Essential KPIs for Search Engine Optimization

Time to kick off the Search Analytics track here at eMetrics. Finally something I almost recognize! Brian Klais (Netconcepts) and Richard Zwicky (Enquisite) will be taking charge of this one with Mike Grehan and his famous stick moderating. Curiously, the WiFi that was working yesterday is now nonexistent. Guess that means lots of trips back up to my hotel room on the 6th floor to post. Fun times!

[Note: If you’re a crazy stalker, I’m not really on the 6th floor. I’m on the…12th. Yes, the 12th. Are there even twelve floors in the Palace Hotel? I’m not sure.] You fail stealth, Lisa –Susan

Up first is Brian to talk about the 10 essential natural search KPIs.

At NetConcepts they have a technology called GravityStream which helps large Web sites automate the application of search engine optimization best practices. They have a channel management dashboard to give people more control, as well as proprietary natural search analytics. It’s the analytics he’s going to share with us today.

These are the questions Brian’s company is asking itself:

  • Is our natural search performance good or not?
  • We’ve eaten the low hanging fruit. What’s next?
  • How much more upside is there or is this it?
  • How do we calculate ROI on SEO initiatives?
  • My CEO wants 50 percent growth. Is it possible?

They had to develop metrics to help them answer those questions. There’s more to search success than measuring hits and rankings. He looks at KPIs like brand-to-non-brand ratio, unique pages, indexation rate, phrase per page, visitors per phrase, page placement, yelling pages, and engine yield rate.

His goals in the business are to maximize the performance of 100 percent of the pages he’s entrusted with. They treat natural search like a direct response channel, not a project. They want to improve as many pages as possible with the least amount of effort. They want to lead data driven decisions.

He brings up a tag cloud that shows us how we search. We’re not looking for brand names. We’re looking for a solution to our needs. We’re looking for “jeans for women with no butts”. Hee. It’s hard to predict these searches, so how do you make your content rank well?

Essential KPIs for Search Engine Optimization:

  1. Brand to Non-Brand Ratio: Traffic driven by brand keywords vs. non-brand. This indicates remaining opportunity. Long tail search = 40x brand search. Ideally your traffic is dominated by non-brand queries.
  2. Unique Pages: Non-duplicate pages crawled by the bots. This establishes the size of your Web site and forms the top of the funnel. Think: tonnage or emails sent. I don’t know what tonnage means, but hopefully all of you do.
  3. Indexation Rate: How many of your crawled pages are actually making it into the index? This tells you your advertising inventory. Example: if Google crawls 26,000 of your pages and Google has 15,400 indexed, that means you have an indexation rate of 58 percent. That’s good but where is the other 42 percent? Are they stuck in the supplementals?
  4. Yielding Pages: How many of your pages are actually driving traffic? How many searchers clicked on your ads? It measures ad efficiency. Think: Email click through. It helps you identify your non-performing pages so that you can optimize them and get them to convert more often.
  5. Phrases per Page: Reflects on page keywords and internal anchor text. Surgical optimization (title, meta, content). Can help you outsource the longtail to your users? Maybe by using UGC?
  6. Visitors per Page: Reflects brand strength and rank. Talks about HSN who enhanced their URLs to include keywords. Ended up influencing and increasing the PageRank score. Increased traffic 550 percent.
  7. Page Placement: Looks at click throughs as a function of ranking. Where are your pages ranking within the SERPs and how much traffic are you getting from those ads? Quantify the value of Page 1 placement. Develop strategies for Page 2.
  8. Engine Yield Rate: Compares return on crawler investment. Shows you which engines you should target based on which return the most searchers.
  9. Natural Search Sales: Gives you your ROI.
  10. Brand Reach: 114,000 searchers found the brand useful for their query. Won 43,000 unique keyword market battles. How many didn’t find the brand? Allows you to back into estimating the market size.

Ideas to start experimenting with: Looking at keyword URLs, tag cloud navigation, PageRank sculpting, alternative navigation links.

Next is Richard Zwicky. The computer just crashed so Mike has to restart it. Richard gives his intro while Mike plays in the background trying to get things up and running. Richard says his office burned down in the past week. For serious? Oh noes!

Using Analytics to Drive Big Wins:

Over 90 percent of search referral traffic comes from page 1. Identity which Web pages are driving Page 2 traffic. If 95 percent of referral track comes from page one and 2.2 comes from page two, if you can move a page to Page 1, you can increase traffic by 4550 percent!

Step 1: Identify and monitor which pages are being found for relevant terms by your visitors from page 2 of the SERPS.

How do you do that? First, identify which queries drive valuable traffic. Which Web pages do you listed on Page 2 of the SERPs that get the most referral traffic for those queries? Identify which the queries matter to you and optimize the pages for those terms.

He talks about some rank checking software.

Strengths of rank checking software: These tools allow you to show actual SERP results in reports. You can track competitors. This will give you great insight into precise positioning in results. They allow you to monitor movement/progress

Drawbacks: The weaknesses are that it doesn’t always correspond to results in your location. You need to specify terms, pages, etc. There’s a risk of violation the T&Cs from the engines, as well if you abuse it. It takes hours to set up properly.

Alternative to rank checking software is using your analytics package. This allows you to look at the terms your customers are using, to see real phrase, understand traffic based on where your customers are located, ID pages to target as opposed to guessing, automatically keep tack of all the long tail variations, and to show you which terms convert. You can do all of this in 30 seconds.

The weaknesses are that it doesn’t show precise position on page and that you have to manually build campaign profiles.

Identifying the pages that are underperforming (ranked on page 2) gives you an incredible opportunity. These pages are almost there. You can now focus in, cut to the chase, and that site popped up to page 1.

What to Optimize:

Content: The long tail phrases people are using. Look for the root terms and build out from there. Build targeted content and link it to the target pages.

Links: Where are you underperforming? Get links targeted to your location and topic.

Question & Answer

Mike Grehan: Isn’t ranking checking very 1999?

Richard recommends looking at how well you’re placed to find opportunities for optimization. He doesn’t recommend using it as any kind of benchmark for clients.

Isn’t PageRank sculpting just spam?

Brian says no. PR Sculpting is the idea that every certain page has a PR score and you want to maximize how that PR asset gets spent. All pages aren’t created equal. You don’t want some pages to be diluting your presence so you nofollow the links going to those pages so the bots don’t pay attention to them.

If the rel=nofollow tag was developed to say “I don’t trust this link” why would you use it on your own Web site?

Brian thinks it’s a strategy worth experimenting with. Vanessa Fox is in the audience and advises everyone to go read our interview with her from last week where she talks in depth about PageRank sculpting.

Top Secret Tip From Vanessa Fox!

Vanessa offered up a tip for finding out how many of your site pages Google has indexed. She says that if you submit an XML Sitemap to Google and list all the URLs you want indexed, Google will keep track of how many of those pages are indexed. Basically, it will give you a total number of pages indexed from the site map. So if you list ALL your pages, Google will tell you how many pages are indexed. Great tip from Vanessa!

[If you missed Vanessa’s pre-eMetrics interview, be sure to read Six Questions With Vanessa Fox.–Susan]

Lisa Barone is a writer, content marketer & VP of strategy at Overit Media. She's also a very active Twitterer, much to the dismay of the rest of the world.

See Lisa's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (1)
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One Reply to “Essential KPIs for Search Engine Optimization”

handsome rob

While I do understand the point being made about branded vs. non-branded search traffic, I have to say that a disproportionate amount of branded traffic should not be a KPI for anything beyond SEO. A high volume of branded searches generally indicates successful branding and/or PR efforts.

Google “soda” and see how many pages of results you have to click through before you find Coke. Google “tissues” and let me know when you find Google “search engine” and try to find google.

I’m not arguing the value or validity of this KPI — simply stating that its punch is limited to the microcosm of SEO. Take such a KPI out of that vacuum to its parent, Internet Marketing, and it loses something. Take it all the way up to plain-old Marketing, and… well you get the idea. It’s building brands vs. building websites.

Personally I’d rather own Coca Cola than be the webmaster of


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