The Metrics Of SEO

The Metrics of SEO

Do you work on SEO for your website?  If so, how do you measure the progress?

That’s a great question, and the almost universal answer is:  Traffic.  Website visitor traffic.

Some 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 definition of this term is changing over time.  At one point, it meant making your website friendly for search engines to find and catalogue.   Now it is used more with the idea of getting search engines to display your website at the top of the search results.  Both definitions misrepresent the real idea which is more like “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 — An average number of pages the visitors view in each session (each visit to your website).
  • Session Duration — This is a measure of how long (total) a visitor stays.  It is the closest approximation to how long a visitor reads or interacts with the website.
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 more, and valuable, customers to your website.  Basically, 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 normal 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 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 number of visitors and website interaction), that’s a very different perspective.  To me, the metrics to measure SEO must to go a lot deeper than traffic.

Google Analytics To Measure SEO Success

Here’s A Perspective:

If your measurable is “Visitor Interaction” with the site, then the SEO project will 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  1)  Something about how engaging the site is, and  2)  If your SEO is attracting the right visitors.

Other metrics like Average Number of Pages Visited and time on those pages tells you even more detail of the same.  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, AND they want to engage directly.

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 SEO, 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 an 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 all SEO companies have the skills to produce valuable results.

Finally, My Take On SEO Companies

There are some good SEO guru’s out there.  I’ve spoken to a few that seemed 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.

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 and measure.

Truly, it’s your website, so figure out what you want from it, why you have it, then set your metrics on activity that is relevant to your goal.

Pay For SEO Performance

Next, the SEO companies need to have some form of pay for performance. For example, you pay half the monthly rate, then they ‘earn’ the other half by meeting the agreed targets.

If your SEO company can do these two things, 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 the right direction, then they don’t know enough about SEO to earn the business.  Move on.  Sorry if that sounds harsh.

The truth is, 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.  (Think vacuum cleaner salesmen.)  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 !!
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