If you run a business, you’ve probably heard of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. Perhaps you’ve already implemented this as a part of your marketing strategy, or maybe you’ve just heard that it’s a marketing tool you could use if you want to be found with Google. Whether you’re already using it or just considering it, you’ll definitely want to first determine how to measure the effectiveness of the SEO work that you do (or pay someone to do).
What is SEO?
Before we dive into measuring the effectiveness of SEO, let’s first examine what it is. Optimizing how you turn up in search engines means doing things that will help your website or content come up when people type specific keywords. Seth Goldstein, owner of Goldstein Media, a digital marketing company in Bucks County, PA, defines SEO as “the act of optimizing your site with the terms that you want to rank for. You do this by writing relevant copy for your industry, and most of all writing for the reader more than the search engines.”
When it comes to what actually gets done in SEO, there are many layers. There is work that goes on in the back-end coding part of your website that Google sees, but that someone browsing your site would not. This includes meta-tags, sitemaps, and heading tags. Alternatively, there are things a visitor to your website would see, such as the title of a blog post or the words you’ve written for the services page. Then there are components that don’t even happen on your own website, but on other places on the internet. Examples of this include social media sites, online directories, and external backlinks to your website.
Do I need to do SEO?
SEO has become one of the hottest buzzwords in marketing. Even if you don’t quite know what it entails, you probably feel like it’s a tactic that you need to add to your marketing plan. People are out there searching, so why wouldn’t you want to show up?
The answer to this question is actually a question you should ask yourself about any specific marketing tactic: Will SEO help me reach the people who need my product or service in a way that resonates with them?
Not everyone searches on Google to answer every question or solve every problem. Yes, people use Google an estimated 5.6 billion times per day. But people use many other options for seeking solutions as well. To determine whether or not your target audience would be searching the internet for a solution you provide, you need to carefully consider their journey. This is all part of the persona journey mapping process that I go through with clients.
Another question you need to ask yourself is: Can I do SEO in a cost-effective way? Some industries and locations are extremely competitive. While you may be able to do some aspects of SEO yourself, it often requires professional help to really get results. Whether or not the cost of that professional is worth it will depend on your product or service, profit margins, and how well you can close sales.
Remember, there are many kinds of marketing tactics. SEO is just one of them. You do not have to do SEO, but it is an effective tactic if it makes sense for your business.
How do I measure the effectiveness of SEO?
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with SEO, carefully considered it as part of your strategy, and started doing it, you’ll need to measure its effectiveness. For the amount of time, energy, and resources you’re putting into SEO, you need to know that it’s actually working.
Let’s start with the way SEO cannot be measured. Googling your own business name or the keywords you want to improve on will not tell you how your strategy is working. Search results are influenced by many different factors, including your own search history. That means if you’ve visited a website before, it’s more likely to come up higher in search results. Don’t try to measure SEO by searching for yourself on Google.
There are several key metrics that actually do measure SEO effectiveness. I’ve broken them out into 3 levels, each getting more detailed and granular.
High Level - Sales
Overall sales or revenue. This is your primary metric for measuring any marketing. Over time, are sales increasing, decreasing, or staying the same? You should be tracking your sales month-to-month to identify the trends. At the most basic level, if you’re investing in a marketing tactic, you’ll want to see sales and revenue going up. This shouldn’t be too difficult to track.
Sales/Revenue attributed to Google Searches. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Can you attribute each sale back to its original source? Depending on the type of business, this could be as easy as asking each client when they call you how they heard about you. For online sales, use a website analytics tool such as Google Analytics to find out where buyers are coming from. Tracking this requires a little more know-how and might be something to have a professional track or initially set up for you to track.
Middle Level - Traffic and/or Leads
Visitors to your website from Google. Are more people getting to your website from Google and other search engines? This is another metric to track in an analytics tool. Some website builders provide this, but the best tool I have identified so far is Google Analytics. If you do use your CMS system (website builder), just be sure to keep track of this number on a monthly basis. Is traffic increasing, decreasing, or staying the same over time? Of course, you’ll want to see this trending up if you’re investing in SEO.
Leads. Depending on the type of your business you have, you might want prospects to submit a form on your website or give you a call. For form submissions, there are ways you can track the source of the visitor that submitted the form. You can do this in Google Analytics. To track calls, you can set up a "click-to-call" link or button on your website that can identify when someone clicks the phone number. Again, this you can track in Google Analytics. If you want to track if people dial your phone number the old-fashioned way, you can set up a dynamic phone number on your website. This basically means that when a visitor comes from an organic Google Search, they see a specific phone number on your site, rather than your main number (pretty tricky, right?). This would have to be monitored through a phone number forwarding service.
Lower (Detailed) Level - Performance in Results
Google Search Console. The following metrics are ones that can be tracked in a little-known, free tool from Google called the Google Search Console (GSC). Once installed, the GSC will tell you exactly how many times your website gets seen in search results, for which search queries it shows up, and the average ranking of your website overall and for individual keywords. This tool is your secret weapon for determining whether your SEO is effective. Even if you’re working with an SEO company, I strongly recommend this tool as a way to monitor the results independently.
Average Ranking in Google Searches is the overall average position across all keywords your website ranks, as well as the average position for specific keywords.
Impressions in Google Searches is the total number of times your website is seen in search results across all queries and for specific keywords.
Clicks to Website from Searches is the number of times your website gets visited based on clicks across all keywords and for specific keywords.
Top queries measure how well you’re optimizing for specific keywords based on how well your website performs in search results for them.
All of this may seem overwhelming, but remember that if you’re investing in something, you need to be able to track its performance. When you work with an SEO company, they should provide you with some metrics or a dashboard. The best way to hold them accountable is to have your own backup data and to understand how they get the reports they give to you. As with any vendor, there are great ones and not-so-great-ones. Ask trusted networking partners for referrals on SEO providers, and ask the companies you’re interviewing to provide references.
Whether you’re examining SEO as a helpful tactic to use in your marketing or you want help with monitoring SEO work being done, let’s connect! I’d love to help your work through your marketing strategy and help you learn how to measure it. Reach out today!