How Does Your SEO Measure Up? 852 Supreme Performance Metrics Tips From #SMX

Posted in Analytics, SMX West

Welcome to aimClear’s coverage of SMX West 2013!  Ahhh, Search Marketing Expo. Mainstay of the online marketing conference circuit, full-on buffet of seriously tasty brainchow, and a most wonderful reason we can think of to skedaddle off to sunny San Jose, California in the middle of Minnesota’s marathon winter season. Great timing!

But seriously. SMX West has much more to offer than a splendid backdrop and delightfully temperate weather. This event never fails to draw together a beautifully blended crowd of PPC pros, SEO master-ninjas, content kings and queens, social marketing mavens, and analytics enthusiasts.

On the morning of Day 1 here at SMX West, we found ourselves in the company of that last bunch – and gladly so. Prior to the conference, aimClear shared a sit-down with the ever-awesome Rhea Drysdale, CEO, Outspoken Media, Inc. Among other insights, she gave us a sneak peek behind her brainchild session, Essential SEO Analytics: The Performance Metrics That Truly Count (#smx #11B) — and it sounded so good we just had to sit in.

Joined by panelists Rob Bucci, Owner, STAT Search Analytics, Jon Henshaw, Co-Founder & Chief Product Officer, Raven Internet Marketing Tools, and Will Scott, President, Search Influence, Rhea led the trio through an insider’s tell-all chock-full of savory tips and tactics for measuring and proving the value of SEO efforts.

Yes, this once a not-that-hard task has been made increasingly complicated by the emergence of personalized, unique search results. #WOE! Thankfully, the panel was ready to “open their kimonos” (ou la la) and share actionable and effective techniques for measuring the weight of their SEO worth. aimClear live-tweeted this session via @beebow. Read on for the full effect!

Rhea took the stage and some crazy-bright lights illuminated the panel, which she thoughtfully introduced after welcoming the audience. Moderator and creator of the session, she was also the morning’s first speaker. Her rich presentation was packed with sage advice and measuring recommendations that spoke to the full spectrum of marketers, from enterprise to SMB, in-house to agency. There truly was something for everyone.

Welcome To The New Age
It’s no secret. SEO is evolving. Every day. It used to be easy to demonstrate your SEO value to a boss or client. You went to a rank checker, inserted your brand keywords, URLs, and voilà! Not so anymore. Not only is what you “do” for SEO changing, but how you measure what you do… that’s a shape-shifting series of metrics as well.

Rhea cruised through the timeline of this evolution, starting with the 2007 launch of personalized results for logged in Google users to Search Plus Your World. Location, search behavior, history, affiliation, social interactions – all of these factors and more impact the shape and content of our search engines, more so each day, it seems. This makes is much harder for site-owners to understand rank, and for marketers and SEOs to prove the worth and impact of what they do.

OH YEAH, also Google Analytics just doesn’t offer up the same kind of keyword data it used to. The Big G claims only 2% of KW data for sites should  be hidden, but Rhea reports seeing as much as 68% of Outspoken Media’s KW data marked as “not provided.” Bogus.

Despite all of this – it isn’t impossible to track the worth of your SEO! Rhea was ready to share her four favorite metrics to track when measuring SEO, but before that — her ultimate metric guidelines to follow:

  1. Get the leaders involved. Make sure there is clear communication between your client / boss so you’re all on the same page in terms of what you want to happen, how you plan to measure it, and what you plan to do with those measurements.
  2. Visually represent your metrics. No one wants to squint at a spreadsheet of a billion digits. Make visualizations of your data that clearly explain what’s up. Ven diagrams and ling graphs are groovy.
  3. Metrics must respond quickly. What’s the point of measuring something if you can’t act quickly, based on your findings?
  4. Metrics must be kept simple. ‘Nuff said.
  5. Metrics should drive only the most important activities. ‘Nuff said. 
  6. Limit the number of metrics. ‘Nuff said.
  7. Take corrective action. ‘Nuff said.

Put context to your metrics with a closed loop marketing cycle:

Analytics –> Marketing Planning –> Execution –> Feedback

Each informs and propels the other. Context is essential. Operating in a vacuum will harm your business, and as Rhea pointed out, the number one unspoken business objective is: “Don’t do harm to your business!” 

Some other dangers of operating in a vacuum:

  1. You lose sight of your business objectives.
  2. You focus on the wrong metrics.
  3. Motivate team with risky metrics.

Working Together In Perfect Harmony
Back to the guidelines, #1 truly is crucial. Consider a CEO who says, “We want to increase rank by 20%!” The SEO department hears, “We want more links!” The Social department hears, “We want more mentions!” The result? A rank-spanking by Google. The disconnect between what the CEO wanted and what the SEO and Social teams heard (and executed) caused harm.

What should have happened? The SEO team and social team should have worked together, and then worked with leader (CEO).  It’s about an integrated marketing! It’s about all sitting down together to help establish a clear understanding of what you all want and what you will do. (And how you will measure it!)

For one client hungry for better rankings, Rhea’s team devised a blogger outreach quality matrix featuring a combination of backlinks, engagement, and relevance.

  • Benefits of Matrix: Build relevance and longterm trust to the site, no footprints (because it’s natural), no risk, and true social success
  • Drawbacks: SEO team was so effective, there was overlap with the social department. Social thought SEO was stealing their mojo, and wanted SEO to just go build links to mommy bloggers. Rhea’s SEO team said, “Um, no.”

Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. A few weeks later, the client came back positively, after gathering everyone together and developing a strategy for success. Client developed its own internal process, became educated on risks, and the link quantity goal was exceeded. Win, win, win!

Fun From SEOMoz
Check out Fresh Web Explorer – enter a domain, and behold! The tool pulls in quantity of backlinks and citations and generates beautiful data visualizations. Rhea noted this is a new, great way to map mentions online in a quantifiable way to help us identify opportunities for SEO and social.

Rhea’s 4 Favorite Metrics

1) Organic traffic

  • View by: search engine, category, season, persona. Look at the data in different ways. Set up alerts in GA
  • Locate problems and opportunities with: analytics, Google updates, and technical changes

2) Conversions

  • View by: same as organic traffic
  • Locate problems and opportunities with: usability, product stock, & technical issues

3) Backlinks

  • View by: quantity, quality, relevance, location, anchor text distribution, domain authority
  • Locate problems and opportunities with: negative SEO, agency accountability, enterprise-level accountability

4) Indexed pages

  • View by: site-wide, subdomain, main templates / categories
  • Locate problems and opportunities with: manual penalties, algorithm updates, technical issues, duplicate content

phew! well done, Ms. Rhea! fabulous way to set the tone for the session & the conference. next up, @RavenJon

Last-minute essentials for success from Rhea:

  • An internal champion
  • Confidence – stand your ground
  • Reactive organization: observe, orient, decide, and act.

Go forth, and be awesome!

Rhea wrapped up and turned it over to Jon, who was set to continue the discussion of SEO performance metrics that actually matter.

“RAHHHHHH!” -Google, as heard by every SEO
If you’re an SEO, Google has been on a bit of a rampage lately, Jon began. It’s like Google woke up a few months ago in terms of people scraping its engine for SERPs. Keyword [not provided] sucks. :( Why, Google, why! What did we ever do to you???

Sadly, whining won’t change the facts. We’re going down a road that will lead to us not having access to ANY KWs anymore. We have to be ready for that.

“A lot of times in SEO,” Jon continued, “we have a sense of entitlement in terms of data.” Jon doesn’t blame Google for hanging on to certain data. He sees them as making business decisions, dealing with privacy, and avoiding law suits. Even though Google withholds some data, Webmaster Tools provides some juicy stuff, such as impressions for particular KWs people are searching on. From this data, we can identify SEO problems and opportunities – so be sure to spend some time there!

What Do Clients Really Want… And How To Get It
Your clients say they want better rankings. It’s more tightly-targeted traffic. And money! Jon suggests checking out http://bit.ly/YnDaOx, a tool for comprehensive event / goal tracking to show your client. After you set up your events / goals, set up an advanced segment in GA. Call it “organic traffic” This will allow us to drill down immediately to view all organic traffic.

Tip: Be sure to connect your Google Webmaster tools with your GA account so you can sync all data and view at once. Also, be sure to compare dates when viewing traffic– you can’t show improvement unless you’re doing comparative date ranges!

Did I Improve Your Site Traffic? 

  • Activate that organic advanced segment and keep it on for the remainder of your GA views
  • Head over to goals (set up thanks to that http://bit.ly/YnDaOx  tool)
  • With the advanced segment in place, view all of the events and goals that happened strictly from organic traffic
  • Another thing to check out: landing pages. You’ve been making improvements, have they been impactful overtime?
  • Export data as CSV and email to your clients to keep them in the loop
  • Et voila! Right?

No way, José. You can still do more! Jon’s approach: Referral Traffic + Goals + Links Built = Awesome . Add these variables together and cross analyze. Draw conclusions and use them to advise next steps.

The Roots of SEO
For many, SEO has become all about backlinks and ranking. Don’t forget the roots of SEO! On-site SEO. Make sure your site is completely optimized. Use a crawler like Screaming Frog, take the data and use it in a proposal (we should be doing this because this sucks…). Go make your changes based off that data – run the crawler again, cross-examine, see – what’s changed. What’s better?

Then, take all of that juicy data, and cross-reference it to GA with the advanced segments and comparative date ranges. Have fun. :)

Another nice perk: GA allows you to make report templates to share. Want the motherload? Check out: http://bit.ly/YnDYmq

With that special goodie, Jon finished his presentation and handed the mic over to Will Scott.

Who Are We? Why Are We Here?
What’s the reason we’re all here? We either have customers or are customers.The challenge of customers: they want to know what you’re doing if they’re paying you. Soooo demanding. Sadly, we can’t just say nice things to them. Eventually, we have to measure what we’re doing and show it’s impacting their goal.

Okay, so let’s do that! Assemble a fancy-lookin’ chart, add some colors and some bars… neat! Show it to the client. Hmmm, not impressed. Reporting means nothing if you don’t give them what they want ($ and leads). In other words, you have to do something with what you measure. (That’s what we’ve been saying!)

How can you do that?

Consider a web form on a landing page. Form asks for name, email address, phone number, and so on. Now, consider tacking extra things to track onto that form, courtesy of cookies. You can monitor things like… date form was visited, KWs that led to it, search type that led to it, etc. The point is to go as deep as you can go, measure all that you can measure, and do everything you possibly can with all that delicious data.

Multi-Channel Attribution & Getting The Credit You Deserve

  • Track back to referral source (FB, Google) – this is important, especially if you want to get paid (prove attribution)
  • Google Analytics just made it a lot easier to get the credit thanks to multi-channel attribution
  • Multi-channel attribution allows you to see the overlap between direct, paid, organic, referral, social – and see how they all play together, at the goal level
  • This allows you, the marketer, to go to your client and say — “Ahh, I know that lead looks like it came from an organic branded search (your doing), but it actually was initiated and assisted something attributable to me (i.e. pay up)
  • Drill down into all the sweet data. See what helped lead to the conversion. You’ll notice paid helping direct, organic helping referral, and so on.
  • What you’re seeing, then, are actually conversions – and not “hits”. This data allows you to see the whole path – all of their touch points before the conversion. Your goal here is to show you were 100% responsible for the traffic so you get the credit you deserve!

The Holy Grail of Local Business: Call Tracking
Everyone should be doing call tracking if it makes sense for their business type. However, in the eloquent words of Will Scott, “if you do it badly, you should be f*cking shot.” Also eloquently put, “Call tracking and local SEO go together like peanut butter and poo.”

Ew.

What does it mean!? Will’s point is that SEOs pushing out call-tracking numbers into the local SEO attention SEOs pushing out local numbers into the call tracking ecosystem? STOP!

  • Tip: Ue javascript to replace phone numbers dynamically in text and images
  • Observation: Microsites aren’t good enough. Robots.txt isn’t going to keep that number from indexing

Moral of the story (and conclusion of Will’s presentation): Pushing bad numbers into the local search ecosystem is EVIL. Don’t do it.

Last but not least! Rob, with a fascinatingly-named preso, “How To Keep Your Job And Not End Up Working As A Street Mime.”

The audience came to full attention.

Measure Metrics & Stay On Course!
As SEOs, what do we do? We identify opportunities, develop a strategy, execute, and measure. This last step is completely crucial. We have to measure to stay on course. If we don’t, we will just spin off into a random direction. Performance metrics help us understand where we were, where we are now, and how we got there. Tracking metrics show value and help prove ROI.

It’s essential to measure… but… measure what? There’s soooooo much data out there! Well, there should be. If you can’t look at your decisions from multiple data-driven perspectives, you’re not measuring enough data. If there’s a problem in sales, or conversions, or SEO, or social, or SEM – it’s every other departments problem by some relation or another. Measuring everything allows you to close the loop, solve the problem, and generally be awesome.

“Ignore Rankings!” – Stupid Industry Pundits
Rob said this awful and backwards advice was akin to telling a football player to ignore yard lines. It just doesn’t work that way. In fact, an SEOmoz survey concluded that the top 3 most important metrics to site-owners and marketers are (1) traffic data (2) conversion data and (3) ranking data. Booyah!

So, we know ranking is not to be ignored. But people have bad habits when it comes to measuring rankings, Rob pointed out. Let’s explore some best practices for ranking.

SERP Analytics – Analyzing Search Engine Result Pages Like A Pro
SERP analytics represents a more comprehensive approach to measuring rankings and overall SEO efforts. But SERP analytics isn’t just about focusing on your KWs and brand rank – it’s about analyzing everyone on the SERP. Steps you should consider following…

  1. Think about all the KWs people use to find your products and / or service– short tail, long tail, terms you dominate, terms competitors dominate– everything.
  2. Segment ruthlessly. Be as granular as possible. Tag KWs from every angle. For example: product category… zero-in on multiple categories to color, size, to qualitative KWs & modifiers. Other segment ideas… psychographics, customer intent, etc.
  3. Take all of your segments, put them into buckets. Have as many as you want. Populate with as many segments as appropriate. This method of segmenting gives us some fine-tuned control! Slice and measure in any way you want.
  4. Drill down to a single KW, or view by bucket. The beauty of this method: You get big picture metrics coupled with fine-tuned visibility and control.

Now, onto some specific metrics.

  1. SERP share. Tally how many times you see each domain (frequency count). Which appear within 1-3? Who’s a competitor? Repeat this process for different SERP distributions. How much do you control? This is a great competitive benchmark.
  2. Ranking distributions. Where are we clustering? Understand where rankings fall on the SERP for any segment or bucket. Look at the first 100 ranking on an SERP and count how many times your domain appears at each ranking position. Plot where your rankings are clusters on the SERP.
  3. URL frequency. What content is ranking the highest? Count the # of times specific URLs appear in SERPs and their rank. This tells us what appears most often for this bucket.

(By the way, everything you’re doing here, you should do for your competitors as well! :) )

We’ve heard it before, but the best thing about ranking over time is it allows you to understand where you’re at year over year, month over month, day by day. All of the data you amass affords you the opportunity to draw some SRSLY deep conclusions and, yep, PROVE your SEO efforts!

Final takeaways from Rob:

  • Don’t listen when people say you should focus on this metric rather than that metric. This is data-driven marketing! The more metrics, the merrier.
  • Educate clients not to focus on ranking alone. That’s far too simplistic and short-sighted (but don’t ignore rankings, either).

And there you have it! A big thank you to the panelists for fabulous presentations and a great start to what’s sure to be a super-dope conference. Stick around aimClear Blog for more coverage straight from the convention center, and of course, follow along with yours truly @beebow for continued live tweets!

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