Modern SEO KPIs For the Evolving Practitioner

Posted in SEO

The practice of SEO necessarily focuses on granular tactics to achieve success.  We all know the drill. “SEO” has always meant keyword research, tag writing, targeted creation of recurrent and valuable content, internal and external link building, eliminating duplicate content, and other technical CMS (content management system) fixes. These days SEO, for the purpose of increasing organic prominence, also means holistically mashing tagged content into social distribution networks, unselfish listening, sharing and mutually beneficial outreach by active community managers.

But what are reasonable goals for the modern SEO practitioner, now that keyword “ranking” reports have been long rendered obsolete? How have objectives and measurements changed over time? How should we measure success in the brave new SEO world, where social signals matter real-time in Google organic SERPs?  This post explores a sampling of neo-classic and evolutionary SEO goals to measure success in a mashed up online marketing world.

In measuring SEO results, we usually begin with classic KPIs, though it’s astounding to note that many new clients have never measured SEO results past ranking reports and general keyword traffic.  Let’s start with a couple of timeless metrics, immortal in the modern SEO warrior’s analytic toolkit.  From there, we’ll touch upon SEO mashup KPIs, for the blended search and social real-time world. aimClear employs dozens of SEO KPIs, as standard operating procedures, working with our clients. This list is a tasty sampling and not meant to be comprehensive.

Non-Brand Keyword Traffic
Most every site should receive traffic for permutations of brand keywords, product names, anything unique that the client owns.  aimClear Blog has a pretty healthy distribution of non-brand KW terms, but most sites we first see are, at least to an extent dominated by brand terms.

For a deep look at how SEO activities have impacted results, filter these brand terms out and look at things.  In this case it’s easy. Things get a little trickier with long product lists, especially when the brand you’re filtering include industry terms.

I like what I see for our SEO efforts. Non-brand keyword traffic is trending upwards. For added insight, measure the distribution of this traffic by geographic location.

Global Distribution of Brand Keyword Traffic
This is a great KPI because it is a hybrid online, offline, PR, social and brand awareness measurement.  Some would say it is not a “pure” SEO KPI but, remember, this metric also speaks to the effectiveness of international CMS configuration.  Go the other direction from our previous KPI setup and filter out everything except brand terms. Then have a look at the distribution inbound brand keyword traffic, trending by country. Woopra makes easy work of this.  First, create the filter.

Apply it to check out trends. Here’s aimClear Blog’s brand-only keyword traffic trending by country.

For local SEO progress, get more granular and look at brand keyword traffic by City.

Keyword Market Share
I’ve been ranting about this measurement for years now, since the onset of personalized search.  Even though ranking reports have been dead for years, many clients still have rankings on the brain.  Since Google and Bing personalize results based on users affinities, as expressed by their searches, clicks and other behavior, everyone gets their own unique SERPs.

At the end of the day, 2 things we know with reasonable certainty are:

  1. Approximately (or at least proportionally) how many searches there are for a keyword in a given time period.
  2. How many of those searches resulted in traffic for that keyword on a site we control, with access to analytics.

Therefore only reasonable way to tell organic rankings for an individual keyword is to:

  • Understand inventory. Use keyword research tools to find out how often users search for the keyword.
  • Study analytics for your site and measure how many users come to your site by way of that keyword referral.

If 1000 people search for a keyword and 995 show up on your site, then you’ve attained decent organic “rankings” for that keyword.  If only 4 show up on the site, get to work. It’s likely that the keyword is not ranking well, your headline and description suck, or some combination thereof. Either way, it’s time for some aggressive SEO to attain prominence for the keyword. Go deeper and measure, not only traffic from the keyword, but also conversion. Conversion from keyword traffic is the ultimate SEO ranking KPI.  For more information read our post from April 27th 2008, Measuring SEO Success: Solve Personalized Search Misperceptions.

Google & Bing Universal SERPs For KW: Videos, Images, Tweets, News, Books & Other Blended Assets
Because search engines all serve up universal results, distributing rich digital assets, posted and shared around the net to show up for keyword searches, is essential.   From YouTube, Flickr to press releases and local SEO, measure the effectiveness of your SEO program by graphing organic prominence trends for videos, pictures, books, news, local results and other verticals.  This is completely crucial for modern SEO. Interestingly enough, quite a bit of this sort of “SEO” activity does not occur on your website.

For instance, tagging YouTube videos based on modern video keyword research is a big deal because best practices boost videos for keywords to attain organic prominence in Google and Bing’s organic universal SERPs.

This graph measures the lift of YouTube video presence in Google and Bing organic SERPs, pre and post tagging optimization.

Personalized search does come into play, so there are no absolutes. Still, you can get a good idea of what’s happening by various methods that minimize the personalization effect.

Social Media Profiles in Google & Bing SERPs
Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace and other mainstream social media profiles have multiple nodes that are indexed by Google and Bing.  Optimizing and link building to these profiles, within the social media community and from external sites, gives SEOs valuable assets to control organic SERPs with properties they control.

Generally speaking, the more friends you get internally in each community and the more you participate, the higher the results climb in organic SERPs.  Using keywords in tweets, tags and shared titles can cause SEO lift.  Again, optimizing social media profiles is activity that does not take place on your website. Check out this post from May 30th 2008 Take What Google Freely Gives: SEO Using Social Media Profiles. Optimizing social media assets to control prominence and SERPs sentiment is surely a modern SEO measurement.

Traffic From Social Media & Applications
Getting social profiles in organic SERPs is not enough in itself because we don’t own Facebook or Twitter.  The profiles need to be active and useful destinations for visitors, ideally that drive visitors back to your own website. The true modern SEO specialist measures traffic from social media profiles. It’s easy to set up an analytics segment to measure this.

While it’s not possible to know, in all cases, how the second hand visitor found the social media site in the first place, we count it as “SEO” success and measure trends of inbound traffic from social media overall and individual sites. Google’s analytics evangelist, Avinash, published a fascinating post in his blog (Occam’s Razor) about measuring social media traffic.  What’s fascinating is how Avinash handles traffic from applications, like TweetDeck, which do not send referrers to tie sources to the traffic.  This has been a huge problem for many.

Diversity Of Sites That Refer Volume of Inbound Traffic
In SEO, a great deal of emphasis is placed on building links from external sources. Links from good sites help build pages in your site for keywords.  That’s all well and good, but traffic from these sites is of importance too.

To measure SEO success, we track the count of unique websites and the volume of visitors each sends, both at the traffic and conversion level.

The New SEO
Yes, SEO has changed, but some things have stayed the same. Now SEO has a great deal to do with things that happen off site as well as optimizing on-site attributes.  The whole concept of organic prominence has changed and “share of voice” for keywords and concepts is woven into the fabric of SEO.

The metrics we’ve shared here are just the tip of the iceberg. Look to classic measurements as well as social and universal search mashups.  Happy SEO hunting!

  • Emily Mace

    Great post. I particularly agree with the monitoring of non branded traffic using Filters to including the brand name as well as product names and their variations. Using Google Analytics in this way is a fantastic way of monitoring the KPIs of a campaign and something I do frequently to provide a more meaningful insight into the traffic splits for a site.

    • Marty Weintraub

      @Emily Mace: Cool, glad the post resonated. We think it’s sharp to filter brand terms in and out, look at geographic distribution, diversity, volume, etc.. The rubber meets the road for me when we take it a step further and dial in organic conversion ratio for such segments. Keyword “Ranking on the brain” is followed closely by it’s sister ailment “Traffic on the brain.” Conversion is what matters, unless your KPI is raw branding traffic to where a client can truly say that exposure is the metric. Thanks for stopping by and your thoughtful comment Emily. :)

  • Tihomir Petrov

    Very great post. I also try to convince my customers that they first have to find which words in their trade sector are the most searchable and after that to put it in the content. But sometimes they just decide that “this” word is true without making a research :(