The Metrics of SEO
Do you work on SEO for your website? If so, What are your SEO Metrics? How do you measure the progress?
That’s a great question, and the almost universal answer is: Traffic. Website visitor traffic. In other words, More Traffic = Success? While that’s a nice thought, it’s also misleading.
Some SEO Metrics Definitions:
Before we dive into this discussion, here are some important terms. If you want more, see the terms and definitions found in this Glossary.
- SEO — Search Engine Optimization — The perception of this is changing over time. Once it meant making your website friendly for search engines to find and catalogue. Now it means something more like getting search engines to display your website higher in search results. Both definitions misrepresent the real desired result which is “channel search engine visitors that want to see things your website has.” Basically, you want “Good” traffic, not garbage traffic. To understand more, read our post on The SEO Fallacy.
- Bounce — In website jargon, a visitor that comes to your website for just a few seconds then leaves is called a bounce. They came, but did not interact with your site. Maybe your site did not load correctly, or maybe they were not looking for what you have, or maybe they didn’t like your graphics. The percentage of bounces as compared to the total number of visitors is called Bounce Rate. If 7 of every 10 visitors bounce, then your Bounce Rate is 70%.
- Pages Per Session — This is an average for the number of pages a visitors view in each session (each visit to your website). It can be loosely interpreted as: do they like what they see enough to move around and interact with your site. Higher Pages Per Session means people like what they see (and hopefully) are learning from what you present.
- Session Duration — This is a measure of how long (total) a visitor stays in one visit. It is the closest approximation we have to how long a visitor reads or interacts with the website. This, and the one above are SEO metrics that are not used enough.
- ROI — Return on Investment –Though not technically an SEO term, don’t forget that SEO must have ROI or it’s a drain, not a producer.
Measuring Website Traffic
Website traffic can be measured in a couple different ways. First, and most common is just the total number of sessions. Second is the number of visitors. A person that comes to the site multiple times, increases the number of sessions, but not the number of visitors. Third, is the number of page views.
All 3 of these measurements are useful, and many others like Pages Per Session. It is the conglomerate of all of these SEO metrics that give a feel for how the website is doing. Google Analytics can give you a ton of information about this and more until your head spins. But how do we use this in SEO?
The overarching goal of SEO is to bring valuable, customers to your website. You want visitors with interest in what you have to offer — information, services, or products. The key is they have to find you before they can buy from you. We won’t go into it here, but there is a lot to making your website valuable to Google so that it will appear in searches for visitors to find. That’s SEO — or at least to some people. However, the complete picture is more than that.
How Do You Measure SEO Success?
When you start a project for improvement, you need to have some idea about what is being improved, and how much. You have to measure it. If you’re going to spend a lot of time or money for SEO, you need some way of measuring it for success. But how?
For SEO, the most common metric is Traffic — or visitors to your site. However, measuring SEO by traffic is empty. You can get lots of garbage traffic, but who cares if the visitors don’t read your pages or buy your products? To some people, the shotgun blast is a hope that it will bring some of the right visitors, but I don’t agree.
Side Note: If an SEO company can get you to focus on the traffic numbers, they can make those rise and you will drink their tonic to pay them more and more for less and less value. Success is much more than traffic.
If you pay someone to bring more traffic, that’s what you’ll get. If, on the other hand, you pay someone for more total interaction on the website (measured by website interaction), that’s a very different perspective. To me, the metrics to measure SEO must go a lot deeper than traffic.
Here’s A Perspective:
If your measurable is “Visitor Interaction” with the site, then the SEO Metrics of the project should find interested visitors — people that want to read what you have, then want to connect. That will naturally increase traffic — but not just any traffic, good visitors. If you’re looking for “Total Time of Website Use”, success will end up being a lower bounce rate AND more sessions.
Bounce rate matters because it tells you 3 important things. 1) Something about how engaging the site is, and 2) If your SEO is attracting the right visitors. 3) If Google is interpreting your site correctly and sending you the right kinds of visitors.
Other SEO metrics like Average Number of Pages Visited and time on those pages tells you even more detail. Number of Inquiries (Contacts) or actual sales are the crown because it means you are attracting the right visitors, AND they like what you have to say enough to engage directly. In SEO Metrics terms, this is “Conversions”.
Measure With ROI
For most every business expenditure there is good justification for why it’s needed, and how the expense will pay for itself. “This new machine will speed up processing and we’ll make more in less time.” Return on Investment (ROI) is the king of how business succeeds.
Make sure you don’t forget that important piece when looking at SEO. If your website won’t return that $1000/month because of the SEO work done, think long and hard about doing it. Present that to the person doing your SEO and make sure they understand that’s what you’re paying them for.
Achieving Your Goals
Accomplishing good interaction with visitors requires a bunch of things in combination. Certainly having content on your site that is worth reading is the First step. Next is having a site that both Looks Good AND subconsciously stimulates a desire to read and browse (and purchase) — called usability — which is much harder than it seems. Third is all the back-side stuff that makes the search engines like your site enough to send visitors. They call this ‘Page Rank’ or ‘Authority’ for what your pages are about.
Building your website to work well in all these aspects is a science that no one has achieved. It’s a long process of experiment, then watch and measure, then experiment some more. To kick start it, there are plenty of free tools on the web. Yet, some are, of course, better than others.
Another option is to hire the SEO work done. Some companies hire a website specialist that does all things website for the company. Other people hire an SEO company. Before doing that, however, please read our post on The SEO Fallacy. Not every website developer understands enough about SEO to be effective, and not all SEO companies have the skills to produce valuable results.
Finally, My Take On SEO Companies
There are some good SEO gurus out there. I’ve spoken to a few that seem to know. However, even they tend to measure SEO by traffic. Some also include conversions (sales or contacts from the website), but none that I’ve spoken with use SEO metrics of time or any type of site interaction to judge progress.
Why is that important? If you don’t measure what you want, then you won’t point at the right target. You’re not going to get the desired results. Your actions — experimentations — must be focused on the goal you want, not something else that’s easier to achieve or easier to measure.
Truly, it’s your website, so figure out what you want from it. Why do you have a website anyway? If it’s because everyone does, then don’t worry about SEO, you’ve already achieved the goal. On the other hand, if your site is there to sell widgets, then focus effort on getting widget buyers to your site, and helping them buy your widget. Remember, not every web user is a widget buyer. Finally, if you just want a bunch of people to see your rant, then set your SEO metrics goal on traffic, and you’re done.
Find the SEO metrics that indicate activity that is relevant to your goal. Then, focus on those metrics, and ignore the typical “traffic” lie.
Pay For SEO Performance
When you hire a contractor to work on your house, you hire them for the result, not for how many trips they take to the lumber yard. Do the same with those that work on your SEO. Write the contract so you pay for performance, because in the end, you don’t really care how many cups of coffee it takes for them to accomplish the result.
SEO companies need to understand “pay for performance”. Right now most don’t. IMHO SEO is becoming the vacuum sales sleeze of the internet. Everyone needs a vacuum, and there a dozens of shysters out there with a big story about how great theirs is . . . .
In SEO, as an example, you pay half the monthly rate, then they ‘earn’ the other half by meeting some agreed targets. If they don’t meet the agreed targets, they get to keep working till they achieve them! Only then do you pay the other half — and it does not matter if they take an extra day or week or full month.
If your SEO company will do these two things (focus on your goals, and accept pay for performance), then absolutely, pay for the success. You’ll succeed even if total traffic goes down. If they can’t or won’t push to achieve YOUR goals, or to guarantee real and quantifiable movement in YOUR right direction, then they don’t know enough about SEO to earn the business. Move on. Sorry if that sounds harsh.
The truth is, most SEO companies WILL NOT take the above challenges because it’s “Too hard”. They have told me a dozen reasons why traffic is really the key — but that just shows they don’t understand.
There are a ton of charlatans out there doing SEO because the business of SEO is nebulous enough that almost anyone can get into it without really knowing what they’re doing. And, they really don’t have to accomplish much to get paid. (Vacuum cleaner salesman.) I’ve seen too many people waste too much money on SEO without ROI. Hire someone that knows what they’re doing. Hire someone that will focus on YOUR goals with SEO Metrics — someone that’s willing to back it up with their pocketbook.
Good Luck !!