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Calculating SEO Success and a Night on the Town

October 15th, 2008 | | Analytics, SEO Management
Calculating SEO Success and a Night on the Town

“You have to really try if you want to make some new friends,” I remember my mother saying after a rough first week in a new elementary school. She was right. You can’t wait for people to come to you so, now that I am again new in town, I put myself out there—or so I thought—to arrange a little weekend outing.

I’ve met a few great people since I moved to town and I’ve collected their cell phone numbers and email addresses so I decided, hey, the more the merrier, and sent an email and text message to the whole list: “Dinner and a movie Friday night?” I waited anxiously for the flood of excited replies—thank goodness I opted against holding my breath. My response was pathetic; I got just one “sorry, out of town” reply the next day.

Inspired by the thought of making up for a relatively lonely third grade year, I tried a different tactic on Saturday. Undeterred by rejection and swallowing the remnants of humiliation, I this time went through my list of new-found friends and narrowed my options—I didn’t need a crowd. This time I picked a list of people who I thought were in town and available, then I picked a movie that seemed to suit the whole bunch. I picked a time, a location and a place to meet for dinner and again sent off my invite emails and texts. Bingo, I hit my target. Now I have won the title of official social planner of my household (opponents defeated: two cats and a husband).

While recovering from my victory and getting back into the swing of daily life, I came across an article the other day that reminded me of my movie invitation; Are You Measuring SEO Success Correctly? The article argues that success of an SEO project should be measured by the increase in organic traffic to the website rather than a ranking report, which simply shows a site’s rank in search results for their targeted keywords. Although I agree with the basics here, like my social outreach attempts, there is more here to be measured than traffic volume. Just like you can have a whole gaggle of friends, just none who really want to go to the movies with you, you can have lots of traffic to your website, just no one who will take their visit to that next step. Sometimes, less really can mean more.

Measuring the success of your SEO campaign goes beyond just looking at increases in organic search traffic—you have to look at what those visitors are doing once they get to your site and where their visit ultimately leads.

Targeting Qualified Traffic

When you’re working towards that boost in organic traffic, you have to have a strategy that goes further than just driving more traffic—you need to target qualified traffic. For e-commerce as well as lead based websites, this means targeting both general keywords and more specific, long tail keywords. General keywords typically see much more traffic, but all the popular kids are optimizing for these so there is quite a bit of competition. Long tail keywords see less traffic, but because of the more specific searches, these searchers are further into the buying cycle and, therefore, more qualified traffic to go after. And, because they generate less traffic individually than general keywords, long tail keyword strings can be much easier to rank for and a great way to build visibility with a very specific target market.

Measuring Qualified Traffic

Measuring your qualified traffic can be a bit more complicated than just looking at raw organic traffic numbers but it gives you a much better picture of how SEO is working for you. There are three important elements to look at to measure the organic traffic your site generates; number of leads, number of sales, and overall revenue attributed to organic traffic.

More traffic gives you more chances to grab the attention of a lead, but it doesn’t mean that you can or are doing that. The simplest way to measure your SEO success in terms of generating qualified traffic is to look at your conversion rates (traffic compared to number of leads generated). You will see quickly that, sometimes, more traffic doesn’t mean more leads or sales. Look at your leads generated monthly. If you can, look only at those generated from organic traffic and compare those to previous months or year-over-year. If you can’t separate organic leads from leads generated from PPC or other sources, look for trends. Are you seeing an increase in leads since implementing SEO work on your site? How much of an increase and over what period of time?

Once you have determined how many leads your organic traffic is generating, you can look at how many of these leads are converting to sales. Depending on the length of your sales cycle, this may be something that you’ll need to wait to do further into an SEO project, but it is well worth doing. Once you have determined how many of the leads generated from organic traffic have converted to sales (or, by looking at sales increases, estimated how much sales revenue is likely to be attributed to organic traffic), you see just how much revenue your SEO project is bringing in and your conversion rate.

Use this data to calculate your SEO success in terms of more than just traffic—look at overall increases in leads and revenue, or calculate your conversion rates, cost-per-lead or cost-per-sale. Don’t forget to calculate your overall ROI when evaluating your SEO success. Just take your gross revenue generated by organic traffic (or a well-calculated estimate) and divide that by your total SEO investment. Remember that this calculation will change drastically over time as your initial SEO investment is usually greater than the continuing.

There’s no need to learn the hard way that more traffic to your website doesn’t always mean success. And, on the other side of the coin, an SEO project that doesn’t see a huge increase in organic traffic could be wildly successful. As Bryan Eisenberg said in an article called The Interactive Marketer 2.0, a savvy online marketer “will understand how to optimize and plan for visitor intent, not just traffic.” Tailoring your SEO to draw qualified traffic will maximize your investment by making sure you’re not just drawing traffic, you’re getting leads and increasing sales.

In a well-managed SEO project, elements such as qualified traffic, increased time-on-site, increase in leads and ultimately and increase in revenue, should naturally flow from an increase in organic traffic. But, to truly measure success accurately and make sure you are getting the most from your investment, you need to look at all these factors.

Your site may have great visibility in search results and you could be seeing an enormous increase in visitors, but if that increase in traffic is half the population of Texas and your site is inviting them to a movie in Indiana, you’ll wish you looked further than organic traffic to measure your SEO success.

Take a look at SEOGuides from SEOmoz for some other data and metrics to help evaluate your SEO success. You’ve got your own thoughts on the matter, so leave a comment if you want to tell us what you think.

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