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How to Monitor an SEO Campaign That Works

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How to Monitor an SEO Campaign That Works

  Steve Warren       Feb 24, 2017    

  Back to SEO

Tracking and Evaluating Your SEO Progress


Even with an outstanding level of preparation and supercharged execution, you will still need to monitor what happens.

If you stop here, you will be driving in the dark with no lights: you know the general direction but you can’t see what’s happening. So whether you slowly steer off the road, or something unexpected happens, you are unlikely to get where you want.

If you don’t track, you can’t evaluate, and if you don’t evaluate, you never learn. And how do you know whether the results you are getting are doing justice to the potential that exists?

Campaign Reporting


SEO is likely to be the best marketing investment you make. But you still need to be able to see how you can improve – whether by tweaking existing activity or taking a different approach.

You need to measure your results in two ways.

1) Ranking Reports

These are the most commonly used to monitor progress, and they provide an essential pointer to the results you are getting from your efforts. Every keyword you target needs to be monitored: during periods of high activity (e.g. initial setup or new campaign creation) this may be weekly, though a general rule would be monthly – and with low-budget campaigns, a quarterly view may suffice.

Have Patience

But remember that results take time. Do not despair if initial results aren’t showing after a couple of months: the normal timescale for things to get moving is six to twelve months. Do not lose heart if rankings move down a bit as well as up: don’t forget that others in your market are working at this too.

Bear in mind that if you are investing your time and money wisely, your SEO activity will place you in a better position to benefit from higher rankings.

Assess Results

If you find that some rankings are proving much more difficult to obtain/improve than others, then it’s worth taking a look at what may be happening. You may want to revisit competitor activity, or even your original keyword research, for ideas on what to do.

Priorities

Remember a rule that’s not often quoted: that clicks increase exponentially with rankings. So listings in the top three results invariably get more clicks than all the other listings combined. Often this applies to the top two results; sometimes the top result gets more clicks than everything else put together. Wow.

This means it’s better (if you can manage it) to work towards improving a ranking at the foot of page one to top three, than to improving a listing that’s on page two (or three) until it gets on to the first page... then drive it higher.

Visitors vs rankings

Of course, you will need to be well into the campaign before you can decide these kind of priorities, but once you’re in the happy position of being able to choose, make sure to take the right route here: your traffic volumes will thank you.

2) Traffic Reports

Of course, rankings in themselves provide you with no real commercial benefit: it’s the visitors generated by these rankings that give you the value.

At Two Digital, we usually provide visitor traffic reports using Google Analytics, which can be split down between those coming from different sources.  Google long ago encrypted its results so you can’t tell which keywords people have used, though SEOMonitor has an interesting tool which tries to estimate this.

Regardless of this, you can still isolate the SEO visitors from Google, and over a period of time, you should see this rising.

Rising traffic in Google Analytics

Growing Value

As visitor numbers increase, so the financial gain grows before your eyes.  One way of assessing this value is to estimate what a PPC visitor would cost, then multiply this by the number of visitors. Of course, this is an aggregated number, and there are other factors in play, but an SEO ("organic") listing is usually more trusted than an ad, so you have a good benchmark here.

Another way of measuring value is to divide your SEO spend (don’t forget to value your time!) by the number of visitors, to get an average cost per visitor. Remember there are significant, and variable, time delays between action and results, but taken on (say) a quarterly basis, and assuming the spend is reasonably constant, you should see a trend where the cost falls over time.

Visitor Quality

Traffic reports also allow you to assess the quality of your visitors. By monitoring values for bounce rate, visitor duration and the like, you can see the level of engagement your visitors have with the website. You can compare this over time – are your more recent numbers better than older ones – and between sources – are SEO visitors more engaged than those from, say, social media?

3) Visitor Engagement

Let’s face it: the way your visitors engage with your website is of critical importance to whether you will succeed.  Even with a million visitors a day (we wish…) you’ll get nowhere if they click the back button within seconds of landing.  So, even ignoring this as a ranking factor (which we are told it is), you need to measure engagement and constantly work to improve it.

Thumbs up

This is where much of the technical stuff ends and the “human” side comes in (at last, you may say).  So we are talking about visual appeal, page layout, ease of navigation, quality of content, load speed of pages, and so on.  In short, does your website give the user what they want?

Treat this as a two-stage exercise:

1)    Attack the “obvious” – looking from a visitor's perspective, can you see anything that needs improving?  Anything that is likely to be a turn-off? Fix it.

2)    Experiment – never be afraid to try new ideas. But always make sure that changes are made in a controlled fashion: one at a time, with specific start/end dates, and close monitoring. Split (A/B) testing is the ideal, but it can get quite technical, and is beyond the scope of this article.

Always measure, and you will get a lot of satisfaction from seeing your engagement improve – and your sales increase.

Measuring visitor engagement sounds pretty daunting at first, doesn’t it?  And many people will blind you with science here, but you are unlikely to need to measure much more than the following:

Bounce Rate

The basic definition of Bounce Rate is the percentage of people who only view one page of your website before clicking the Back button or closing their browser.  I prefer to measure it as those who spend less than 20 seconds on the page (that’s long enough to get what they want if it’s easily accessible) – and Google allow you to modify your Analytics reports in this way, so I’d say I’m on pretty safe ground here.

When you take your first look at your own reports, your Bounce Rate is likely to be sky high – most I have seen start out at 60-80%. Don’t worry – this is your starting point. The objective is to reduce it. There is no such thing as an “ideal” Bounce Rate: it depends on too many factors.  Just aim to continually improve it by asking what may be causing visitors to “bounce” – and acting on it.

Pages Per Session

This is the average number of pages viewed by your visitors. If they like your site, they will click through to more pages: it’s as simple as that.  Again, there is no universal ideal: if your pages contain long, engaging, content-rich articles, your site is likely to have fewer average page views than a site with content that is spread over more pages. Neither is definitively right or wrong: just look at improving your own metrics.

Time On Site

This is probably the most important: it’s the average time that people spend on your site, and in my opinion is the best measure of engagement you will have. But as always, don’t look for any external benchmarks: if your visitors get what they want in a few seconds and decide to take things further with you, that would be a lot more useful than if they spent five minutes trying to find what they wanted and gave up. Keep your focus on improving what you have.

Goals

Google Analytics has a great feature called Goals, where you can set up objectives (most usually, it’s about completed enquiry forms or online sales) and measure how often they are achieved. Great if you’re a 100% e-commerce site that often sells on the first visit. But as soon as responses are made via the telephone, or emails, or if multiple website visits are needed, it breaks down. Use them if you want (we do) but treat them as a general guide rather than a hard-and-fast measurement.

Google Adwords has a feature called conversions, but this loses even more than Goals.

Sometimes it’s best to manually monitor enquiries and sales as they come in – but make sure that the person or people doing it are recording these in a reliable manner.

Sources of Visitors

If you have several major sources of traffic, take a look at the metrics for each. The usual sources are Direct visitors (who usually know you already), SEO, PPC advertising and social media. Each is likely to exhibit different behaviour, so it’s best to monitor them separately.

Landing Pages

Where people land on your site is often unlikely to result in different behaviour. But think about your own site: if you have an active blog as well as commercial pages, it’s a good idea to take a look at each by setting filters in Google Analytics. Similarly if you have a well-known download page it would be good practice to separate this from the rest of your site... and so on.

A Quick Note

There’s lots more you could look at, and as I say above, many people who want to sell you a course, or be your SEO agency, or just impress you over dinner, will blind you with science. But believe me, if you work at, and stay in control of, the above, you will be ahead of pretty well everyone else.

Your Time Plan


I can’t say it often enough: every campaign for every business is different.  So bear this is mind when setting out your plan. Nevertheless, the following outline may be of use to you.

SEO time plan

Month 0 (yes, zero)

This is before the launch: keyword research, website SEO, and any prep work you may want to do beforehand. Whatever you do, don’t be in a rush: it’s much quicker in the long run to get things right from the start than to have to turn around and redo whole chunks of work.

On the other hand, don’t become so immersed in fine tuning that you are scared to “push the button” and start.

One important thing is to make sure that your reporting tools (see above) are in place and working properly so you can start with a “pre-SEO” baseline.

Month 1

By the end of Month 1, you should have some data that can be used to inspect the behaviour of website visitors, comparing them with those from other sources (e.g. social) and with the baseline. It’s invariably far too soon to assess the effectiveness of any of your SEO work at this stage.

Month 3

After three months, your ranking reports may show some “twitching” (my term) – usually appearance on lower pages of search engine listings. This may have created some small increases in the number of visitors. But nothing at this stage is likely to make you want to crack open a bottle of champagne.

Month 6

You will run reports every month, but the six-month point marks the time when you have the first full analysis of results. You are likely to see some movement in rankings, and website visitors: some trends may now be showing, and your own expertise will be improving too.

Month 12

The First Birthday of your SEO activity will mark the time when measurable improvements will have happened, and trends established. Priorities will have been set, and targeted points of action will have been defined.

Although we say that you should consider the first six to twelve months as a necessary “bedding in” period, if you have worked well, your SEO activity should have now reached the point where it is easily covering its cost.

Beyond

SEO work never stops. There are people in your market who are working hard on their rankings. Daley Thompson used to train twice on Christmas Day to gain an advantage over his competitors, and while I don’t think you should be anywhere near your SEO campaign on Christmas Day, remember that SEO work is going on all the time. So if you slow down or stop, you will gradually fall behind, losing the momentum you have gained so far.

And when you continue, in another year’s time you will be seeing even more benefit from your SEO.

Long-term SEO results

Wrap Up


Although I hope I’ve given you a solid structure that will form the basis for all you do, you will still need to learn and react properly to the information you get. Always remember to keep it simple and work to a basic process:

Measure – Evaluate – Decide

Sometimes, things won’t work out so you need to decide whether to continue or to rein back a bit, or change. Other times they will exceed your expectations so you may want to adjust the resources you apply to them.  Just make sure you are reacting in a measured way because slow, steady actions always win out over frequent changes.

Good luck with your SEO, and with all you do.

Today's post was the third and final part of our three-part "How to Run an SEO Campaign That Works" series of articles - if you missed the previous two, you can catch up by clicking on the buttons below:


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