variable effects of personalised search) is still a fundamental benchmark for SEO campaign effectiveness, I thought it might be useful to mention some other complementary measurements.

1. Traffic.

Whilst extremely obvious, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is an industry (like every other) with its cowboys. If you have ever had a client come to you with tales of woe, about an SEO company who got them to position one on a set of generic “informational” keywords whilst their overall traffic and conversions bombed; then you know what I’m talking about.

Don’t forget your seasonality research and do set some client expectations. It would be unreasonable to expect great volume increases if you started work on say, a Ski-resort in Scotland about this time of year.

This is where share of voice comes in.

2. Share of Voice

Share of voice is a traditional marketing term, used to describe a brand or product share of market or inventory available. As an example if there are 1000 total pages of display advertising available in the luxury women’s monthly magazines; and Vogue has 30 pages booked, then that brand has a 3% share of voice in that space for that month.

In search terms, you can use Google Keyword Tool volume data to establish total search volume for your market and term (that’s your voice) and now with the impression data in Webmaster Tools you have a clear indicator of your share of that ‘voice’.

It is useful to look at share of voice particularly during off-peak times with seasonal products and sites. When traffic/demand is naturally declining off-season; if your rank and share of voice is improving, you are clearly improving search performance and setting a great foundation for peak season.

3. CTR

Click through rate, is a very familiar metric for any search professional and is the rate (expressed as a percentage) of clicks to your site, when it appears in results i.e. clicks, divided by search impressions. As the main point of search engine optimisation is to increase web traffic, it makes sense that improving CTR is an integral part of an SEO strategy. You can work to increase organic search CTR, by increasing the number of types of result per query, (using universal search types such as news, local, etc.) optimising meta-descriptions, taking advantage of Microformats and RDFa for Google Rich Snippets and Yahoo! Search Monkey. I wrote a fairly detailed piece on this over at Econsultancy, if you want to know more.

Given that CTR data is now available in Webmaster Tools, it is even easier to measure the uplift and effectiveness of CTR work. As a percentage- rate value, improving CTR can be extremely effective particularly on high volume terms as any paid search professional knows. To illustrate; if CTR on a 75,000 impression volume term is 2% and improvement work increases this to 4% that is a gain of 1500 clicks. Let’s imagine this is on a term that would have CPC value of say, 50p; then that’s £750 worth of extra traffic.

Of course, paid search traffic and organic traffic are not exact like-for-likes, but it is useful to have some comparative worth in mind – though perhaps not in a client report.

Finally; whilst traffic is an absolute measure, share of voice and CTR are derivative values of multiple component measures, all of which are ultimately governed by rank. Regardless of how little or much control we have over this as search evolves, aggregate rank and effect still matter.

AUTHORED BY:
h

Nichola Stott is owner and co-founder of theMediaFlow; online revenue optimisation and audience services (including SEO, SEM and SMM). Prior to founding theMediaFlow, Nichola spent four years at Yahoo! as head of UK commercial search partners.
  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

    Good stuff Nichola. :) I agree that share of voice is important, though I’m not sure using Google’s own data is an accurate way of determining this. The search volume as reported by Google’s keyword tool is suspect, imho. I don’t have another way of calculating share of voice however, so I suppose it’s the best indication we’ve got.

  • http://www.themediaflow.com/ Nichola Stott

    Hiya Barry,

    I think all data needs to be taken with massive fist-fulls of salt. I’m currently seeing some disparity in numbers of clicks/CTR (as reported in WMT) vs Analytics; however with WMT reporting less clicks than Analytics – which is weird.

    The main point about the three ways to measure above, is that they are progressional measurements, so whilst I agree that accuracy isn’t guaranteed, looking at progress month on month should be reliably comparative.

  • http://www.e-difference.nl/ Jeroen van Eck

    Is there a reason you’re not including conversions in this list? The overall goal for your SEO efforts is to increase conversions. Why not use it as a metric for determining your succes?

  • http://www.greatwebsitesblog.com Barry Adams

    Sorry Nichola, I can’t resist, I need to reply to Jeroen. :P

    @Jeroen – as per my recent existential crisis on the matter (http://www.stateofdigital.com/the-scope-and-limitations-of-seo/) pure SEO is not about conversions. Imho for conversions to be a valid metric, you have to be able to exert much more influence on a site than pure SEO – you should have control over its design & graphics, its order process, its forms, etc.

    Most clients don’t give that type of control to a search engine optimiser, and as such I will never make conversions a metric unless I have full control over the site. Pure SEO stops at the click – getting that qualified traffic to the site. After that CRO takes over.

  • http://www.themediaflow.com/ Nichola Stott

    @Barry – you totally said what I was going to say minus the existential crisis.

    We offer CRO as a service, but the two are disciplines that require different tools, specialisms and expertise. I’m quite clear that SEO stops at getting eyes on the site and that is where CRO takes over. I think it is really imprtant to make this distinction in both client and market education.

  • http://www.e-difference.nl/ Jeroen van Eck

    Whoops… Almost unleashed the discussion about the definition of SEO again! For most clients I have control, or at least influence, over more than just SEO. Therefore we do use conversions as a metric. But to be fair, it is a metric for the succes of all our efforts to improve the effectiveness of the website, not just SEO efforts.

  • http://www.themediaflow.com/ Nichola Stott

    @Jeroen – I completely see where you are coming from and agree that is in the interests of all online specialists to offer considered and experienced guidance to improve a site’s effectiveness as required. I just think that some clarity is needed as to what is expected in the boundaries of SEO, as opposed to CRO. As I say, we offer this service too; but are clear to explain the works and performance measuring requirements of each service – as I am sure you are too.

    My reason for being quite hard-lined on this, is that pricing for services needs-must relate to the scope of work and potential revenue impact. Which is why I think it is important not to muddy the waters between what is SEO and what is CRO! :-)

  • http://twitter.com/stuart @stuartflatt

    Surely conversions are still a metric that needs to be monitored though…

    If I have two keywords pointing at /, say life insurance and car insurance and the CTR is roughly the same, but the conversion rate is 20% higher on one. Isn’t that a metric that a. needs to be passed on to the client, and b. used as intel for future seo….

  • http://www.e-difference.nl/ Jeroen van Eck

    @Nichola True. Conversions should definitely not be your only metric. There are too many factors influencing your conversions. On the other hand you should somehow not only quantify your SEO results but also qualify them. Share of voice and CTR both assume you’re targeting the right words. But you can only tell you’re targeting the right words by using conversions as an indicator.

  • http://www.goosh.co.uk Kev Strong

    Funnily enough, we were talking about this in the office this morning and I would say there is certainly some cross-over between SEO & CRO.

    Measurability is definately something I struggled with when I first started SEO. Unfortunately, an uneducated client is concerned in the tangible, easy to check result that is “am I 1st for “. The process of education is a long one, and once you seperate yourself from the cowboys and their “5 keyword, 100 directory bronze packages”, you concentrate on much more measurable stuff such as traffic, long tail keyword delivery etc.

    Whilst, I feel, CRO is a speciality in itself (purchasing funnels, split testing etc etc), I do think that it’s well within the SEO remit to track conversions of simple things such as a contact form on a 5 page information/brochure site.

    When this fails to convert, then this will eventually lead to statements such as “well, I’m getting the traffic, wheres the business?” and unfortuanately the skillsets are two different practises. If you can’t increase a simple contact form submission, then you should hand it over to CRO specialists.

    And thats where the charges come into it ;)

  • http://www.themediaflow.com/ Nichola Stott

    @Stuart @Jeroen Of course conversions need to be monitored – and should be a key part of keyword research at the outset. I make that point in the part about traffic (what is the point of optimising for terms that do nothing to drive sales.)

    My point is more about responsibility and control.

  • http://www.seobegin.com safcblogger

    SEO = Lead the horse to water, CRO = Make it drink.

    Where i have some control over the CRO aspect for clients i will recommend change through their funnels and usually with agreement with their vendors i will have a small part in implementing change. I have learned a bucket load from Tim Ash over the past 6 months.

    Where i do not have control over the CRO i will gather available data and make recommendations.

    Avinash coined it best when he said “can you fit your most important metrics onto 1 sheet of A4″ and from that my dashboards have decreased in size dramatically now i only aim to report the key metrics with a view to recommending change.

    We all know rankings are for vanity to some extent, but without them we would never have to worry about the CRO aspect of the site. I do tie conversions together with rankings and consider them an important metric, getting the ideal dashboard to do that to translate this is key for me to act upon or gain insight.

  • http://www.internationalwebsitebuilders.com Terry Van Horne

    @Nicholla I like this Share of Voice metric (new to me!). With Facebook taking a piece of search and the natural slowdown this time of year in NA (Hope it rains ever day!) it is common for clients to start complaining about traffic and sales. In the past I’d go to overall search stats but with the constant growth in users total search volume for this purpose is skewed. Thanks so much I now have a great metric to add to that!

  • http://www.internationalwebsitebuilders.com Terry Van Horne

    As to conversion… unless I have **FULL** control over the site… conversion is not my job. My job is to develop metrics for each client. Ive even used traffic segments ie: site was totally dependent on search. Metrics for success were to quantify a strategy to increase direct and referrer traffic. Websites and businesses are unique so consequently if you are using the same metrics for every site, IMO, you’re doing a half assed job.

  • http://themilwaukeeseo.com Tony Verre

    Conversions are an absolute necessity to measure. When clients want a bottom-line stat, that’s the stat. End of story. Did our SEO efforts lead to more on-site conversions? I’ve got to be honest; anyone with thumbs can drive traffic to a website, but is that traffic meaningful, targeted traffic? It’s not that your metrics above are invalid, they only hint at the most important factor: Conversions. (A.K.A. how much money are we making?)

    Full control or not, you’ve got to be showing your efforts to increasing the client’s net revenue. Example: you’re creating a consistent increase in unique visits quarter over quarter, but the conversions are not increasing or plummeting. Then you can clearly suggest modifications to the site.

    Is it CRO? Yes. Is this also SEO? Absolutely. SEO is the “sun” of the search marketing universe; therefore, to try and segment what is or isn’t SEO is foolhardy. Lines are blurring everywhere and an SEO has to learn to be everywhere too. Master of SEO and jack of trades on all the rest. That’s where it’s going, that’s where it’s been.

    The sooner we all accept that *traffic* is no longer the metric that is the end all be all, the faster we can get on with this.

  • http://www.themediaflow.com Nichola Stott

    @Terry – Nice point about bespoke and variable metrics per client.

    @Tony – I have to disagree somewhat; though I am of the opinion that SEO and CRO are inextricably linked, that is why we offer both services, and that is why I agree with you re: “where it’s going, that’s where it’s been.”

    Conversely, whilst arguing the toss about semantics amongst ourselves might seem foolhardy, by sheer coincidence, the only thing I ready this morning before publishing this, was your piece on SEO Bullshit http://seobullshit.com/seo-particle-physics/ and had this front of mind when attending to comments here.

    My feeling is, if you have done your research and analysis well in the first place, conversions should naturally follow. If that doesn’t happen then that’s a broken site and is where CRO is required. In a world where we might still find ourselves explaining why getting a client to number one for “zig-zag” might not pay the bills, I would still maintain that is somewhat required to be clear about the scope of work and what is possible within any agreed remit.

    I am however, the first to admit to being something of a pedant.

  • http://dynamical.biz/blog/ Ani Lopez

    Traffic relatively important, I’ve seen sites dropping traffic from organic quite drastically and skyrocking revenue from this medium at the same time. It is more a reference to have in background for other metrics

    Click through rate in SEPs not in my top SEO KPIs Revenue and conversions? Absolutely.

    @Barry, ‘pure SEO is not about conversions’, go tell your clients! Sorry amigo but I completely disagree, SEO does not stops at your site’s door.

    Finishing an article about that topic to publish in a couple of days with real examples.

    • http://www.themediaflow.com Nichola Stott

      Hey Ani – come back and drop a link when you finish your article. Or tweet me and Barry (@NicholaStott @Badams) I’m sure we’d both be interested to read it. :-)

      • http://dynamical.biz/blog/ Ani Lopez

        Thanks Nichola, more interested in your opinion than any other thing :) criticism is always welcome

        • http://www.themediaflow.com Nichola Stott

          I’m not one for criticism as such. If I disagree strongly I’m more for “provocative debate” than out and out criticism. Also – I have to say, so much changes so quickly in this industry and if I was writing this post today (a year later) I would almost certainly include a revenue metric; be it gross revenue, per visit value, number of terms driving revenue – etc. Looking forward to your post!

  • Terry Van Horne

    @Tony sometimes ya get lucky and clients allow you to fix with the site. Often the bigger the client the less likely ya get control. If there are problems on the page that hurts conversions why would I include that as a metric. Could make my campaign look like crap when in fact it was a good strategy and implementation that didn’t convert. IMO, it is never a good idea to take reponsibility for that which you have no way to influence the outcome. I’ll still watch conversion and let the client know of any problems I see but as a metric for measuring MY success…. not a chance. Like being the one legged man in the asse kicking contest.

  • Anna

    I know one more tool which is great for checking position and gather lots of information about SEO statistics – Colibritool.
    It has GA integration, competition monitoring, detailed backlink
    checker, traffic statistics, conversion measurements and more. It works
    really good and we didn’t have problem with it. Also their support works
    quick which is very important thing.

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