PageRank, keyword position in SERPs, website traffic, conversions, customers in the door…
Just how do you measure the results of SEO or search marketing?
Which metrics to use and why, like most things in internet marketing, is the subject of much debate and a source of confusion for many. The average website or business owner often has a difficult time determining what is hype and what is useful information.
And there are quite a few not so ethical internet marketing consultants who know this and will have you watching the wrong metrics, usually whichever one makes them look competent – even if those “results” don’t mean a thing to your bottom line.
How to Tell If Your SEO Is Effective
Let’s look at some commonly used online marketing metrics and their pros and cons:
You have probably heard of this widely misunderstood way of measuring a website’s relevance. PageRank is one of over 200 things Google looks at in determining the importance of a website. If you have the Google Toolbar installed in your web browser, you may have seen the little green bar that shows the site’s score on a scale from 0 to 10 (and no rank at all for new or non-indexed pages). Many people think that PageRank is the primary way to see how your site is doing. But the number you see in the tool bar is rarely updated, so it really is not a useful metric. In the last few years, the updates have been as infrequent as 6 or more months apart. So unless you are comfortable with waiting that long to measure your results, look elsewhere. Even Google downplays the importance of PageRank. Also, PageRank has very little to do with how well your website is performing in search engine results. Many sites will rank very high – even #1 in Google searches for important keywords – with very low or even no PageRank.
That being said, PageRank is not completely useless. If you aren’t aggressively marketing your site and just need a general overview of how established your website is, PageRank may be good enough.
Keeping a watch on how high in the search engine results pages (SERPs) your site appears when people search for certain keywords is a much better way to monitor performance. But it too has its flaws. Google is pretty smart. Unless you have turned off Google’s Web History, it “remembers” what sites you have visited and show you those first in future searches for the same or similar things. Convenient for users, not so good for monitoring your marketing. You can get a more accurate view of your key search term performance from several free utilities on the web or the wide variety of professional tools available. The bigger problem with keyword position monitoring is that the keywords you are watching may not be the keywords people are using to look for what you’ve got. Some SEO consultants will point to keywords that seem sensible to you because you are immersed in the terminology of your own business, and claim victory. For example, did you get to this website by searching for “Pittsburgh SEO“? Probably not. We rank very well for that phrase, but the only people searching for it are other SEO consultants. Prospective clients are looking for everything from “how to get more website traffic” to “how can I tell if SEO works” to “my website sucks”.
Like PageRank, keyword positions are not terribly accurate, but can be a pretty good benchmark.
If you are doing well for broad terms, you are probably doing OK for more refined searches related to the broad terms too… maybe.
A word of caution: Monitoring your website’s keyword positions can be highly addictive. The daily fluctuations in rankings and the occasional mysterious temporary drop can cause undue stress and worry. It is best to keep an eye on your keyword positions and movement regularly, but maybe only once a week if someone else is doing your SEO work and testing. If you are doing your own testing of on page SEO changes, then checking more often until you get it just right makes more sense. Don’t get too obsessed with keywords. You will drive yourself crazy and your SEO consultant crazier.
The number of people visiting your site – now we are getting closer to the point. You want visitors to your site. If you are getting more visitors, then your marketing is working right? Maybe. It depends on why they are getting there. Last summer I tweeted something asking how to get rid of a particularly persistent insect. Since recent Tweets show up here on the site, and apparently nobody knows how to get rid of the smelly pests – we got a fair amount of traffic from local folks looking for a solution. (I am trying to un-optimize my writing and be vague so that doesn’t happen again with this post). Plenty of visitors coming in… and bouncing right back out because we didn’t have what they were looking for.
Using Google Analytics and other stats tools to monitor website traffic can be very informative, but you have to examine it closely to determine what it really means to you. If you are doing your own SEO or just want to have a better understanding of how people find your site and what they do when they get there, you can get just about all of the statistics you could need in Google Analytics.
Leads, Conversions, Sales, Customers in the Door…
This is what it is really all about, isn’t it? Being on page one of Google searches is nice. Getting lots of traffic is nicer. Neither of those matter if your goals are not being met. Getting real world results is what separates simple keyword based rank manipulation from a solid marketing strategy that will help you succeed.
Enough already! Which one?
Since all of these metrics have some value, we use them all on a regular basis. Well, except for PageRank – that gets checked at the beginning, and rarely looked at again until the next time everyone gets all excited about the latest Pagerank update. Otherwise, we’ll use all the information available including social media metrics (believe me, you will hear more about that later).
If you must pick just one metric to see if your SEO is working, go with real world results.
That is a little harder to track and package into neat little spreadsheets and reports, but ultimately it is the one that really matters most.