"I want to be number one on Google for (insert hyper-competitive keyphrase here)."
It's usually the first thing we hear in terms of search engine optimization - a company wants to be in that coveted top spot on Google, Yahoo!, Ask, and MSN. No matter the industry or specialty, when companies approach us with their desired goals for an SEO campaign, it's usually all about improving their rankings and positions ... and often nothing else. Yes, achieving first page rankings or top spots on the search engines is an incredibly desirable accomplishment to many companies who want immediate and noticeable results. But with such a considerable investment in an SEO campaign, you'd think companies in need of search engine optimization services would also be concerned with their overall ROI, especially in light of the current economy.
Vastly improved (or even #1) rankings are rather easy to achieve in an SEO campaign, even by a novice search engine optimization company. I once wrote an article demonstrating that top rankings were simple - and proved it by optimizing the article for the phrase "Leprechaun Repellent." To this day, that article, on various sites, takes up nine of the top ten spots on Google for the ridiculous phrase. The obvious question, then, is what those rankings ultimately accomplish. And so we peel back the layers of the onion until we get there.
The First Layer - Rankings
Rankings, rankings, rankings. This is by far the most popular metric for any SEO campaign. Occasionally, a search engine optimization company may not be concerned with your bottom line because it can offer guarantees and focus exclusively on achieving this goal (even though, as in the 'Leprechaun' example above, it's really not getting you anywhere significant in the long run).
Rankings by themselves mean little, and the problem with companies obsessed over rankings is that it doesn't demonstrate the usefulness of search engine optimization. For a company website, high rankings are great (and impressive for an SEO campaign), but they are just the first layer of the onion. As any good search engine optimization company will demonstrate, our goal is (and yours should be) to bring and/or improve the levels of high quality traffic to your website, meaning visitors who come to your website via a search are already reasonably interested in your products or services.
The Second Layer - Search-Engine Referred Traffic
Increasing search-referred traffic is not a perfect metric because, if visitors are not converting on your website, there's not a big value proposition to be had. Alone, the metric relies heavily on the right keyphrase selection by your search engine optimization company during the beginning phases of your SEO campaign.
Say that a farming supply company who wanted to be number one on Google for "affordable farming equipment" decided to try a different tactic while attempting to improve its search-engine referred traffic. If the website had been optimized for 'Britney Spears,' for example, traffic levels would undoubtedly be high (if the site ranked well for the term - admittedly a huge challenge), but few visitors would be converting, and business, in turn, would be far from booming. Visitors will jump ship immediately and serve as an immediate reminder of the negative impact that poor phrase selection by your search engine optimization company can have on your long-term ROI.
The Third Layer - Take Rate
Essentially, the take rate refers to the number or percentage of search-referred visitors showing interest in your products or demos (your POA or Point-of-Action). The take rate merely signifies a visitor who demonstrates an interest in your POA, for example, by clicking on a "Contact Us" link. The data you're gauging here is simply overall interest, since not all of the visitors will follow through and actually convert.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve your take rate during the SEO campaign - making the point-of-action blatant and clear on every page is usually the most effective (but overlooked) method. Collaborating with your search engine optimization company to make certain that the primary POA on your website is indeed the most desirable action that a visitor can take is of paramount importance.
The Fourth Layer - Conversion
The Fifth Layer - Offsite Metrics
If a client allows it, we like to get involved in the nitty-gritty of offsite metrics as part of the SEO campaign. Though the usual search engine optimization company doesn't go this far into the process, this area alone proves invaluable to demonstrating your ROI.
By analyzing offline metrics on a granular level, your search engine optimization company can examine and report on your average dollar sale for search-referred traffic, the average dollar value of each search-referred lead, the average lifetime value of each search-referred lead, and much, much more.
A software system is usually required to report the data acquired during your SEO campaign; we use Salesforce, a leading CRM (customer relationship management) solution that can be implemented to track these statistics for you. Though it requires diligence to analyze (as well as follow leads from cradle to grave), your company can analyze which engines attracted the most visitors, which keyphrases were the most profitable, the value of customers, and retention levels.
More than Rankings
All layers of the onion, so to speak, are important to an SEO campaign, but the closer you get to the actual dollar return, the more accurate your assessment of success or failure will be. Rankings alone are no indication of success. For that matter, neither is search-referred traffic if the visitors don't take an action on the site that can lead to a sale. And when the lead finally comes in, there is no way to track the value unless you follow up with offline metrics to determine exactly how much leads from your website are worth.
These are all base metrics - many campaigns are much more involved and use thousands of different data points. But if you are new to the conversion/ROI game and are thinking about hiring a search engine optimization company, make sure that its goal is to be attuned to your bottom line.
Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, which was recently named the number one search engine optimization company in the world by PromotionWorld. Scott has contributed content to many publications including Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, WebProNews, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, DS Waters, and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. Visit MediumBlue.com to request a custom SEO guarantee based on your goals and your data.
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