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How to tell if your SEO programme is working?

Many people look at Google on a daily basis to check where they are ranking for a particular keyword or a few keywords but measuring success doesn't have to be based on limited comparisons...

phil 7 September 2010

Many people look at Google on a daily basis to check where they are ranking for a particular keyword or a few keywords, and obsess over competitor rankings for that word, but with online marketing, measuring success doesn't have to be based on limited comparisons of only a few popular or obvious keywords. It's not uncommon after we start working with a client, to get a phone call a few weeks later asking why they are still at a particular spot in the google results for one or two keywords - with the client deeply concerned that their SEO investment isn't being effective.

SEO takes a little time to take effect - usually a few months after you commence work (some limited results are immediate, but strong success is a process that needs a few months to gain momentum), and also Google traffic comes from users who type a huge myriad of keyword combinations into Google. Ranking highly for 1 or 2 obvious keywords is not necessarily the be all, and end all of your SEO success. Often ranking strongly across 100's of more specific keyword searches can work just as well, or even better !

The real measure of success of your SEO investment is whether your traffic, and your sales/inquiries are increasing! Sounds obvious right? You'd think so, but it's amazing how often people obsess over a few ranks for a small number of specific keywords, or how their competitors ranks for these words, without looking at how their overall visitor traffic, or sales / leads are travelling.

Ask your SEO company to run a Google Analytics graph over the last 6 months showing Google Organic traffic only (that's the visitors who come to your website after clicking on your listing on the left hand side of Google, not the sponsored links......these are the listings that are affected by SEO and Google optimisation). This will show how your overall traffic levels are trending, and give you a view of your visitors arriving based on ALL the keywords typed into Google, and not just a few. If your SEO provider is doing their job, then you should be seeing traffic trends heading upwards.

It’s vital that this isolates only Organic / Natural search traffic, as looking at all of your website visitors can hide upward or downward trends in individual sources of traffic (3rd party referring websites, paid advertisements or directories etc) leading you to think all is ok, when in fact your organic traffic may have collapsed while other traffic sources have leapt up to compensate.

Ask them to run a report of "conversions" over the past 6 months (conversions are the actions that you want a user to take on your site, such as contacting you, or buying something, or signing up for a newsletter), and review the results in detail to ensure your conversion numbers are being maintained, or growing. Typically, the % of users who go on to perform your "conversion" action, once they are at your website is purely a function of page layout, and clarity of message and navigation, and prompts or “call’s to action” to get users to take this action.

So if your website has a prevailing conversion % of 3% for example (3 in every 100 who arrives, go on to convert) then naturally, once you know this - usually after that point, it becomes a numbers game. You need to get as many people coming to your site (who've typed something relevant into google) as you can....if you double your visitors, you'll double your SEO success is achieved by seeing increasing numbers of visitors. If you suddenly rocket to #1 position for your favourite keyword, but don't see overall increases in traffic - then this wont help you in the way that you are hoping for. And yes, if you move to position #1 for 1 specific keyword, this definately isn't a guarantee that your overall site traffic is on the could be a reflection of a narrow, one dimensional SEO campaign that ignores the breadth of your product offerings.

To see the trends in these reports, you can use Analytics to switch to "week" view or "month" view to show you the numbers aggregated across these time periods. This makes it easier to spot the trends as you compare results week to week, or month to month.

These are some basic, but crucial metrics in ensuring your SEO programme is doing its job. If you aren’t getting that sort of information from your SEO provider, you should contact them and arrange to review this, to ensure you’re getting value for your SEO investment!

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