Measuring SEO

By Dave McAnally, Natural Search Supervisor

Last time I checked in, I said that I would write about the various data points and benchmarks we use at RM to measure SEO.

One of the things in the original diatribe on the death of SEO was that data points reported on with SEO tend not to convey any tangible value to marketers.

Do the number of back links to the site really matter to a client? How do they affect the bottom line? These are questions marketers should be asking.

It's like Jeff told me about 87 years ago; people don't want a drill, they want a hole.

Here's are three things I think help us cut through the vagaries of SEO and down into the "why's" of what we're doing. (My usual caveat applies - this is by no means an exhaustive list.)

Keywords by query intent

It's one thing to understand how many people are searching with a given term. But it's even more valuable to understand the intent behind their query. We spend a lot of time in the strategy development phase understanding the intent behind the queries that are currently driving traffic, and how (if at all) that differs from the intentionality of the website.

Are we missing the boat on transactional queries on a catalog site? If so, what are the things we SHOULD be winning on? Answering these questions helps us not only target the right queries, but shape our strategy appropriately.

Competitors winning on queries you want to win on

I think a common misstep with SEO (especially with big brands that do heavy offline marketing) is to mis-label who their competitors are. More specifically, a set of competitors you need to pay attention to are simply those that are ranking for the terms you are targeting.

There are a lot of characteristics to be measured (page content, age, back links, buzz, etc.) and stacking them up against your site tells you a lot about where your priorities should be as well as what your SWOT is. This data, when presented properly is a powerful tool for moving a project forward.

Pick a metric and stick to it!

So you're ranking on terms and you've bested competitors, now what? What is it people are supposed to do once they are at your site? Buy a widget? Email you? Pick up the phone and call? Sign up to hear more about the latest and greatest widget?

I think with advertising, people are quicker to define these metrics because there's a cost associated with each click and they want to hold their media buys accountable. But that doesn't mean your natural search efforts shouldn't tie back to a specific action and be held to the same metrics. Not only will this help you measure the effectiveness of the project, but it will also help you understand query intent of your visitors.


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