In ideal situations, each SEO project should require measurements to evaluate performance and to be able to tell whether SEO is making an impact or not. Such measurements need to be defined at the beginning of the project. Whether it is the traffic referred by search engines, number of brand keyword search terms or number of leads, SEOs and website stakeholders need to agree on which one to measure.
Once a certain set of metrics has been agreed by both parties, a baseline measurement should be made before any SEO recommendation is ever implemented. Such initial findings will serve as a benchmark for comparison once subsequent measurements are made in the coming months or quarters.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stanzim
So what are the common elements of periodic SEO reports?
Search Engine Visibility (Keyword Rankings)
I’ve stated previously that I am not into measurements for a variety of reasons. But for the sake of those who insist that keyword rankings should be in this list, then here it is. Despite all the debate regarding this topic, there’s no doubt that one of the main objectives of doing SEO is to achieve high keyword ranking. In competitive markets, it’s not unusual to monitor periodic ranking fluctuation of top tier keywords. Of course, success in this field is not only dependent on performance of selected keywords, but also on how precise the selection of keywords in the list.
The format of this report could be presented in various ways. I prefer to group keywords based on priority and secondary classification and then categorize rankings according to top ranking, 2nd to 10th (first page), 11th to 20th (second page) and 21st to 30th (third page) for each search engine (probably Google, Bing or Yahoo!). I would choose only up to three pages as most of search engine traffic comes from links within these pages. Bear in mind that when considering search engine visibility as KPI, the bottom line is still visitor traffic; nobody wants to rank number one but get no visitors.
Search Engine Traffic
Search engine traffic refers to how many visitors come to our website through search engine results. Somehow this KPI is a follow up to Search Engine Visibility. But since it focuses only on a maximum of few hundred keywords, it does not count the traffic derived from long tail keywords. That is why the importance of this metric can’t be underestimated.
The presentation of this report can simply be segmented according to search engine. Based on the data provided by the baseline report and subsequent reports, we can determine the trend at which each search engine is providing. We can tell which one is delivering most, which one is under performing and think about how we can improve the referral numbers. One thing to note is that we should not use percentage of traffic coming from search engines as it can be very deceiving. Instead we should pick the exact number of referrals from each search engine.
Number of Conversions
This is one of the most credible SEO metrics to choose because conversion goes further in the funnel. We’ll surely be happy with traffic coming to our site from search engines, but we’ll be happier if they convert into sales or leads. That being said, it is important to determine where exactly does these conversions come from. Are they coming from visitors who were referred by a PPC advertisement, newspaper ad or a link from somewhere? This is where the URL builder can definitely be useful.
Analysis and Recommendations
The first three items outlined above are best represented in numbers. I guess its easy to login at web analytics report or run a scheduled keyword ranking software. But the ability to provide meaningful discernment of numbers — whether by in-house SEO or a third-party agency — is what impacts most. A report with all numbers and no interpretation of what they mean is not complete. Having one means we are able to identify the trends, cite the ups and downs, and make informed decisions. Decisions that can be backed by the reports and analysis generated. With analysis and recommendations, we can decide whether to increase budgets, fine-tune content, switch affiliate partnerships and other resolutions with less or no guesswork.