Once the dominion of the marketing and communcations department and a few technical staffers, SEO now requires full participation from nearly every corner of the enterprise — from customer support personnel to social media teams, and all the way up to the C-Suite.
The objective of a traditional on-site SEO audit is to identify points of interest from a corporate perspective that may be impacting effectiveness and efficiency (performance) as it relates to search engine visibility. Points of consideration should address accessibility and structure, relevance and targeting, and quality of both content and design. But there's so much more.
Search engine optimization, whether it's realized by the collective of digital Web workers or not, has always been about customers/consumers. As search engines become more sophisticated and leverage more signals about what quality really means, the role that experience plays is rapidly increasing. For this reason, the definition of an SEO audit needs to expand to take into account much more than just page speed, links and the like.
Today it is essential to know, with certainty, how those users are interacting with our websites. The reason is simple — search engines know how users are interacting with your property, so you have an obligation to extend and improve their experience. That is why it is important to conduct audits in order to deepen customer connections.
So how and where should you begin? The analytics account of course?
Below are a few key metrics which will help you understand how well you're connecting with customers.
Time on Site
For many information publishers, time on site is one of the virtual gold standards of understanding performance and consumer connections. The problem with time on site, however, is that it is often viewed alone, exclusive from other metrics — which is a mistake. The time on site metric is useful only when you understand the content type (is this a detailed article or a quick blog post meant to be entertaining?) and look at it historically.
Pages Per Visit
It's not difficult to see how bounce rate and exit rate can be indicators of how well you're doing in connecting with customers and consumers, but they ultimately lead to what I believe is the very best (and most important) metric for understanding if you are building positive relationships on the Web — pages per visit. There are several reasons why the pages per visit may be low including unengaging content or poor technology choices, but whatever the reason, improving this metric starts with knowing exactly what it is. Take pages per visit improvements seriously and you'll find increased time on site and more meaningful interaction occuring on your Web property.
Social media is all about interaction, and the signals that users provide through the sharing of your content/products/etcetera are a meaningful indicator of how well you've done at connecting with them. While for the most part analytics platforms have not historically provided much in the way of actual details about the number of shares per page as the various networks are so fractured, they are most definitely beginning to, and as someone responsible for deepening interaction, you should indeed attempt to optimize on-page shares.
On-page shares are but one interaction signal. Comments and reviews are two others that are very clear indicators of how or if consumers are feeling connected with your digital property. The art (and it is an art) of soliciting comments and reviews is complicated (and something we'll explore in the near future here at Website Magazine), but tracking the number of comments and reviews submitted — as well as their tone — proves useful particuarly as it relates to SEO because this content is indexed by search engines. The more the better, so routinely audit how well your property does at encouraging both comments and reviews.