Meaningful SEO Metrics: Going Beyond the Numbers

Moderator: Richard Zwicky, Independent Consultant,

Ray “Catfish” Comstock, Director of SEO, BusinessOnLine
Todd Friesen, Director of SEO, Performics
Rob Garner, Vice President Strategy, iCrossing

SES SFThis has been a popular session for about the last 6 years and this year’s panel looks to be a great group.  Rob Garner will speak first today, then Todd Friesen and lastly will be Ray “Catfish” Comstock.

Rob will start us off today by talking about measuring SEO success.  He shows a slide that says, “Paid vs. SEO: the 90/20 search budget conundrum”.  This basically says that 90% of the search channel budgets go to paid search while paid search only gives 20% returns.  On the flip side, 10% of budgets go to SEO and those playing in the organic space will usually see about an 80% return on all revenue.

Why is it so upside down, Rob asks. Because paid is easier to track and measure. With SEO it’s harder to look longer term and tie direct ROI back to specific engagements. However, Rob tells us that SEO can be easy to measure in aggregate and at the keyword level once a balanced program is in place. He states that the biggest opportunities for marketing in the search channel are in natural search.

Some of the challenges of we all face with tracking SEO are:

  • Disconnect between legacy systems in tracking performance
  • Using last-click attribution
  • Larger companies measure value as “what have you done for me lately” – natural search benefits tend to be longer term
  • Not maintaining search performance history going back years
    • You can’t compare what you did last month to last year…but instead stack it and look at things like seasonality but as a whole
  • Bad analytics and tracking
    • Analytics utilize algorithms too – make sure yours is sophisticated in the search tracking space
    • You need a program that gives you a robust look at things. It needs to bucket things in meaningful ways, show you long tail keywords etc.
  • Educating those in charge of the budgets for natural search
    • Constantly educate those influencers who hold the money

Along with the challenges of tracking SEO success, we are often faced with some tough questions that usually do not have simple answers.  Questions like ‘how much is domain authority and trust worth?’ or ‘How much is a link worth?’, ‘How much is a link development campaign going to return on investment?’ and ‘What is the ROI on implementing the meta description tags?’.  There usually is no logical answer that the higher ups will accept, so Rob suggests just trying to avoid answering them if possible.

With SEO, a longer term view is needed due to the fact that natural traffic is earned and eventually owned so it becomes a traffic generating asset. On top of that, the maintenance costs for SEO are a realistic expense.

4 key measures needed for meaningful SEO metrics are:

  • Value of search equity for the site being optimized
  • Media value of natural search
  • Value of various action across the site
    • Both individually and in aggregate
  • Value of the stress and time costs on your organization
    • You can do it now 10x easier than if you do it later

If you can put a number to those 4 things, then you will be able to measure how important and successful a SEO campaign can and will be.

If you’re having trouble convincing those holding the purse, then here are some tips to help you build a business case. Find out the following:

  • How much is invested in search overall
    • And in particular, how much is spent on SEO activities
  • How much is a conversion worth and how much will search modifications be worth
    • What values do we place on various actions
    • This is a good opportunity to look at words performing well in paid, but have no rankings in natural to see if you can capitalize on it
  • How do we measure lift in natural search metrics
    • Project traffic lifts based on increase in content and relevant theme of pages against keyword search stats
    • Link dev – measure lift in rising keyword ranking against traffic, against conversion
    • Create a natural search event
  • How much opportunity may be lost without an SEO plan
    • What is the value of current traffic, and how will site redesign impact traffic

An example Rob gives is about establishing the market value of a search click:

  • Calculate anticipated traffic lost or gained in natural search
  • Determine the average CPC in a themed area of one of your campaigns
    • This is the marked value that a marketer is willing to spend on relevant traffic based on actual spend
  • Multiply the average CPC times the amount of SEO traffic to quantify its media value
  • For example: 100,000 additional clicks in natural search per month times an average CPC of $2.53 is valued at $253,000. In a year, $3,036,000 in media value of traffic

Is your site going through a redesign soon?  Here are some potential issues that can come out of a redesign:

  • Loss in natural traffic
  • Loss in link equity
  • Loss in natural search equity and history
  • Costs for fixing technical mistakes
  • Cost for recreating containers for content
  • Loss in sales, actual monetary returns
  • Loss in trophy rankings
  • Loss of the sum of long tail rankings

Make sure any redesign has a redirection plan (301 redirects) so that your site doesn’t lose traffic!  This can hurt the site in more ways than one, especially if there isn’t a custom error page in place.

Overall, marketers must place a monetary value on actions to help SEOs quantify results. Marketers spend lots of money on media, but they don’t often place a value on actions. They also don’t place an educated value on actions from natural search (or any media spend) essentially spending blindly. And when marketers spend blindly, they don’t know their most effective channels, and they don’t know where to reinvest their money and energy in the future.  When measuring the success of SEO, look at your success year over year to see if you’re truly getting value from it.


Todd’s turn at the podium has come and he’s promised to have fewer slides than Todd while talking about SEO & SEM Combined Reporting. He is going to talk about how the two reports can be done in order to show that SEO is beneficial.

Speaking from experience, Todd says that some of the benefits of a combined strategy for your clients can include:

  • Visibility, in both paid and natural results with decreases in the frequency that consumers select a competitor
  • Greater opportunity to increase overall revenue
  • Leveraging both paid and natural search can result in a significant lift in brand visibility
    • Up to 32% more clicks for each listing than appearing only in one or the other
  • Natural campaign efforts can be prioritized based on data extracted from paid campaign
  • Ability to reach entire search community

When you combined SEM & SEO initiatives it holistically yields greater results than using any one tactic along or managing them in silos. When analyzing your “SEO & SEM Battlefield”, you want to view the coverage of competitors in both the top paid and natural search positions. See what they are doing and then plan a better strategy to win.

Winning best in class means you’ll:

  • Maximize ROI
    • Adjust bid strategy based on SEO ranking data
  • Keyword gap analysis
    • Identify strong performing keywords missing from campaigns
    • Compare top performing keywords in paid, and try them in SEO
  • Increase efficiency
    • Share landing page and ad creative across disciplines
    • Good ad copy in SEM? Try using as it as your snippet on SEO pages
  • Share creative
    • Share top performing ad creative with SEO for CTR optimization
  • Clickshare/SERP domination
    • Rolled up reporting identifying true combined clickshare numbers

Framework testing to maximize ROI:

  • Identify top ranking organic keywords
  • Select keywords for test and control groups
  • Define hypothesis, success metrics and duration
  • Apply testing methods
  • Evaluate test results
  • Rinse…repeat

In a test, they took a group of keywords that ranked in the top 3. Turned off SEM for a week.  Gathered numbers. Then turned them on for a week and compared numbers.  This is the type of test you can try yourself. Look at what numbers moved to get an idea where you need to focus energy.

Analyzing the metrics: bring in data from all available sources and analyze numbers to see where things can be adjusted in SEM or SEO to make a difference in position and spend.

Take aways: SEO and SEM do not exist in silos. These 2 things need to be compared and they need to work each off of each other in order to maximize performance.

Catfish will now take the mic for his presentation. He is going to talk about key metrics and SEO intelligence. He’s promising lots of good stuff… His presentation is titled: Key metrics (are you winning or losing?)

There are three phases of SEO data analysis:

  • Performance reporting
  • Opportunity identification
  • Prioritization

In Performance Reporting you look at things like search rankings. Remember that search ranking vary based on localization and personalization so they are near impossible to track accurately. Also, rankings can fluctuate daily. The importance of their measure is only as important as a leading indicator that you are doing things right or wrong – or are on the right track.  Overall, search traffic and conversions are the better method of measuring success.

Use Google Webmaster Tools to get a better idea of overall ranking. It’s important to keep track, but rankings are not really the best measurement. Traffic and conversions are a much more important metric.

When doing keyword campaigns, keep these things in mind:

  • Segmenting keywords into campaigns allows you to better understand performance, especially for large data sets
  • Campaigns should map to business goals
  • Groups map to “fat head” keywords meaning that at group level, you can see the effect of one word on other words
  • Grouping is arbitrary

What is the different type of keywords? Brand vs. non-branded. What is branded search traffic? It’s any search traffic related directly to a keyword phrase that implies the user was searching specifically for your brand. Non-brand would obviously be anything else.  You should understand the ratio of branded traffic to non-branded traffic.  Regularly run rankings on all brand related phrases so that you can spot any potential opportunities or problems. Report SEO results based on gains or losses of non-branded traffic as a primary metric of success.

To calculate brand vs non-brand traffic you’ll want to grab the number of keyword phrase referrals and the number of visits per keyword. Keep track in an Excel spreadsheet.  You can then sort and total the keywords based on whether or not they are branded.

When looking at the performance of long-tail keywords, it’s always smart to look at the year over year trends in traffic in order to measure success.  For both brand and non-brand, you will have a variety of long-tail keywords to track and measure.

Catfish recommends breaking keywords into campaigns, then groups and gather a baseline for brand vs. non-brand to use as a standard for whether or not you’re growing your campaign.

Now onto the topic his been dying to talk about – SEO Intelligence and Adobe’s new tool. Adobe is offing some analytic type data that is now more affordable for many companies. SEO intelligence is a service that leverages Adobe insight to look at SEO data. Adobe insight tracks at the visitor level and there is no data roll off. The speed and accuracy of data is unparalleled and you don’t have to segment the data in advance.  Well, isn’t that just so handy.

In Adobe you can start to see attribution from branded vs. non-branded. It allows you to follow the visitor more accurately, and even gives you some off-line tracking.

The advanced capabilities of SEO Intelligence include things like cross channel attribution for online and offline.  Personalization is also tracked using triggers and company-wide targeting. There is also the ability for predictive modeling which allows you to be more proactive to getting business by knowing who is using and buying products and predicting where to market, and who to market to.

That’s it for the presentation today besides some Q & A.  Hope you were able to gain something useful from the presenters.

Once a hard working corporate type, Jayme traded in her office and business attire for cowboy boots and the Sierra Nevada mountains. At one time Jayme was the director of SEO for Bruce Clay Inc., then senior SEO analyst for WebMetro. She now spends her time out in the country. As a busy mom, soccer coach, weekly volleyball player, weekend hiker and hobbyist photographer she does manage to find a few hours a week to stay connected to the Internet Marketing world plus she is still doing SEO on a handful of clients. You won't find her active on Twitter or her own blog, because when she does have spare time she's usually away from her computer enjoying what life has to offer, away from the computer monitor. In fact her own website is sinfully neglected. Even though she has grand plans to one day put some energy into her own blog that day still hasn't arrived, possibly after her kids are both in school.

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

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