How to Measure What Matters Most for SEO

What matters in SEO most when measuring the performance of an SEO program is the bottom line: conversions. All other data –- including rankings, quality and quantity of backlinks, bounce rates -– merely serve as tools to diagnose issues and opportunities in driving organic search conversions.

Many people become obsessed with rankings as a key performance indicator. I understand. It’s easy information to acquire after all: You just Google your favorite keyword and see where you rank. Unfortunately, using rankings as a key indicator raises two primary issues.

First, all searches are personalized these days. That means that I may see my favorite keyword rank No. 1 on Google, but you may see it rank No. 7. Depending on the location, log in status, cookies, search history and a number of other factors, the search engines customize the search results to each individual searcher. The days of saying with confidence that any one page ranks No. 1 for all searchers is long gone. As such, rankings are an unreliable performance metric.

Second, even in the best circumstances, a searcher is two clicks from converting when he sees your search result. A lot can happen in those two clicks to distract a searcher from converting to purchase or subscription or lead. So even if your page does show up at the top of the organic search rankings for an individual searcher, that searcher still has to choose to click on your page rather than the other organic and paid options presented to him on the same page. Once on the landing page on your site, he has to consume the content and choose an option to either seek additional information or convert. If the searcher fails to convert, you’ve gained a visit. But how much value has that visit driven?

The true measure of value for organic search is conversions. If your site sells a product online, the profit earned from organic search-referred keywords is a fairly straight-forward measurement of SEO performance.

For sites that focus on lead generation, the value per conversion is a little more difficult to compute. However, it should be possible to work with your sales team to calculate the rate of conversion from an organic search referred lead to a close, and from there to compute the average order value. 

Regardless, measuring an SEO program on conversion value, or on visits at the very least, will provide a much clearer picture of performance than relying on ranking data. In addition, the keyword and landing page data associated with the conversion metrics will illuminate additional opportunities to improve the SEO program’s performance.

Jill Kocher is a seasoned SEO professional and all-around technogeek. By day, she manages Resource Interactive’s SEO practice here in Chicago and serves as contributing editor at Practical eCommerce. By night, Jill landscapes her home in the far northern suburbs of Chicagoland while enjoying a glass of wine and thinking about SEO some more. Family discussion centers primarily around SEO, analytics, social media, mobile apps, android, iOS, how-was-your-day and cats.

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