Going beyond rank

Apr 01, 2010 9:30 PM  By

While rank is certainly important in search engine optimization, it is not the only — or even best — indicator of SEO success anymore. So why do so many companies still focus too much on rank?

My guess is that most people don’t know what to look for in the other metrics to see success. What should you look for to gauge your SEO performance? Try these four metrics.

TRAFFIC

First and foremost, you want to look for increases in traffic. Granted, this doesn’t mean much to the untrained eye. Traffic for a Website will generally increase over time, except in rare cases.

So how do we understand which increases are due to SEO and which come from natural growth or our offline marketing campaigns? The simple answer is to track your nonbranded natural search traffic.

That may be easier said than done, since most analytics configurations don’t support this. So in the absence of that data, look at the data prior to implementation of SEO and then after implementing SEO.

The Web traffic prior to SEO will most likely look like jagged teeth — lots of ups and downs in traffic. But after implementing SEO and executing best practices, traffic will grow steadily — maybe 20% to 30% — and then it will begin to level out, with the exception of occasional dips because of seasonality or other factors not under your control.

Web traffic is often subject to offline marketing efforts and factors. But with strong SEO implementation, natural searchers can find your site, which will ultimately bring it a steadier stream of traffic.

KEYWORDS

Looking at the rank of your keywords is important. If you can’t concretely trust that rank, looking at your keywords themselves can help you better understand the effectiveness of your SEO programs.

Most likely, your top-producing keywords are branded terms. But to really ensure a strong SEO program, your top-producing keywords should be nonbranded terms. I generally look for the top-four traffic-producing keywords to be nonbranded keywords.

You should also make sure that your keywords correlate to your business goals. So if you want to raise your average order value, you may want to focus on lower volume keywords that relate to your higher-value products rather than higher-volume keywords that relate to your lower-value products.

If your SEO program is a winner, your top-producing keywords will be nonbranded, and these top-performing keywords should reflect your overall business goals.

RANKINGS

There is more than just the “rank” that you can derive from your ranking. You can measure where you rank in relation to your competition. What is your market share?

If your overall search share of your rank is twice that of your competitor on nonbranded keywords, your rank should correlate to your advantage in market share. So if your competitor consistently ranks #2, you should certainly be #1.

Furthermore, you should look to a number of keywords for which you don’t even rank — that’s where you should focus on “site climbing” with these keywords into the top-three pages of the “search.” For a moderately successful SEO program, I tend to see at least 25% of non-ranking keywords crawl into the top-30 positions.

You can also look to an overall average change in your rank as a good indicator of overall SEO success. I’ve seen an overall three- to five-position positive change as an average of all keywords in a decent SEO program over a six- to 12-month period.

CONSISTENCY

The best-performing sites are not necessarily the ones that use lots of intricate tactics, but the sites that consistently apply the highest weighted best practices.

Look for how consistently your SEO best practices are applied across your Website. Do your title tags contain the keyword for which you would like to optimize that page? Is your keyword density always between 2% and 7%? Does your URL consistently contain the keyword?

It’s tempting to focus your energy on your position on the search engine results page as a measurement of your success in optimization. Just don’t ignore the other factors that can be just as indicative of your accomplishments.

Jeff MacGurn (jmacgurn@covario.com) is senior manager, search, for search marketing firm Covario.