Measuring SEO Success in 2016

Travis Bliffen
by Travis Bliffen 01 Dec, 2015

The mission of the average SEO professional has changed significantly over the past several years.


What started as mysterious wizardry and elusive technical tricks has evolved into marketing and advertising via digital channels. In the past, simply ranking keywords that a client provided or finding keywords and ranking them for clients was the beginning and end for most SEO companies. In many cases, the SEO strategy was disconnected from other marketing initiatives being implemented by clients. Today's SEO company can no longer work in a silo, detached from the overall goals and initiatives of a company, in order to provide the greatest value, SEOs must understand the end goals of their clients and build a strategy that helps them reach those goals. 



Goal Firsts - Rankings Second


When an SEO strategy is built to meet real goals, not just to rank keywords, it yields an incredible return on investment (ROI), making it one of the most effective marketing strategies across the board. The complexity of new SEO campaigns is often not measured effectively though, leaving business owners wondering if they saw an ROI or benefited in any manner from working with an SEO company. 




Measuring What Matters


Digital marketing campaigns serve two primary purposes, creating brand awareness and driving conversions. As you know, a conversion can be anything from someone making a purchase to someone simply signing up for a mailing list. The first thing you should do when talking to potential clients or reviewing progress with current clients is work with them to determine what types of conversions they want to achieve. Some clients may know exactly what they want to achieve while others may only have a basic idea of what they want. As an SEO you now must look at what digital assets they have in place, what their end goals are, and what potential clients are looking for, then mold that into measurable goals.


Here is an example. Let's say your client wants to increase widget sells by 10 units per month - what can you do to help them meet that goal?



Keyword Selection - Still the Foundation


Find transactional keywords related to their widgets. Find the search volume, use the estimated click through rates for the top three positions for each term, look at their historic traffic to lead rate, and ask what their average numbers of closed sales per 10 leads is. Doing so will allow you to determine roughly how many leads can be generated from the keywords selected once you rank for them or you can reverse engineer and determine how much qualified traffic is likely needed to meet their goal of moving 10 new units per month. 



Increasing Qualified Referral Traffic


Keywords don't rank overnight and in highly competitive industries it can take a year or more to hit the first page using white-hat strategies. Referral traffic on the other hand can happen overnight, rapidly driving conversion ready traffic to a website. Let's say you are a financial adviser, getting a guest post on a site like The Wall Street Journal would be a homerun. Even getting featured on smaller location-specific sites could still lead to a ton of qualified referral traffic. In addition to sending traffic to your site, those links are exactly what Google loves to see, making it dually beneficial.



Why Isn't Every SEO Doing This?


The downside of this is that it takes hard work to get placements on quality sites. This means that more time and effort will be needed than if you were to simply build submission links to a site. Some SEOs are determined to compete only on price and for those companies, putting forth the resources to land quality guest posts is often not feasible, which is why you still have companies charging a couple hundred dollars per month for "SEO" services. As an SEO you are tarnishing the strategy as a whole if you are guilty of that and as a customer, you need to look at the ROI potential when hiring a company, not the monthly fee. As mentioned in The Average Cost for SEO Services, you should expect to pay at least $750 per month for high quality, local or basic SEO services and in more competitive fields, $1,000 or more per month. 



It is Called Optimization for a Reason



Throughout the life of a campaign you should continually measure the results of your efforts and look for ways to improve. Let's say that you do land a link on The Wall Street Journal that results in 30,000 page views within a few days but does not improve your rankings (I know this isn't likely, just an example!) or drive a single conversion. Maybe that was a fluke so you go on to get three more posts published and you get the same underwhelming results. 





Aside from making a basic plan and executing it, SEOs need to examine, question and test everything, continually. Was your content boring or incorrect? Did the topic you cover send unqualified traffic to the site? Is your website lacking trust elements or a clear call to action? Was the traffic primarily from mobile devices and being sent to a page that isn't mobile ready?



Conversion Optimization - An On-Page SEO Element


Remember, our clients have hired us to help them meet a goal, it is our job to find out what is stopping them from meeting those goals and to help them fix it, at least up until a qualified lead is generated. If you are a full inbound marketing agency, your duties go beyond the initial lead generation into lead nurturing strategies.



By the Numbers


In order to help clients see the value in our increased participation in the implementation of their marketing initiatives, we must be able to clearly show them the fruits of our efforts. Here are some simple but effective ways to do just that.


1. Set Up Goal Tracking in Google Analytics

This free feature will allow you to see which traffic sources lead to conversions. There are several goal options available but one of the most simplistic is destination URLs. Simply create a "thank you" page that users are sent to after making a purchase or completing a contact form. Not only do users like to receive confirmation of their actions, but you will also then be able to see what traffic sources are leading to conversions and use this to optimize your time and efforts.


2. Measure Site Traffic

Even if you are ranking a client for 10,000 keywords, if they are not driving traffic to the site, your strategy needs a revision. Did you select keywords without traffic (vanity keywords)? Is your page title or Meta description uninviting to those searching? Does your site have a "site may be hacked" warning scaring away potential traffic? With each quality guest post and ranked keyword, you should see traffic growth, if you aren't it is time to troubleshoot. If you are getting a lot of traffic but few conversions, check user behavior stats like bounce rate and time on page to identify and correct chokepoints.


3. Track Keyword Rankings

If you are promoting a site properly, gaining high-quality placements that send referral traffic, and your on-page SEO is solid, you are going to see ranking improvements. Think of keywords as an overall website health checkup, not the primary metric used to show the value of your services.


4. Communicate with Your Clients

Many SEOs feel that they must only have good news for clients and build reports in such a way as to show what is going right but looking at what isn't working is a key in meeting missed goals. Remember the very reason clients enlisted our help was to assist them in meeting their goals, be it sales, building a mailing list or increasing brand awareness. Instead of just sending a templated report to your clients, take the time to find out if there goals are being met and what you can do to help them if they aren't. Take the time to interpret the data you are collecting about their site and use it to tell them a story.



Over to You


What do feel are the most important metrics to measure for your clients?