The practice of search engine optimization (SEO) has come a long way since the nascent days of meta keywords, link directories, keyword stuffing and cloaking. One issue that has persisted in the industry since the good ole days, however, is figuring out exactly how to prove the value or worth of an SEO program.
Compared to the reporting in pay per click (PPC), the task is not nearly as easy or natural. PPC teams have long ago standardized the use of first-party data to prove worth - be it either revenue, lead generation, ROI or site traffic. In that sense, there is actually quite a bit that SEOs could learn from their paid search counterparts around standardizing reporting and performance items around first party analytics data.
Before we dive into just some of the ways that SEOs can and should be using analytics to measure results and improve performance, let's briefly discuss some of the other tools and resources SEOs need to be using. First and foremost, if you are an SEO and are not using Google Search Console, you are missing a key function of your job. There is a wealth of data on keywords, site errors, speed and more in there. And, even though keyword ranks and first place position matter increasingly less, having some sort of measurement of keyword rankings remains tangentially important. And, of course, you will need to look at backlink profiles and social mentions and site indexation and errors and so on. Now, onto how analytics needs to play a critical role in this matrix. Let's use new Infinity Analytics reports to illustrate five ways to prove the value of your SEO program.
Organic Search Traffic
Reviewing and analyzing organic search traffic is the most obvious item on this list - it's one of the clearest indicators of performance of an SEO program. But it is still worth pointing out as not all organizations are doing this, and out of those that do, not all are doing it optimally. Reviewing both total volume and the quality of that volume from organic traffic is key. As we always say, SEO is a marathon and not a sprint. Therefore, the data needs to be reviewed MoM, QoQ and YoY. Some of the main KPIs to review from organic search include:
- Bounce Rate
- Time on Site
- Entry Page
All Traffic Sources
This area tends to get lost in translation more often than not. Gone are the days of just a few years ago where all SEOs had to worry about was blue links. Today's SEO really needs to be thinking about the much broader picture of full Web presence optimization. This includes optimizing for social channels, referrers, working with PPC and display teams and much more. If an SEO team is executing effectively, the benefit could very well be going to any of these other traffic sources and not just organic.
We highlighted the importance of tracking conversions in the organic traffic section but it is so important that it deserves at least a few lines on its own. In the same way that no PPC team worth its salt would not have some conversion tracking and reporting in place, SEOs too need to pay close attention to this critical metric. After all, what is the value in driving traffic to your site if the users do not take a desired action? Now, the desired action can range anywhere from a hard conversion (lead or sale) to what we might call a soft conversion (signing up for a newsletter, watching a video, reading valuable content, etc). The main point is that KPIs and a measurement strategy need to be in place in order to monitor and track the value of an SEO program.
Organic Traffic - Device Type Segmentation
The "year of mobile" has been declared enough times over the years to give even the most ardent believe pause when it is brought up. But, within the past year it actually happened. Overall, more searches now take place on mobile devices than desktop. And this is something that we have certainly noticed internally. The share of traffic coming from mobile devices has skyrocketed in the past 12-15 months. Of course, individual results can and do vary. We do not notice the same exact trends across retail, B2B, healthcare and finance for example. But the overarching theme is clear - the time to have a mobile-first strategy has already arrived. And analyzing your traffic distribution, volume and quality can both help a business push that strategy forward and mold the proper strategy in the process.
Organic Search Traffic Entry Pages
We often find ourselves reviewing and analyzing the top volume entry pages on organic search. There are some fundamental business questions and decision that can be answered here. Are we driving people to the pages that we want to be driving them to? How are these entry pages performing? What is the bounce rate, time on site, etc. per landing page? All of these questions can and should help craft both SEO and content strategies.
One interesting and more often overlooked aspect of an entry page report is to review the worst performing entry pages on organic traffic. We often find that there are a few pages that are driving a good deal of traffic but have poor quality metrics (bounce rate, time on site, etc.). In this situation, an SEO would want to analyze those pages along with the corresponding keyword and content strategy to identify gaps. It may very well be that there is a better page on the site that this traffic should be diverted to in order to satisfy customer needs.
Exit Pages and Funnel Analysis
Similar to entry pages, it is important to know on which pages people are most likely to exit your website. Reviewing both a funnel analysis and top exit pages can pinpoint gaps or weak points in a sites UX or content strategy. This really goes beyond the traditional view of an SEO as the 'master of blue links' and into the modern status of SEO in 2016 and beyond. Understanding the whole marketing funnel from acquisition to optimization to data analysis is truly key.
We have no doubts that a proper SEO or Web presence optimization program is absolutely critical for nearly all brands great and small. But convincing others of the value - both internal and external -can be challenging. A well thought out, accurate and customizable Web analytics platform is one of the key tools that SEOs have at their disposal to both demonstrate value and iterate on that success to make additional business decisions that drive a brand's digital marketing strategy forward. And we have only scratched the surface here - there are innumerable measures, segmentations and reports that an SEO program can and should be getting out of its analytics platform.