Measuring SEO Performance

Visitors, Unique Visitors, Page Views, Average Time On Site, Bounces, Pages Receiving Organic Traffic, Keywords Per Landing Page, Long tail, Rankings, Backlinks? Sorry I don't buy it.

"You can't see the forest for the trees" situation here in my opinion. After reading quite a lot of articles about the topic that's my attempt to face measuring SEO performance in a scientific manner. Nothing spectacular but I like simple things that work great, I like to start from scratch after set aside everything learned previously.

Reasons why you should measure your SEO efforts? Answer with another question, does anybody have to tell you?

Observe user behaviour

Overwhelmed with so many metrics, dimensions, numbers, and charts in your web analytics tool? Get the head out of it, two steps back, a sip of a good espresso and perspective becomes very different.

What are the typical user behaviour patterns from search engines to goal completion or transaction? Not rocket science here:

  • Visits bouncing
  • Visits not bouncing not converting
  • Visits not bouncing and converting

Image speaks for itself

How to measure SEO performance
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Objective of SEO

At this stage of the twentieth century we should not be wasting time discussing what the objective of SEO is but you can still see articles talking about keywords rankings, volume of traffic as the sole purposes of this art, science or whatever you want to call the way we make a living.

'Pure SEO is not about conversions' Ouch! Go tell the client paying good money that you are not there to increase their benefits, if you have guts.

'Purists' against 'modern SEOs'? A nice topic for a bit of link bait but again, we are paid for a very clear purpose, the rest is cheap chit chat or plain scam.

Yes, of course some other disciplines like Conversion Rate Optimization are relevant to increase the number of visitors achieving a goal, especially at the end of the funnel, but CRO is going to play in the benefit of any medium bringing traffic to your door, not only organic one.

Social media campaigns have relative impact in organic branded traffic, hard to measure as any other branded medium but nor CRO neither SM or any other are excuses to forget about conversions in SEO.

The objective of SEO is to bring to your site the maximum amount of non-paid converting traffic from SERPs.

Interlude: No goals or e-commerce set up? Fix that and come back later.

Following the example of the previous picture this is what we work hard for:

  • Increase total amount of visits
  • Decrease visits bouncing
  • Decrease 'not bouncing not converting' visits
  • Increase 'not bouncing and converting' visits

Measure SEO preformance

In top of those three tasks if you also manage to increase revenue per converting visit, transactional sites obviously, then you are my SEO guru, not those "I-write-some-fancy-WP-plugins" title contenders.

Now we have a good perspective of how things are going in general terms it is much easier to:

  • Present in a silver crystal clear way how good you are as SEO consultant to your clients or audience
  • Drill down to diagnose effectiveness and improve it having relevant objectives in a more scientific procedure. Please, no more unorganized nonsense collections of metrics

SEO performance in 3 charts

I confess, I'm becoming a dashboard-aholic. Business objectives and KPIs defined first and then a good dashboard picturing them. It saves a lot of time going back and forth across your web analytics favourite tool reports. Only when some outliers need more analysis I come back to GA (mostly, I hate Torture SiteCataclysm).

So I tried to figure out the simplest dashboard for SEO performance evaluation and this is the result.

The one and only important chart

Client: Is the revenue coming from organic increasing? How much? That's the chart answering these questions so is the most important one. Note the visits from organic have a discrete trend line in the background, just to bring some context.

Measure SEO revenue

Only a chart for visits would make you think, "poor boy, his SEO is a shame" but the revenue shows a complete different history: "woohoo, this guy rocks!"

Performance chart

Getting a bit more into the interesting details, this chart shows the rate of quality visits from organic, the ones converting and how much money they spend per (converting) visit in their transactions.

Measure SEO revenue, visits converting

In other words, how many visits we are moving towards the third bucket.

Entrance chart

Having a clear vision of what is happening at the beginning of the funnel is important for us as consultants, not so for the client. Did they come to your door for nothing? Visits and bounce rate.

Visits and bounce rate from organic traffc

The more the bounce rate is decreased more quality visits are moved to the second bucket.

The all in one measuring performance chart

A different type of reportlet, a combination of percentages and trending arrows.

Measure your SEO expertise

Not complicated, just comparing month over moth the changes in volume in the three buckets plus a forth arrow on the right to show trend in revenue per visit.

  • ← ← Red, money and visits are running away, pretty bad
  • → ← Light red, although the bounces are decreasing the converting ones too, a bit worse than next one because althoug you are keeping the people in the house, money is flying away
  • ← → Light green, some of the 'non-bouncing not-converting' are escaping towards the bouncing visits, not good, but at least a portion of them are now converting, not so bad
  • → → Green, moving visits from the beginning of the funnel towards conversion. Good
  • → → ↑ Super Green, same then previous but also increasing revenue per visit

Ups and downs are part of this business, having some mediocre months from time to time is not something to scare you. Having several greens in a row demonstrates you are good or excellent. Finally you can't call yourself a SEO if reds last several months.

Now you can really check where in the scale from pure-crap-SEO to super-guru you are.

No metrics yet?

Ok, ok, you are right, time to add your favourite metrics to your SEO magic but always keeping in mind our scientific procedure.

From visits to conversion, decreasing bouncing traffic comes first. Pretty straightforward, what we know about these guys? The keywords they queried and landing pages they ended up from organic. 'fix and measure' mantra here.

If your SEO is good you will be moving visits from the first bucket to the second what mean more people likely to convert.

Second step, moving visits from the bucket of the 'not bouncing not converting' to the converting ones but now go on your own amigo, this is about measuring, not about telling you how to do it.

Don't forget seasonality or other external factors that might confuse you a bit like farmer pandas or any other delights search engines will have ready for you.

Well, in fact this measurement framework could be applied to any medium but SEO is what we discuss here. Again, you are free to tweak it if you have non-transactional goals or if you want other traffic mediums reflected there.

SEO Performance Dashboard

I'll make it easy for you. Feel free to download the SEO Performance Dashboard for e-commerce sites. A single click will tell your qualification, who said fear?.

NextAnalytics plugin for Excel is required to make this dashboard work. Buy it or download free demo here http://excel.nextanalytics.com. (Disclaimer: I don't get any money for this, I already paid my license. I do it because it is a tool I use daily, I like it and the support they offer is insuperable).

I hope you like my approach, constructive criticism is always welcome.

*All the charts and figures in this article are coming from the same real live site, no fake numbers here.

Apr 25, 2011
Written by:
Filed under: Analytics






9 comments
Apr 25, 2011
Posted by:
Ward Yaternick #1

That's a great analysis Ani, anybody could benefit from this; I hope it gets lots of organic visits. Anybody who runs a commercial web site should use this, the return on investment of time and money would be immediate. I am a bit afraid to apply it to my own site, I don't really want to know how poor our own marketing has been :).

Something happened to that company that was very significant last August. Up to then, visit volume had been dropping, but then all of sudden revenue conversion jumped. Perhaps a web site overhaul or some new products, or is that when you got involved in their SEO (good job!). We see the spike starting to happen leading up to Christmas. I wonder if we're going to see a drop off in the first half of the year again, hinting at an annual cyclical product/revenue cycle.

If this is the case, somebody might then say, can I see this as a comparison from matching period last year? I'd like it either as net change so I can see the magnitude of the change, or growth to let me segment and compare various profiles without worrying that one is much larger than the other. In short, I would imagine that companies with N month cycles would find value in comparing against matching prior periods, with the numbers showing as %, difference from, or growth against prior periods, in this case, same month last year.

Oops. Do you see what happened? Reading about one set of analytic reports led me to think about more analytics. That's why this is such a great industry; there's always plenty of useful and actionable things you can do with data.

Thanks for the dashboard I am sure it will help lots of people.

Apr 25, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #2

Thanks for your comment Ward.
This case is a very particular one as you can see. I want to write an article about, asking now for details to the SEO consultant doing the job (not me).

Right, just looking at charts and numbers with no further explanations of what happened and what was the strategy brings more questions than answers to the table.

Apr 25, 2011

It's really refreshing to read posts from SEO/Analytics people who keep their eye on the client's bottom line. This is a great post with some great take-aways. Reporting can be difficult for the best of us, but helping the client to understand the bigger picture, "the forest for the trees", as you put it, is the best way of doing SEO in my opinion. Thanks for the article Ani.

Apr 28, 2011
Posted by:
Chris #4

This has come at a good time for me! I'm looking for ways to trim my dashboard down, so this should be a great start!

Just wondering how you find the stats for "not bouncing, not converting" and "bouncing and converting" in Analytics? Is there a filer I can use to get these figures?

Thanks for the article.

Apr 29, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #5

Hi Chris
Most analytics tools are not flexible enough to pull the data you need in their out of the box reports even in the advanced ones like "not bouncing, not converting" so you have to use their API (Google Analytics API in this case) to make it work for you and not the other way round.

There are some great tools to help you with that offering a more visual query builders as you can see here http://www.google.com/analytics/apps/results?category=Reporting Tools but my favourite is the NextAnalytics plug-in for excel.

Cheers

May 16, 2011
Posted by:
Christian #6

Have tried to run the SEO report, but getting an error:

"Error: Error: System.Net.WebException: The remote Server returned an error: (400) Bad Request."

Have entered valid account (email/pw) and GA profile.

Would love to put this report to work!

May 17, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #7

Hi Christian
Just in case, the "Website Profile ID" you have to add is not the account one (like UA-XXXXXXX-1). Edit the profile you want to have in the dashboard and top left you will find something like "Profile ID: XXXXXXXX"

One more: the dashboard is for sites with e-commerce tracking enabled if not it will work anyway but it won't be as useful.

Jun 03, 2011
Posted by:
pere rovira #8

Hi Ani,

Really good article, wish all SEOs and Analysts were like you - but then maybe I wouldn't have a job :)

I would suggest segmenting your dashboard by brand and non-brand keywords, to prevent branding changes to affect your numbers (for instance, a client doing TV always gets a spike on organic traffic, but it's only a branding side-effect).

I usually also work out segmentations between long tail and head tail, to analyse my performance for what I think are very different type of queries (i.e. "hotels in barcelona" vs "hotel near cathedral barcelona"). By using regular expressions you can build very nice segments with GA according to number of words in the query.

What you think?

Really interesting as well this excel plugin you mention, didn't know about it. I always used Shuffle Point, but I am going to give it a look.

Thanks again! Hope you're having a great time and would love to hear your comments.

Cheers
Pere

Jun 03, 2011
Posted by:
Ani Lopez #9

Hi Pere, nice to see you around here.
Yes, you are right, branded and non-branded is something to split apart but I didn't go so far for this article or the dashboard. No much time to write blog posts lately :(

I tried several plugins / solutions and finally decided to work with the NextAnalytics one, it is great and their customer service is superb.

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