Five years ago, SEO was how you got a leg up on your competitors. A good measure of success was to simply count how many top 10 spots you claimed in search results. Today, you need SEO just to get yourself on the playing field.
That means rankings are more competitive than ever. Thus, businesses and good SEO agencies need more meaningful ways to determine how well SEO is working –but what exactly should be measured (and why)?
In this post, we’ll share some of the actual criteria we use in-house. With this information, you’ll be better able to answer definitively how to know if SEO is working for your business.
1. What are keyword rankings and why are they important?
This is the classic way to track SEO efforts –but most agencies stop short of making this information 100% useful. Let’s start with the basics:
How do keywords work?
Each page on your site should focus on a few targeted keywords: one primary and several secondary. These keywords (which are most often phrases) should match both the information on your page and what terms people actually use to search for that type of service or product. Additionally, a primary keyword should be tied to only one (or sometimes two) pages in order to concentrate SEO strength as much as possible. A tell-tale sign of sub-par SEO agency is when they sprinkle a specific keyword across your entire website; that’s a big no-no.
Every time someone types in a query into the Google search bar, Google’s algorithm determines which sites and pages are the most relevant to the user’s search intent and then provides results in order. This can be both a curse and a blessing because Google will reward your website when you make page improvements they deem favorable (think closer to #1). The curse? They’ll do the same for all of your competitors too.
This constant battle for #1 means that on-site optimization work never ends. Your excellent ranking won’t last forever if you set it and forget it. That also means your rankings for certain keywords are likely to fluctuate. One month you’ll be in the 10th spot, next month the 5th, and then back to 7th the following month.
How should your SEO think about keywords?
Your SEO agency should be regularly tracking and reporting on how your site is performing for the keywords you’re targeting, linking the onsite optimizations they made to movements in search results rankings. Improving these rankings will lead to increased website traffic, which in turn can lead to more business!
However, they shouldn’t only obsess over getting #1 rankings (nor make absolute promises about the number of #1 rankings you’ll have). The truth is that Google’s algorithm is ever-evolving, which means there’s no way to predict with certainty how well your website will perform in rankings. That’s why we need to look at much more than just rankings.
2. What is a website citation and why do I need them?
Phonebooks are dead, but the service they provide is far from gone. Rather, they’ve evolved into worldwide directories such as Yelp and Foursquare. We refer to any place online where your business name, address, and phone number (NAP) are listed as a citation.
Creating citations can be a strong SEO strategy for local businesses since it serves as a strong signal to search engines about your business details and that you have a strong presence in your locality. Google and other search engines routinely index all of the Internet and can connect that a NAP belongs to your business. Links to your website are sometimes included on these citation websites, which can be a nice SEO boost.
The caveat here is that your NAP should be identical across all citations. Variation in the name of your business, phone number, or address can confuse search engines and even hurt you. For example:
- My Business Name
- MyBusiness Name
- My Business Name LLC
You might look at that as a human, and say “of course those are all the same business!” But an algorithm does not; it notes the small differences and counts them each as something separate.
Also, low-quality citation websites can damage your SEO strength. Search engines may consider them as spam and reduce your SEO strength if they link to your website. Good SEO agencies need to take advantage of these opportunities while fully understanding how to avoid risk.
3. What is organic search traffic and why does it matter?
Put simply: anytime someone submits a query on a search engine, finds a link to your website in the search results (not a paid ad at the top of the results listing), and then clicks on it.
You didn’t have to pay any ad money for someone to find your website. You simply came up as a good resource for that topic and then someone clicked on that link. Because this source of traffic is “free”, it’s the holy grail for online marketers. The more traffic you send through your website, the more business you’re likely to get overall.
Organic traffic can increase in 3 ways:
- With improved rankings, your site will be viewed by more people and thus will earn more organic traffic.
- With improved titles and meta descriptions, which are the bits of information that are displayed with your website in search results. By making these more targeted and persuasive, users will be more inclined to click them thus increasing your organic traffic without necessarily being more “visible”.
- Creating more content, which simply offers more opportunities to target entirely new keywords and opportunities to earn visibility.
It’s crucial, however, to take into consideration seasonal fluctuations in industry search trends. For example, organic traffic to e-commerce stores will always fall sharply after Christmas. Or conversely, financial planners will see a boost a natural boost in organic traffic at the start of the new year.
A great way to factor for this fluctuation is to compare performance year over year. Or if you need compare to a previous month’s data, research search trends using Google Trends and factor in fluctuation.
4. What is a good online conversion rate?
We’re entering trickier territory since healthy online conversion rates vary widely across industries. It also depends on how you define a conversion. Conversions for e-commerce websites, for example, include selling products. Conversions for professional services might be contact form submissions or downloading a whitepaper. No matter what they are, conversions should be a measurable event that can be tied to revenue.
The conversion rate, then, is the percentage of website visitors that complete a conversion (or goal). For most of our clients, a general breakdown looks like this:
3.5% and above: Excellent! This is a solid conversion rate. Pat yourself on the back.
1%- 3%: This is generally good, especially for non-e-commerce business. There’s certainly room for improvement, but no reason for panic.
0% – 1%: It’s time to get help from a professional. You’re losing potential customers.
Your SEO should be driving organic traffic while your website should be optimized to convert these visitors into qualified leads.
5. What is a good bounce rate and what does it even mean?
Bounce rate is the percentage of traffic that quickly leaves your site or web page after landing on it without looking at any other pages. Think: immediately clicking the back button or closing out of a tab right after the page loads. Bounce rate can indicate how accurate the page is targeted toward visitors who are interested in the content or your business. It can also suggest an inadequate design of the web page that is too frustrating for visitors to use.
Some pages we can expect to have high bounce rates, such as calendars and blog posts. These act more as references for information, such as checking the date of an event or reading an answer to a question on your latest blog post.
However, bounce rates for pages like your homepage or service pages should be much lower:
Less than 30%: This is great! Keep up the great work.
35 – 60%: This is average, so no need for worry. You should review the data and find ways to make improvements to the site content or user experience.
70% and above: This is a quite high; you should consider professional help.
Evaluate your current SEO team and their results
If you’re paying for SEO work but your numbers are in the “get professional help” category, try not to freak out just yet. SEO will always take time. If you’ve only had a team in place for 3 months but they are transparent about the above metrics, chances are you’ll see results soon. Also be sure to consider your team’s resources. If you can only afford 3 hours a month and don’t have the ability to update your outdated website, your SEO growth will be slower.
But if your SEO team has never talked to you about any of the above metrics, you need to have a serious look at the reports you’re getting from them. Ask them about this data to determine if they’re providing value by helping you make informed, data-driven business decisions. If they bristle, it’s probably time to talk to someone else.