Search engine optimization (SEO) is a complex strategy, and one where there’s rarely a single “right” answer to any question. Your rankings are a the result of hundreds, if not thousands of interacting factors, and Google doesn’t disclose exactly how their algorithm works (though we have some good guesses based on its algorithm update history).
Measuring the results of your SEO campaign can also be challenging, especially for newcomers to the online marketing field. How are you supposed to determine whether your SEO campaign is actually working? And what do you do if it isn’t?
Before we get into how to tell if an SEO campaign is working, it’s important to define what “working” means for you. SEO serves many purposes for your organization; ranking higher can increase your brand visibility and your incoming traffic. But are you more worried about the sheer number of visitors you’re getting, or which pages are ranked number one? Is it better for your company to have 100 visitors with a 5 percent conversion rate or 200 visitors with a 2.5 percent conversion rate? There aren’t objective right answers to these questions—only what’s right for your brand.
You should also consider the peripheral effects that SEO can have. For example, most companies that pursue SEO invest heavily in their onsite content strategy, which can improve their brand reputation and help secure more conversions. How do these peripheral benefits factor into your judgement of your SEO strategy’s success?
We’ll get into the most important key performance indicators (KPIs) in the next couple of sections, but before that, take some time to clarify what your SEO goals truly are.
Typical KPIs for SEO – is your campaign working?
Let’s say you’ve been working on an SEO campaign for a few weeks now, and you’re interested to see if your efforts are making a difference. You’ve been producing onsite content, you’ve got your website’s technical SEO factors in order, and you’ve been building backlinks just as all the experts suggested.
There are a handful of key performance indicators (KPIs) that stand out as hallmarks of an effective SEO campaign overall:
1. Rankings. This is the most obvious factor, and the one most SEO newcomers gravitate toward, but it isn’t the be-all end-all measure of success for your campaign. “Rankings” are how the various pages of your site rank for your target keywords and phrases; typically, you’ll keep a list of all the words and phrases you’re actively targeting, and will use a tool like SEMRush to determine where you’re ranking (and where your competitors are ranking). Obviously, upward trajectory here is a good sign; if you’re ranking higher for all your targets, month after month, it means you’re making forward progress, and your tactics are making an impact.
However, these expectations should be tempered; some keywords are incredibly easy to rank for, allowing you to skyrocket to the number one position, without giving you much traffic or being especially relevant to your brand. The reverse is also true; you may spend a ton of effort increasing your rank only slightly for a highly competitive keyword, seeing only marginal bottom-line benefits from your efforts.
2. Organic traffic. Rankings are perhaps best held in consideration in the context of organic traffic, or the number of people who visit your site after discovering it in search engines. In some ways, this is the truer indicator of SEO success; regardless of how many keyword terms you’re ranking for, or how high in the rankings you climb, this number could be high or low depending on factors like click-through rates (CTRs), search volume, and your competition. You can find your organic traffic figures in Google Analytics, and tinker with the settings to see your traffic both for your entire domain and for individual pages of your site.
3. Domain and page authority. Google measures the trustworthiness of your site and its individual pages based on the quantity and quality of links pointing to them, eventually resulting in an “authority” score. The higher your domain authority, the easier it will be for all the pages of your site to rank. The higher your individual page’s authority, the more likely that page is to rank. Accordingly, you could use domain authority as an indicator of your campaign progress; a domain authority that’s growing is a sign you’re doing things right and a foundation on which you can create pages that rank more easily. There are a few ways to discover your domain and page-level authority, including through Moz’s Link Explorer.
There are a few other SEO-related metrics that warrant your attention, though they aren’t as direct an indicator of your progress as the aforementioned KPIs.
1. Referral traffic. Also discoverable in Google Analytics, if you’re big into link building, you’ll want to look at referral traffic. Referral traffic is a measure of how many people are visiting your pages from the links you’ve built. This metric doesn’t affect your search engine rankings, nor is it a byproduct of them, but it is a byproduct of one of the most important elements of your SEO strategy: your backlinks. Rising referral traffic is an indication that you’re getting published in bigger and more important publishers, and that you’re earning more authority for your work. Referral traffic is also a secondary way SEO provides value to your brand, since these visitors are as likely to convert as your organic traffic.
2. Click-through rates (CTRs). What happens if you’re ranking at number one for your most heavily favored keyword phrase, yet nobody’s visiting your site? This scenario is unlikely, but you might be getting less traffic from your rankings than you expect if your click-through rates (CTRs) are low. CTRs have a complex relationship with SEO, affecting it and being affected by it, but you can definitely improve your CTRs (and therefore improve the value of each search ranking) by tweaking your title tags and meta descriptions to better appeal to your target audience.
3. Onsite behavior and conversion rates. Even with tons of organic traffic, the value of your SEO strategy still depends on your ability to convert that traffic. Spend time studying how your incoming organic visitors behave on your site. Do they spend minutes on your best content pages, reading it and engaging with it? Or do they bounce almost immediately? Better onsite behavioral metrics, like lower bounce rates, may have a marginal effect on your search rankings, but more importantly, they impact the net value of each incoming visitor. If you neglect these factors, even thousands of organic visitors may not be enough to make your search optimization efforts “worth it.”
4. Overall return on investment (ROI). Adding to that, for most businesses, the true measure of an SEO campaign’s success is your return on investment, or ROI. That’s because all the nice-looking numbers in the world (like high rankings and organic traffic) won’t mean much if you’re spending more money than you’re seeing from your core tactics. If you’re earning more in new sales than you’re spending on all your tactics, and that gap keeps positively widening, you’ll be in a good place. Use your conversion rates in combination with your organic and referral traffic to estimate how much value you’re getting, and compare that to your expenses. Expenses are easy to calculate if you’re outsourcing your work to an agency, but you may have to get creative if you’re working with an internal team.
Why SEO takes time (and why not to bail out too early):
There’s one important caveat to all these considerations. Up until now, we’ve been covering key metrics and indicators that your SEO campaign is working; if they’re showing signs of growth, it means your efforts are worthwhile. However, SEO is a campaign that necessarily takes time, which means you may not see positive results in these areas in the first few months even if you’re doing all the right things. In fact, the majority of campaigns only start seeing the fruits of their labor after 3 to 6 months.
Building authority and developing onsite content often takes months, and you’ll have to wait for Google’s index to fully catch up to you as well.
More importantly, the rewards of an SEO strategy in its developed stages are much richer than the rewards in its developing stages; at a higher level of authority, all your links and pages will generate more traffic, and you’ll get more value for even trivial efforts, like writing a new offsite post (assuming you’re doing everything correctly). If you’re not growing quickly, do analyze and critique your own efforts, but don’t panic; if you bail out of your campaign too early, you’ll miss out on the best benefits.
Don’t be discouraged if you find that your SEO campaign isn’t working, or isn’t working the way you thought it would; in fact, this is to be expected. SEO is both an art and a science; the most successful practitioners aren’t able to launch a perfect campaign from day one, but instead are the ones able to recognize flaws and make corrections where necessary.
Diagnose your campaign early and consistently, at least once a month, and make adjustments so you’re always moving in the right direction.
Marketing amidst uncertainty: 3 considerations
(BUSINESS MARKETING) As the end of the COVID tunnel begins to brighten, marketing strategies may shift yet again – here are three thoughts to ponder going into the future.
The past year has been challenging for businesses, as operations of all sizes and types and around the country have had to modify their marketing practices in order to address the sales barriers created by the pandemic. That being said, things are beginning to look up again and cities are reopening to business as usual.
As a result, companies are looking ahead to Q3 with the awareness they need to pivot their marketing practices yet again. The only question is, how?
Pandemic Pivot 1.0: Q3 2020
When the pandemic disrupted global markets a year ago, companies looked for new ways to reach their clients where they were: At home, even in the case of B2B sales. This was the first major pivot, back when store shelves were empty care of panic shopping, and everyone still thought they would only be home for a few weeks.
How did this transition work? By building out more extensive websites, taking phone orders, and crafting targeted advertising, most companies actually survived the crisis. Some even came out ahead. With this second pivot, however, these companies will have to use what they knew before the pandemic, while making savvy predictions about how a year-long crisis may have changed customer behavior.
Think Brick And Mortar
As much as online businesses played a key role in the pandemic sales landscape, as the months wore on, people became increasingly loyal to local, brick and mortar businesses. As people return to their neighborhood for longer in-person adventures, brands should work on marketing strategies to further increase foot traffic. That may mean continuing to promote in-store safety measures, building a welcoming online presence, and developing community partnerships to benefit from other stores’ customer engagement efforts.
Reach Customers With PPC
Obviously brick and mortar marketing campaigns won’t go far for all-online businesses, but with people staying at home less, online shops may have a harder time driving sales. Luckily, they have other tools at their disposal. That includes PPC marketing, one of the most effective, trackable advertising strategies.
While almost every business already uses some degree of PPC marketing because of its overall value, but one reason it’s such a valuable tool for businesses trying to navigate the changing marketplace is how easy it is to modify. In fact, best practice is to adjust your PPC campaign weekly based on various indicators, which is what made it a powerful tool during the pandemic as well. Now, instead of using a COVID dashboard to track the impact of regulations on ad-driven sales, however, companies can use PPC marketing to see how their advertising efforts are holding up to customers’ rapidly changing shopping habits.
It’s All About The Platforms
When planning an ad campaign, what you say is often not as important as where you say it – a modern twist on “the medium is the message.” Right now, that means paying attention to the many newer platforms carrying innovative ad content, so experiment with placing ads on platforms like TikTok, Reddit, and NextDoor and see what happens.
One advantage of marketing via smaller platforms is that they tend to be less expensive than hubs like Facebook. That being said, they are all seeing substantial traffic, and most saw significant growth during the pandemic. If they don’t yield much in the way of results, losses will be minimal, but given the topical and local targeting various platforms allow for, above and beyond standard PPC targeting, they could be just what your brand needs as it navigates the next set of marketplace transitions.
The last year has been unpredictable for businesses, but Q3 2021 may be the most uncertain yet as everyone attempts to make sense of what normal means now. The phrase “new normal,” overused and awkward as it is, gets to the heart of it: we can pretend we’re returning to our pre-pandemic lives, but very little about the world before us is familiar, so marketing needs a “new normal,” too.
Advertising overload: Let’s break it down
(BUSINESS MARKETING) A new study finds that frequent ads are actually more detrimental to a brand’s image than that same brand advertising near offensive content.
If you haven’t noticed, ads are becoming extremely common in places that are extremely hard to ignore—your Instagram feed, for example. Advertising has certainly undergone some scrutiny for things like inappropriate placement and messaging over the years, but it turns out that sheer ad exhaustion is actually more likely to turn people off of associated brands than the aforementioned offensive content.
Marketing Dive published a report on the phenomenon last Tuesday. The report claims that, of all people surveyed, 32% of consumers said that they viewed current social media advertising to be “excessive”; only 10% said that they found advertisements to be “memorable”.
In that same group, 52% of consumers said that excessive ads were likely to affect negatively their perception of a brand, while only 32% said the same of ads appearing next to offensive or inappropriate content.
“Brand safety has become a hot item for many companies as they look to avoid associations with harmful content, but that’s not as significant a concern for consumers, who show an aversion to ad overload in larger numbers,” writes Peter Adams, author of the Marketing Dive report.
This reaction speaks to the sheer pervasiveness of ads in the current market. Certainly, many people are spending more time on their phones—specifically on social media—as a result of the pandemic. However, with 31% and 27% of surveyed people saying they found website ads either “distracting” or “intrusive”, respectively, the “why” doesn’t matter as much as the reaction itself.
It’s worth pointing out that solid ad blockers do exist for desktop website traffic, and most major browsers offer a “reader mode” feature (or add-on) that allows users to read through things like articles and the like without having to worry about dynamic ads distracting them or slowing down their page. This becomes a much more significant issue on mobile devices, especially when ads are so persistent that they impact one’s ability to read content.
Like most industries, advertisers have faced unique challenges during the pandemic. If there’s one major takeaway from the report, it’s this: Ads have to change—largely in terms of their frequency—if brands want to maintain customer retention and loyalty.
7 simple tips to boost your customer loyalty online
(BUSINESS MARKETING) Without a brick-and-mortar store, building rapport and customer loyalty can be a challenge, but you can still build customer loyalty online.
With many businesses – both big and small – operating online, there are less opportunities for building those face-to-face relationships that exist in brick and mortar stores. According to smallbizgenius, 65% of the company’s revenue comes from existing customers.
It’s important to keep in mind the different tactics at your disposal for increasing customer loyalty. Noupe recently released a list of actionable tips for increasing this loyalty. Let’s examine these ideas and expand on the best.
- Keep your promises – Stay true to what you’ve agreed to, obviously contractually, but stay true to your company values as well. Even if you feel you’ve built a good loyalty where there is room to take a step back, don’t rest on your laurels and be sure to remain consistent. If you’ve provided a good experience, keep that going. The only change that should happen is in it getting better.
- Stay in communication – In addition to the ever-so-vital social media platforms, consider creating an email newsletter to stay in touch with your customers. Finding ways to have them keep you in mind should be at the front of your mind. By reaching out and being friendly, this will help retain their business.
- Be flexible with payments – No, don’t sell yourself short, but consider installment plans for pricier items or services. This will help customers feel more at ease when their wallet’s health is at stake.
- Reward programs – Consider allowing customers to accrue loyalty points in exchange for a freebie. The old punch card method is still an incredibly popular concept, and is a great way to keep people coming back. The cost associated with giving something away for free will be minimal in comparison to loyalty you receive in order for the customer to get to that point. Make sure that what a customer is putting in is about equal to what they’re getting out of it (i.e. don’t have a customer spend $100 in order to get $1 off their next purchase). If all of this proves successful, this can eventually be expanded by creating VIP levels.
- Prioritize customer service – A first impression is everything. By prioritizing customer service, you can help shape the narrative of the customer and how they view your business. This splinters off into them giving good word of mouth recommendations to friends and family. Be sure to keep positive customer service as the forefront of your mind, as giving a bad review is just as easy – or even easier – as giving a good review.
- Value feedback – Allow customers a space to provide their feedback, either on your website or on social media. Find out what brought them to you and gage how their experience was. Be sure to thank them for their feedback and take it into consideration. Feedback – both good and bad – can be vital in helping shape a business.
- Avoid laziness – Stay sharp at all times. Don’t treat all customers as nothing but currency. Include personalized touches wherever you can. This will make all of the difference.
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