Measuring SEO Success: Solve Personalized Search Misperceptions
Site owners all do it. It’s impossible to resist typing keywords into Google, searching to see where pages show up. Many seem to have no clue whatsoever that this classic self-test provides minimal insight as to actual rankings for keywords queried. The exercise barely matters.
Organic traffic from keywords is what does matter. Conversion from the traffic matters more. It’s the “average” Google ranking that is most important, a metric which unfortunately is impossible to measure directly. Organic traffic and conversion from keywords are the only true indicators, both of which are metrics-dependent on on expert use of analytics.
In light of personalized search it’s essential that everyone learn to measure natural search success properly, lest we get caught up in irrelevant vanity metrics. Reciprocally SEO professionals need to teach clients to judge organic progress properly by modern standards. Here’s some history and how-to behind the personalized search success-measurement conundrum and a blueprint for educating site owners.
At SES New York 2007, Danny Sullivan interviewed Marissa Mayer, Vice President, Search Products & User Experience at Google. They discussed the recent rollout and scaling of universal and personalized search. It was nothing short of total SEO upheaval. Even back then Mayer indicated that there were “tens of millions of personalized search users” already and called it “new science.” That morning I grit my teeth and stopped measuring organic prominence by rank-checking software forever. The results had been questionable for several months already.
Though we all knew changes were coming, the session laid out stark and exciting realities surrounding the irrevocable personalized search SEO shift. Attendees in the gilded New York Hilton ballroom understood the deep ramifications. The SEO color-by-numbers party was over. No longer would we be able to run absolute reports to test rankings. WebPosition, a classic rank checking tool-of-the-day, was already dead. Bummer…
The Good Ol’ Days
It was so easy in those days to paste a keyword list into a box, designate the search engines to test and run reports which clearly illustrated exactly where any page ranked. Site owners understood the concept and goals were easy to set: Site owners would say “I want to be number one for this or in the top 10 for that.” The measurements were bulletproof. Life as an SEO was pretty darn easy. Little did we know that all hell was about to break loose.
(Classic WebPosition Report)
Then the Sh*t Hit the Fan
Wounded site owners with tanked or missing organic rankings began showing up on our doorstep mid-summer 2007. Google had undertaken the most radical change to search results ever, introducing “Universal Search” which blends listings from its news, video, images, local and book search engines with traditional web page results. The organic SERPs as we knew them went away. That September we started using words like “digital assets,” “analytic segmentation” and discussing the new natural search reporting reality in earnest.
“The best search marketing firms measure organic prominence success by traffic and conversion resulting from organic search for keywords that matter.”
A year after the storied personalized search rollout, there is STILL a huge amount of misunderstanding regarding proper measurement of organic prominence. Many businesses simply can not seem to comprehend that an individual’s personal Google results, while pretty to look at, don’t really matter.
Teach Clients & Debunk Myths
Really, most site owners were just beginning to understand the old ways when things changed. Most of the world still has rankings on the brain disease and it’s critical that we SEOs educate the confused masses. It is in this light we share presentation bullet-points we use with clients to teach the concept of personalized search and offer new definitions for organic “prominence.”
When accepting any natural search engagement we now sit our clients down with this outline before the work begins to discuss until they understand. We hope you find it of benefit.
Measuring Organic Success in the Age of Personalized Search (Please feel free to share any additions to the outline)
- Everybody’s Google Results are different now
- When you search and click, Google learns what you like & personalizes results to please you and return more “relevant” results.
- Your “vanity” searches & clicks (for your own site) are rewarded, resulting in higher ranking in your own personalized results.
- This means YOUR results for your own site are probably candy-coated, since you visit your site all the time.
- Real-world average results are NOT necessarily as good. Bummer…
- Your searches & clicks for competitors affect your personalized results too, further skewing your perception.
- Last-generation reports like WebPosition don’t work any more.
- There is no way to absolutely associate a URL with a keyword ranking in Google
- The same applies, to varying degrees, to all mainstream search engines.
- Anyone who tells you otherwise is either incompetent, a liar, or both.
- The only true way to measure organic prominence is by traffic from keywords as revealed by analytics.
- Undertake classic keyword research.
- Install great analytics (Google Analytics, ClickTracks, etc…)
- Report which keywords are currently driving traffic & to a page and/or site-or not.
- Optimize the page
- Build links to the page
- Repeat from step 3
- Professional search marketers also measure conversion from organic traffic.
- A conversion can be a lead, a sale or whatever goals we set together.
- Quantity of organic traffic matters but not as much as quality. Good quality traffic converts.
- Set goals for organic traffic
- Tweak usability to nurture conversion
“Rankings on the brain” means refusal to accept this new reality. Symptoms include:
- Feeling bad because your site does not show up #1 in your own searches
- Feeling great because your site shows up #1 in your own searches
- Forgetting that organic traffic and conversion are all that matters
Clients all do it! They check Google franticly for some indication of how their sites rank for crucial keywords. We SEOs need to teach our clients that the method of Googling yourself and basing perceptions of success on personalized results is nearly useless in the bigger scheme. Analytics, conversion tracking and reporting are the new rank-checkers..