Marketing voices, part two: The changing metrics of SEO

Written by and published

When it comes to Internet marketing, things are constantly changing.

In the second half of our roundup of marketing opinions, we’ll focus on how SEO is evolving when it comes to strategy, metrics and quantifying your success.

Meet the marketers

Have you seen any SEO metrics change in importance? How do you communicate this evolution to stakeholders?

  • Mike ArnesenMike Arnesen: Ranking position is absolutely becoming less and less important every month. I remember when I first started my career in search and being able to report rankings that were the same on the West coast as they were on the East coast. Now, rankings vary from city to city, from data center to data center, from Google account to Google account. My task for the remainder of this year is to train clients to focus on metrics that truly matter. Another thing I used to have to look at when I first started out was the number of results using the site: search. We know now that those counts are completely unreliable. Glad I don’t have to do that anymore.
  • Phil Buckley: One metric that is not nearly as easy to leverage as it was a couple of years ago is building targeted backlinks. The old methods for evaluating a backlink portfolio have changed, and as usual SEOs are adapting. SEO agencies went through their own steriod era, like Major League Baseball, and we are now dropping out of it. There is a move to a more holistic marketing type of approach. Content that is actually worthy of attention, linkable and helpful is winning every single day. Spun, useless content isn’t even worth the time it takes to produce anymore. Agencies that can’t move towards the light will be struggling to keep up in the next few years.
  • Jon CooperJon Cooper: I think rankings in general are becoming a little less important, but only because the amount of traffic one sees from, say, a #1 position on a competitive SERP is steadily decreasing because a lot of real estate on those pages is now being taken up by other Google properties.
  • David Harry: I really think folks should try and tie in metrics with actual primary and secondary conversion points. Increases in brand awareness and search referrers are great, but we need to ultimately tie that into the goals of the site. How we get there keeps evolving, one can’t get locked into any one or two metrics.
    Less important:
    • PageRank
    • Keyword data in analytics (Thanks, Google!)
    • Rankings (Personalized and geo messed with it)
    More important:
    • Social referrer data
    • Search visibility (Inclusive of universal elements)
    • Localized related data (Mobile inclusive)
    • Non-search referrer data
    • Non-link citations (Entities et al)
    • Link data (Manual & Penguin issues)
    •Anything in Webmaster Tools
  • Jon Henshaw
  • Jon Henshaw: Ranking results used to be important to us several years ago (and still are to many SEOs). When we were an agency, many years before Raven was created, a big part of our SEO service was based on getting a client to rank well for a select list of short-tail keywords on Google. In time, we abandoned focusing on that metric in our client reporting. Instead, we started to focus more on increased organic traffic and how it resulted in goal completions and conversions for our clients. At the end of the day, the only thing our clients really cared about was whether or not our SEO efforts were making them more money or not, not if they ranked well for their ideal terms.
  • Danica Jones: I think what I’ve noticed is the way the Panda and Penguin changes have really taken the more “technical” trickery away and shifted the focus on the user-end experience. I believe the site architecture, semantics, metadata and the way you create relevance with those items still matters, but it is being read in a more authentic way, so the shift seems to be towards a more intuitive and authentic approach.
  • AJ KohnAJ Kohn: Before (not provided) I enjoyed using the number of keywords and number of landing pages in conjunction with indexed pages to come up with some metrics that were useful to track over time. You can still get to the number of landing pages, which can be very interesting, but the lack of keywords makes the rest of the metrics far less valid.
  • Justin Mattison: The one metric that I feel really mucks up the gears of SEO is rankings. Sure, this was the core of SEO three years ago, and it most definitely plays a role in achieving the goals of a campaign, but business owners can get overly concerned with how they’re ranking for particular phrases, to the point where it clouds their vision from the other benefits of their investment and the SEO factors they should be concerned with – like creating user personas, understanding on site behaviors and tailoring the right experience.
  • Adonna Pruette: Anchor text has been becoming a lot less important for me. I just haven’t found that this seems to improve anything in regards to rankings in quite a while.
  • Chris Savage: We have been trying to shift the focus away from strictly looking at ranking reports to a more overall view of organic traffic, conversions and revenue.
  • Jonathan Schikowski: I stopped caring too much about keywords in external anchor text. We still get great results for clients, and they generally don’t mind if their link profile is clean. Social media and the like turned out to be immensely helpful for everyone promoting anything – and it’s easy to explain to stakeholders that building a brand is valuable.
  • Sebastian-wenzelSebastian Wenzel: In a universal, local, mobile and social search world, the SERPs are clearly getting diluted with a lot of good, but also a lot of bad stuff. If you focus too much on keyword rankings you are going to lose in the long-run. Communication is here obviously a bit difficult, especially since a lot of people still want to rank for one specific term and don’t care about anything else.
  • Jesse Wojdylo: Total linkbacks is less important than quality linkbacks. Gaining natural, quality linkbacks just takes time.  Building powerful relationships through social media is the best way to get natural linkbacks.
Never Say No To Panda

The importance of different metrics changes over time, especially when Google algorithms are in play.

What’s your “pet metric?” If you’ve got one, can you explain why you like it?

  • Mike Arnesen: Don’t have one yet. Looking to develop some kind of meaningful “thematic ranking index”, but I haven’t had time to play with it yet.
  • Phil BuckleyPhil Buckley: I’m a big believer in a single number to give people an idea of their current “health” status. As much as we bitch and moan about how simplistic Klout is, it’s easy to understand and easy to explain in 10 seconds to the executive team. When I build a chart I try to cap it with a single number that encapsulates where the client is. One I like to share with clients is the cost of the organic traffic if they were paying for it via PPC. Because there’s a dollar amount tied to it, it is very easy to communicate. Showing a rise in organic traffic and saying, “You saved $50,000” is a powerful statement.
  • David HarryDavid Harry: Search referrer data (as it relates to) conversions. Isn’t that what we’re after ultimately? More traffic and building brand-lift is great and all, but if the client doesn’t make money, then we don’t. Beyond that, I like SearchMetrics’ search visibility data for client and competitor ‘at-a-glance’ kind of stuff.
  • Jon Henshaw: I’m most interested in results. In particular, results that only come from organic traffic. So I would say that my favorite metrics are events and goal completions related to organic traffic. If you set the tracking up correctly, you can gain a lot of insight into which content performs the best and then build off of that.
  • David Iwanow: Social engagement – the cumulative number of shares each content pieces receives.
  • AJ Kohn: I’m a big fan of rank indexes as long as you create them for the right query classe (e.g. – queries that are going to move your business.) Outside of that, I think it’s critical to track crawl by page type, indexation by page type and traffic/conversion by page type. I spend a lot of time getting clients to track the first two appropriately, and it always pays off.
  • Adonna Pruette: Exit traffic. I just personally like to see where people are headed when they leave a site.
  • Jesse Wojdylo: Total pageviews per article or website. This tells me how important this particular article is. I will check it daily and weekly to see what people are reading. It also gives me a better ideas as to what to write next.


What’s the last thing you read that made you rethink something about your SEO strategy?

  • Phil Buckley: I read a lot of SEO blogs every day but rarely see anything that really makes me rethink any core beliefs. That usually happens when I read something outside of the industry. Watching Mad Men has caused me to look at a problem differently. Sometimes reading one of Martin Smith’s rants at Scent Trail Marketing makes me stop and think.
  • Demian FarnworthDemian Farnworth: Had to be Search Plus Your World. This turned SEO on its head, at least what metrics you paid attention to. But I think it was a good thing, because now you are forced to pay attention to the conversion metrics and not just the vanity ones.
  • David Harry: I spend a great deal of time reading patents/papers to better understand how search engines work and the general evolution of Google. Nearly every time I do there will be a small change in my thinking and how I perceive the engines. This of course has a ripple affect into how I do things in SEO. And of course, anything written by ol’ Google itself has an effect. The rest is just educated guesses plus trial and error. We don’t change much because of what we read in the SEO blogoshpere.
  • Jon Henshaw:Every time I read something by AJ Kohn or Bill Slawski, I always consider how it might affect my current approach to SEO. AJ provides incredible analysis into what Google is up to, especially with Google+, while Bill reports on Google’s patents and how they might affect Google’s algorithm. They always provide me with food for thought.
  • Danica JonesDanica Jones: One of the better quick-read articles I’ve read recently – The New SEO = Social Engagement Optimization – touched on the way social engagement optimization has essentially become the new SEO – something I firmly believe. I didn’t necessarily rethink my social approach because I am an extremely early adopter that always believed in the power of social for visibility and ranking boost, but I DID completely ramp up the way I implement social optimization as it relates to website optimization and the content contained on all connected sites. I definitely encourage those hesitant about fully immersing in social to rethink their standpoint…especially when it comes to Google+ and Authorship. As soon as I started working on Authorship and rich snippets, the game really changed for many clients.
  • AJ Kohn: I’m not sure it’s any one thing but I’m really thinking a lot about how and where people are searching. The human computer interfaces have and will continue to change which will change the way people search and what they expect to get back in return.
  • Justin Mattison: Probably the most recent buzz going on that I’ve been trying to act on is the whole Schema/microdata movement. Now I’m always looking for ways to structure my data.
  • Megan PrittsMegan Pritts: I actually just finished reading Raven’s “28 SEO Metrics To Sell and Report to Clients” white paper. It was very helpful for me because I am a new SEO and it gave me insight into how to relay information to clients. I think I’ve been giving too little information and plan to expand my client reports.
  • Jonathan Schikowski: David Harry’s post on our blog about Google Webmaster Tools query data  – it’s something that I haven’t given much thought to previously, but that can actually be very helpful. In that regard, I’m glad that Raven pulls so much data out of Google Webmaster Tools – a huge time saver!
  • Sebastian Wenzel: I personally get influenced by small tips from speakers at shows or talks with friends, but the overall strategy stays pretty much the same. I especially don’t participate in the hype about new techniques, penalties or whatever is en vogue. Key for me is filtering the noise from quality information. The best advice I usually get is from a handful of good people.

What metrics matter most to you? Download our resource, 28 SEO Metrics That You Can Sell and Report to Clients , and get great tips on smart metrics and client communication.