If you can’t measure your efforts and explain your results, you’re going to have a hard time justifying your marketing work.
Raven recently published a resource that looks at 28 SEO Metrics and how to use them to communicate the success of marketing campaigns – and thus, the value of your work – to clients.
Next, we wanted to get some different views on the topic. We asked 16 marketers from all industries and walks of life for their take on SEO, metrics and reporting.
Update: Karen of http://www.husplushave.dk recorded a reading of this post for your listening enjoyment.
Meet the marketers
- Mike Arnesen: Blogger and senior SEO Analyst at SwellPath
- Phil Buckley: Blogger and director of SEO at Virante
- Jon Cooper: Blogger and link builder at Point Blank SEO
- Demian Farnworth: Direct response copywriter for Copyblogger
- David Harry: Founder, SEO Training Dojo, owner of Search News Central
- Jon Henshaw: Co-founder and chief marketing officer at Raven Tools
- David Iwanow: SEO manager at Australian SEO agency Amnesia Razorfish
- Danica Jones: Social media strategist for OakTree Software
- AJ Kohn: Head of the online marketing firm Blind Five Year Old
- Justin Mattison: Senior website strategist for Overit Media
- Megan Pritts: SEO & Social media specialist for JP Enterprises, Inc
- Adonna Pruette: Freelance book publicist and digital consultant for published authors.
- Chris Savage: In-house SEO for SelectBlinds
- Jonathan Schikowski: German Language SEO and creator of Browseo
- Sebastian Wenzel: Affiliate marketer and author of Web Analytics Book
- Jesse Wojdylo: Social media fanatic and founder of Wojdylo Finance
Metrics that matter
Which SEO metrics do you pay attention to daily, weekly or monthly?
- Mike Arnesen: Overall organic, of course, but especially on non-branded search traffic, and we try to estimate for (not provided). We pay attention to rankings to a limited degree, but are migrating away from that since personalization and localization are starting to make it nearly irrelevant. We also look at organic CTR and rich snippet presentation/display and monitor top performing organic landing pages (in terms of goal completions, visit depth, bounce rate, and time on site).
- Phil Buckley: I try not to pay attention to very much week to week, mostly because there is a tremendous amount of flux that can cause you to go crazy. The main things I keep an eye on is if a core term drops off page 1. Monthly is where all the action is. I watch for new links to recently released content, old links falling away and make sure that core terms are continuing to trend in the upward direction. If the basket of terms has grown large, I start to watch long tail terms for better conversions.
- Jon Cooper: Mainly overall organic traffic. I do mostly authoritative link building without any concern of what the anchor text is, as well as what the page is the links are pointing to. The best way to measure this, I’ve found, is not through rankings but by overall organic traffic.
- David Harry: Outside of rankings, to the degree we can track, I’d have to say it is a lot of the stuff we see in Google Webmaster Tools and Analytics. And I’d break those into metrics that tell us where we stand (success metrics) and ones that are more preventative, on a forensic level. Some of the elements in Webmaster Tools we watch include:
• Site links
• Crawl errors
• Crawl stats
• Index status
• Blocked URLs
• Search queries
• Internal and external links
• HTML Improvements (TITLE and Meta-D)
• Content keywords
And in Google Analytics we watch search and non-search referrers, keyword data, (not provided) data, sales data (where applicable and tied to search terms) etc.
- Jon Henshaw: I mainly pay attention to content performance from organic traffic, and conversions from organic traffic.
- David Iwanow:I look at trends on a cumulative basis but spot check 1-2 keywords on a daily basis.
- Danica Jones: Daily, Google Analytics across the board – especially engagement so I know what I need to anticipate as far as content development goes. Weekly: social, primarily. I try not to look at the metrics for social each and every day and prefer to see a week-end review so I can see what worked and what didn’t and focus on noting any timing trends or customer interaction trends so I can better provide content for the social followers. Monthly, I run reports comparing various periods to one another, and run reports on a variety of metrics for my team.
- AJ Kohn: I’m looking at organic traffic on a daily basis, in particular productive organic traffic and how it is trending and comparing to other time periods. On a weekly basis I’m looking at rank indexes and Googlebot crawl patterns. Monthly, I’m looking at all of above as well as indexation rates and link profile changes.There are other metrics I’ll look at depending on the client, such as mentions and branded growth as well as structured data adoption rates. I’m a bit of an information junkie. But these are the ones I go to most often.
- Justin Mattison: It’s very much client-specific. We manage a wide variety of clients with a small team, so checking metrics daily isn’t something we really do. We have daily alerts set up in Google Analytics that will notify us if there are noticeable declines in visitors or goal completions. One of the more important numbers we do look at throughout the course of a month is the traffic coming to the site from non-branded organic search phrases.
- Megan Pritts: Daily: Mostly social metrics, when my clients’ and my own posts are getting the most feedback and what information generates feedback, ad keywords, site traffic. Weekly: Backlinks, keyword shifts. Monthly: Crawled pages, page speed, competitors.
- Adonna Pruette: Niche keyword rankings – initially daily/weekly, then as SEO efforts are coming online monthly is usually sufficient. Brand name traffic results first. Then 3- and 4-word keyword traffic. As a site sees results from brand traffic, I usually only keep a quarterly eye on it after that. Backlink numbers and locations. Variance in root linking domains – monthly checks, usually. Trafic spikes – massive spikes usually indicate hacker activity. Traffic activity from various social media locations to see which ones are being used effectively or need help. Weekly to monthly checks here depending on what outreach I’ve been doing.
- Chris Savage: Daily, I use custom Google Dashboards for non-branded organic traffic and revenue, overall revenue, and social media revenue. Weekly: Keyword ranking and traffic teports. Monthly: Social media reports (traffic, revenue, fan growth).
- Jonathan Schikowski: Traffic via search, and how that traffic converts. What people coming via search do on a site can be interesting as well.
- Sebastian Wenzel: On a daily basis I mostly look at traffic and conversions and check on-page issues/alerts. Over the course of a week or month I am mostly interested in trends and other more analytical KPIs to understand visitor behavior.
Also the overall number of rankings in the SERPs, CTRs, backlink velocity, citations and mentions are important to me. Overall I am trying to stay away from getting lost in too many details and rather work on the big picture.
- Jesse Wojdylo: Daily, it’s organic search visitors. Not so much concerned about time on site with these visitors. With social visitors, though, I am very concerned with time on site. I want them reading my entire article/content.
Over the course of a quarter or year, what kinds of benchmarks, milestones and goals do you set for yourself and/or your team?
- Mike Arnesen: For client-specific goals, it varies. We set out pretty aggressive goals for non-branded search traffic per quarter, but that goal (percentage gain year-over-year) varies from client to client based on their business, website history, resources, etc. We also work with our digital analytics and CRO team to make sure that the traffic we’re driving through search and social actual impacts our clients’ business goals.
- Phil Buckley: Longer term goals are almost always tied to two main metrics. First is client expectations around rankings. Clients are still very much tied to “first page rankings,” which is totally understandable. We look at rankings as a leading indicator of a more important goal: conversions. Because we can’t force better conversion optimization on a client, we try to load up with event tracking and micro-conversions to track what’s happening as more traffic arrives at the site. Benchmarks are going to be different depending on what a “conversion” is for each client. We usually want to track time on site, bounce rate and paid versus organic traffic as three metrics that give us feedback on if we’re doing our job. In a perfect world we would like traffic to be part social, part organic and part paid.
- Demian Farnworth: My personal goal is to write a blog post that gets the most social shares (simple gets more traction in social) but I also have to balance that with the segment of our audience who wants more detailed, advanced stuff. So I’m constantly trying to create something that is useful for the smarter crowd … and popular.
- David Harry: Increase targeted organic traffic or die. I guess that’s about the only measure that’s consistent. We do a lot of forensic consulting and audits. As such, many times it is just getting things back to normal (post-penalty or Panda/Penguin) that becomes the goal. Our goal is generally to solve client issues and move along. We don’t measure in terms of client acquisition growth.
- Jon Henshaw: I have a general goal and expectation for an overall increase in organic traffic, because that always correlates with increased brand exposure and conversions.
- David Iwanow: Organic traffic growth, improvement in average industry rank, uplift in conversions.
- AJ Kohn: It really depends on the client. Startups generally require higher growth curves, while more mature clients may have less aggressive growth overall but more precise goals around new or highly valuable traffic.
- Justin Mattison: Everything we track is, at the end state, tied to conversion. We understand that clients are looking to be able to show increased revenue year-over-year. It doesn’t matter if traffic is up, if users are more engaged – if they’re not ultimately converting, it is a waste of our client’s money. So that is what we track and that is what we prove.
- Adonna Pruette: I like to see an increase in incoming root domain links, consistent social media traffic, as well as which web pages are being served up the most to guide my content efforts.
- Chris Savage: We have quarterly and annual revenue, conversion rate and traffic goals for all sites.
- Jesse Wojdylo: Since Wojdylo Finance is so new, I like to see a double in overall search traffic each month. Social traffic is not as important for milestones as it depends on the virality of the articles I or my guest authors produce.
Communicating value through metrics
How do you explain to stakeholders what work you’re doing, and why it matters?
- Phil Buckley: I try to keep my client relationships as honest as I can. I’m often sharing information that will make them defensive, so I need them to know I’m not bullshitting them. I explain to them that their site is sick and I’m a physician that has a special set of skills. I can’t cure everything, but I can point out almost everything that is causing them pain. We are very up-front with new clients explaining that SEO isn’t something that happens over a weekend, it takes some time. Long term stability comes from long term planning and execution.
- Demian Farnworth: “Just trying to earn my keep,” which is shorthand for “I’m going to over-deliver.” Meaning I’m going to work hard, fast, and often, on things that are meaningful, which can include networking on social media or my blog. As a semi-visible face for the company, I view all I do as an investment in the promotion of the company.
- David Harry: There are many analogies we use. For example, when trying to explain how a search engine deals with topicality of a page we often use the ‘jaguar’ example. Is it a big cat? Am (American) football team? An operating system? A browser?
- Jon Henshaw: In our case, we’re all Internet marketers, so we all speak the same language. That’s the good part of having an in-house marketing department for a company that makes online marketing software.
- David Iwanow: Industry rank – how is their industry performing compared to them?
- Adonna Pruette: I like to compare their website to a boat in the ocean. They can have 10 fishing lines and no bites (really bad SEO), 1,000 fishing lines and a few bites (moderate SEO work), or 1,000 pages and lots of bites with people and traffic coming and going. Great SEO is a process, not just a project. They often think that SEO is a one time thing. Set it and forget it. That’s a terrible mistake that your web page competition just loves!
What do you report to your stakeholders, in terms of specific metrics?
- David Harry: What seems to be of the most importance is crafting reports that are informational and actionable. I was often guilty in years past of delivering reports that were far too detailed and convoluted. Oftentimes the actionable elements were buried and, well… not acted upon. A lot of folks should really try to avoid massive reports just to make it look like the spend was justified. I live by the ‘less-is-more’ credo now.
- Jon Henshaw: For us it’s about campaign performance. How well was the content, microsite or email message received, and did it result in new customers?
- Danica Jones: I use my Raven Tools reports to build out social media “overviews” that also couple with Google Analytics metrics like traffic sources, referral sources and engagement on a monthly basis, comparing to the previous period. I’m also watching daily to check for changes and shifts, and I will send out individual reports on site performance, keywords, competitor stats compared to our own, and any metrics that jump along with an analysis of why I think the jump occurred so my team understands.
- Megan Pritts: Keyword density, quality of website in terms of back-end design and page speed, searchability, social status and reach are all part of the reports I give my clients.
How often do you send out reports?
- Mike Arnesen: We send out reports to clients every month. For a few paid search clients, we do weekly reports and for a few “maintenance” clients with small budgets, we do quarterly site reports.
- Phil Buckley: Not as often as clients want. We would rather get on the phone with our clients and go over the metrics with them to discuss what’s happening and why. Sending out a PDF that never actually gets looked at is a waste of everyones time.
- Jon Henshaw: Since we use Raven, we can run them anytime we want, but we generally schedule them with our Report Wizard and send them out monthly.
- David Iwanow: They get weekly updates to dashboards but they can log in whenever they need to view data.
- Danica Jones: Steadily, monthly. For newer accounts, every couple weeks following the site launch for 60 days. For particular metrics I’m interested in showcasing for the client to open up discussion about marketing tactics, sometimes weekly, sometimes daily.
- Adonna Pruette: Monthly, when heavy SEO work is being done. Usually after that, quarterly is enough unless something big is going on.
- Chris Savage: Weekly, monthly, quarterly.
- Jonathan Schikowski: I teach clients to access the most important metrics themselves in their analytics software, so we normally don’t do ranking or traffic reports. But of course we want to be accountable for the work we do, so whatever we do gets reported, usually when a certain milestone has been reached.
Do you run reports for your own use? How do you use or view them differently?
- Phil Buckley: We track all of our clients’ sites and keywords on a daily basis looking for anomalies. That is internal and only flags us if/when something needs to be looked at. We tweak the “look at this” level for those reports as often as necessary. We try to keep the “look at this” report to a minimum so that it is actually looked at when it shows up in our inbox.
- David Iwanow: Our internal reports are custom. Depending on what data we need: backlinks, social signals, pages indexed, specific ranking reports for groups of keywords, link toxicity reports.
- Danica Jones: I run my own Raven reports all the time for my own records. Sometimes I am comparing metrics from before I got hired just for my own reference, sometimes I am looking at more drilled-down metrics from the Google analytics tools so I can see more about demographics, traffic flow and bounce rates for various groups, as well as conversions for some goals I have set up.
- AJ Kohn: I run my own reports and analysis all the time. I don’t share or send all of them because many of them don’t contain material insight. There’s movement and I can tease out progress but that’s generally the nuts and bolts instead of the finished product. The reports I share are ones that tell a story at a glance.
- Megan Pritts: I run all of the reports I can for my own use to better my clients ranking. I might show my clients ¼ of the information I have. I was always told to give enough, but not too much, information.
- Adonna Pruette: All of the time! I love to drill down and look deep into the details. I’m always looking for correlations in the data. I do have to be careful there as I could easily spend an entire day just looking over the reports of my clients data. It’s addictive! I get a lot of enjoyment out of figuring out exactly what is working.
- Jonathan Schikowski: Yes, on competitors’ link acquisition activities, for example. I also occasionally check rankings, even though I don’t include them in client reports.
- Sebastian Wenzel: I am focusing a lot on web analytics, social metrics and on-page data. Less and less on classic SEO KPIs since I just don’t have the time available.
That’s not all from our team of marketers. In Part Two, we discuss the changing face of SEO and how metrics are evolving along with it.
What do you think so far? Weigh in on any of our questions with your own thoughts in the comments.
And don’t forget to download our resource, 28 SEO Metrics to Sell and Report to Clients .