From rankings to revenue: How one SEO helps clients make the metrics shift

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I wanted to share some firsthand advice to help you convert your clients, your boss, or your sales force from rankings to revenue.

To give you some background, I work for a plastic surgery internet marketing company. In this niche, vanity is the name of the game, so showing up at the top of the search results was the only metric any of our clients cared about – and usually for terms that offered no value to their practice.

When I took over the internet marketing department in 2009 one of the first things I tasked myself with was client and sales education – an effort I have continued to date.

So when I talk about these things, I know exactly what many of you are up against and how hard it can be to get people to change.

Overcoming the rankings hurdle

This is going to be the first hurdle you’ll have to face, and I guarantee you it will be the hardest.

You can make it easier on yourself by using the data in your favor. Talk to your client, your boss, whoever and find out what terms matter to them.

Then take that data and identify how many of those terms are currently ranking, then dive a little deeper and identify how much traffic those terms have actually provided or converted.

In my particular case, this was usually enough to start to open up the eyes of the client. When you show someone that their most sacred term ranks first but has driven only two visits and zero conversions, they’re going to start to think.

Still not getting through? Show them the impact of personalization and localization on some of their terms, and how ranking reports are becoming less reliable.

Metrics that show your efforts matter

Once you’ve opened your client’s eyes, it’s time to help them understand some new metrics that are important to their bottom line.

Organic visitor growth

This one might seem obvious, but where I feel a lot of SEOs miss out is reporting actual organic search growth and not just overall traffic growth.

While our efforts should provide overall traffic growth, one way to attach value directly from an SEO standpoint is to look at overall visitor growth from organic search. In Raven Tools you can access this via the Engine tab under Analytics. Just be sure to filter it by non-paid search. This section will provide you with data on traffic driven to the site solely through organic search, which is what you as an SEO are optimizing for.

Again, don’t discount growth from overall visits, but if you need to prove SEO value this is one place you can do it.

Non-branded keyword traffic

Overall organic search growth is a great gauge of your efforts, but if you want to drill it down even further and show themes related to your keyword efforts, non-branded keyword traffic is the way to go.

In Raven Tools you can throw -”brand name”, -”” and the like into the search field under keywords in the analytics section and get a complete list of keywords that drove traffic to your website that are unrelated to your brand.

Export this data and group it together with relevant keyword themes that are a direct result of your efforts. I did this with a client, and they were amazed to see that they weren’t only getting new traffic for the keyword they were hoping to rank for, but a number of other relevant high traffic terms as well.


Your efforts are meaningless if they aren’t contributing to the company bottom line. You should ideally be reporting conversion data already, but if you’re not – now is your chance. And if you are, dive deeper into your data and show how many of those were as a result of organic search traffic.

Actionable metrics

There are a number of other metrics that can also be used to display how something the client is doing is – or isn’t – working.

Do they think their product or service page is the bee’s knees, but it lacks substance and suffers from high bounce rates? These are action points you can improve upon to show value for the work you do.

Not sure what metrics to look at or work with? Give this piece from Avinash Kaushik a read – it’s chock full of metrics to consider based on the size of the business in question.

Don’t give up

Yes, rankings are a metric, but they are a metric that has been less and less reliable over the years. True SEO success is measured by how your efforts impact the bottom line of your client.

Once you can attribute your efforts to money made, the ranking reports you send out every month will mean less and less – and the amount of money your efforts earned the company will matter more.

If your clients are struggling with the change, wean them off of rankings by showing them average rank data in Google Analytics. This can give them some added insight into where they rank on average, and it may even help solidify the idea that the rankings they see aren’t always what they appear. (Note: If you haven’t connected Google Webmaster Tools with Google Analytics, this report will not be available.)

Changing a client’s perspective is not always an easy task, and not every client will be a believer right away. But if you stick to it and educate them as you go, they are bound to come around sooner or later. The key is honesty and communication.

You may have to do a little more hand holding during the transition, but as long as they know that something is happening and understand the successes of your efforts, they will come around.

I have seen this happen firsthand and can attest to the fact that even the most stubborn people can eventually see the light – if you spend enough time helping them understand how much money you can make them.

10 Responses to “From rankings to revenue: How one SEO helps clients make the metrics shift”

  1. RavenCourtney

    We’re not denying that rankings are an important metric to some. We’ve even recommended some solutions if you or your clients need rankings. This post is designed to be a resource to get a larger conversation going with clients.

  2. It’s not a matter of avoiding the metric. It the point that its an unreliable metric. The need to shift from ranking reports to other metrics stemmed from the fact that it became so unreliable. My east coast clients would see one thing, I would see another, and I’m sure their patients saw something else. Is it a metric that has some value? Sure, it makes our jobs a little bit easier at times. But this post was designed to get people talking about how it is a limited metric and that there are other things you can discuss with clients that will show them how you are helping their bottom line.

  3. As Courtney mentioned this post was to start the dialogue for SEO’s who maybe weren’t talking about these metrics with their clients. As you said, you can’t do most of this with Raven Tools. Which is fine with me. Raven Tools gives me a suite of tools that make my job a little bit easier and give me access to a single location with a general overview of what is going on with my clients.

    Different tools do different things for different people. There are a ton of things I wish Raven did that it didn’t, but at the end of the day I have been able to take what it does provide and integrate it into what I do and what I provide for my clients. It’s all in what works for your business. I agree Raven Tools is not for everyone. My goal here was to give those folks sticking with Raven a means of transitioning away from rankings reports to other vital metrics.

    • I get your goals and certainly don’t mean any offence and agree the debate here has been ignited great…

      The point I think I was trying to make is that you can’t take away a valuable piece of the jigsaw and not supply the right tools either… or rather guide us toward the right tools.

      1) Organic Visitor Growth – (Analytics -> Engine -> Non-Paid Search – as soon as the SERPS is removed I fail to see what I can use this tool for, as I’ll no longer be able to analyse and ‘do’ something with my results.

      2) Non-Branded Keywords – I get that from Analytics – and in Raven it is again useless as I won’t in the future be able to ‘do’ anything with it

      3) Conversion Analysis – Raven has very poor tools for this… Reporting is complicated and generalist, or you have to repeat multiple reports for individual conversion points. Basically not nearly detailed enough.

      In general I really do appreciate the conversation here, Don’t get me wrong… however we need the right tools if we are to ‘educate’ our clients to a better tools set. Here in lies the issue at heart. Those better tools are currently just not there

      • Good post…
        Appreciable intentions…

        Customer who hears these arguments would answer me:

        – The keywords perfectly positioned on google not brought visitors or conversions? Your fault that you did not choose the right keywords and the landing were not build well, but this does not take away any value to the rank on Google

        – Increase in organic traffic? And how do you get this result if not the best rankings on Google???

        – Increase in visits originated by non-branded keywords? It is not always a metric based on rankings on Google???

        In addition, all this organizational revolution that Google and Raven will crave for a SEO worker huge exposure towards its customers, because the metrics that replace the rank are much less secure. It may well happen a period with decreasing organic searches despite the best SEO work and what will we say to our customers? Why should they pay us?

        In this way eavery existing metric will become unuseful for you and Google.

        Let’s face it, Google continues its climb to the killing of the SEO profession, forbids others to scrape his data when he hourly scrapes data from all sites in the world and finally have convinced Raven to become a Google internal tool which may soon be absorbed or replaced by proprietary tools owned by Cutts.

        Very depressing for us …
        I will try to learn a completely different job before it’s too late ……

  4. That line was taken out of context. If you keep the entire quote,

    “You can make it easier on yourself by using the data in your favor. Talk to your client, your boss, whoever and find out what terms matter to them.

    Then take that data and identify how many of those terms are currently ranking, then dive a little deeper and identify how much traffic those terms have actually provided or converted.”

    you will see that it’s just a step in the process of showing them that their golden egg (“x” keyword to rank “y” position) isn’t the most important thing. Heck, even getting traffic from the keyword doesn’t matter as a metric if it’s not accomplishing the end goal (leads, sales, micro-conversions such as newsletter signups, etc).

    Keep the text within context. Focus on providing value to clients, don’t provide metrics that are easy and “quantifiable” in the clients eyes. If that’s all you do then that’s just pure laziness (not saying it is all you do, I’m sure you do more; but, just saying).

    Case in point: Sat down with a potential client yesterday to discuss a site redesign & their SEO. The firm they are currently with wasn’t even submitting reports until they got on their case about it, and when they did start providing reports, it consisted of two things, a) PDF print off of the standard GA dashboard, and b) 4 pages of locally-specific keyword rankings that we could have had them rank for within a month. These 4 pages of keywords that, 50-75% were #1 rankings, drove 333 unique visitors per month. To take that a step further, the company had no idea if any of that traffic was converting into leads / sales for them.

    In this instance, are keyword reports essential? They were told they were, mostly because it was an easy thing to report on, and because they were told they were important that’s what they are currently focused on in terms of someone being successful.

    (they told me, “our main goal is to rank #1 for every keyword we want that’s related to our business”. I asked “why”. They said “because it’s important and it is how they gauge success”. I asked “why”. There was a long pause…).

    As you can see, the ease of using keyword rankings as a metric to report on can be a misleading thing, because rankings as a metric by themselves don’t tell us anything and don’t necessarily accomplish our end goals (typically the bottom line of the company).

    I appreciate and believe in the move that Raven is making (good job by the way, guys, it was a hard business decision, but one I commend you on making). While we are not a subscriber to the tools (yet), I think there was a lot of consideration put in on the decision that was geared towards the overall benefit of their overall client base (not just based on the people that use keyword rankings for reports).

    So, while you’re correct in the end – keywords and their rankings matter, because it equates to traffic, which can equate to your end goal (leads, sales, etc.), they’re not a great stand alone metric that shows a client true success. Additionally, as mentioned in the post, they are becoming increasingly difficult to report on accurately, which at the end of the day, matters a lot.

    Just my 2 cents worth of thoughts (okay, maybe more like a couple bucks, but who’s counting 😉 ).