At first glance, measuring the results of a search engine optimization campaign seems easy: If you get a high rank for the keywords and phrases you’re targeting, then it’s working. If you don’t, then it’s not.
But good, organic search engine optimization often brings unexpected results, by getting you high rank for terms you didn’t think of. Those unanticipated terms may generate even more traffic than the ones you planned on.
So how do you measure SEO results? In a word, referrers.
What’s a referrer?
A referrer, or referring site, is the web address of the page from which a visitor comes when they click a link on that page, and come to your site. So, if I go to Google, search for ‘Conversation Marketing’, and then click through to our web site, the referrer is ‘Google.com’.
If the referrer is a search engine, your server can also store the referring keywords. In the example above, the referring keywords are ‘Conversation Marketing’.
So, if you’re using a quality log analysis tool, you get a nice, neat report that shows which search engines and keywords are driving traffic to your site.
What’s a log analysis tool?
If you’re serious about internet marketing, you are likely getting quality web traffic statistics reports using one of the many log file analysis tools out there. These tools digest web visit logfile data and convert it into readable reports.
If you don’t get daily site traffic reports that include referring keywords, talk to your web host or whoever manages your site. These reports are essential, and there are plenty of tools out there that can generate them. There’s no excuse for not having them.
Two examples are WebTrends and Urchin. I prefer Urchin, personally, as a far more usable tool – e-mail me if you want to hear why.
There are also some free systems out there, such as Webalizer. Some of these free tools are solid – compare carefully, though, because open-source and free web log analyzers are distributed on a strictly ‘let the downloader beware’ basis.
Back to the stats
Once you have reports that show you which search engines and keywords are driving traffic to your site, you need to interpret those reports to see how you’re doing.
The most important metrics to measure in any SEO campaign are:
- Relevance: Are you getting visitors based on terms that make sense for your business? That is, if you sell cars, are folks visiting you after searching for ‘cars for sale’, or for ‘blueberry pie’? (don’t laugh – it’s happened). Obviously, higher relevancy is better.
- Diversity: Are you getting visitors based on a broad set of non-branded keywords? For example, if your company is called ‘XYZ Computers’, are you only getting found when folks search for ‘XYZ’? Or are folks finding you when they search for ‘computers’, ‘PCs’, ‘computer support’ and other terms? The more you’re found under non-branded terms, the better you’re doing. I generally consider a campaign successful when at least 7 out of the top 10 terms are non-branded.
- Percentage: How much of your site traffic is coming from search engines? Search engine marketing is infinitely scaleable – your investment is generally the same whether you get 1,000 or 1,000,000 additional visitors because of your search engine optimization campaign. So a higher percentage is always better. In my experience, a successful campaign is driving at least 5% of all site traffic, but this can vary widely.
The Point: Ranking isn’t everything
How you rank for specific terms and phrases is important to a search engine optimization campaign. But it isn’t everything. Any fundamentally sound SEO campaign will get you high ranking for a wide range of terms you didn’t consider. Those rankings are very important, and you have to include them in your analysis of SEO success.
So always keep your web site traffic reports handy, and monitor the relevance, diversity and percentage of traffic driven to your site by your SEO marketing campaign. You’ll probably walk away feeling even better about your investment.