KPIs definition, data accuracy, segmentation, and all those analytics best practices our readers know by heart apply to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It is just a question of narrowing traffic types to Organic and some Referral (link building thing), right? Kinda.
A Definition Of SEO
SEO is a compound of disciplines bringing the maximum amount of non-paid converting traffic from SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) to your site. This makes measuring the performance of SEO campaigns really simple.
Sneaky SEOs have been airing the idea for years that SEO work is finished when they bring non-paid traffic at the door of your site without considering if it converts and by how much. Let me save you some money: if your SEO agency/consultant is the kind that just sends to you monthly keywords ranking reports, fire them immediately.
If you need more context on SEO, here is a short video explaining it.
The Nature Of SEO
We run almost blind when it comes to this practice. Search Engines share only partial information about how their ranking algorithms work. Only the exchange of information, trial & error, and tons of hours of analysis give us insights into the hundreds of factors and their relative weight influencing SERPs.
The rest of online advertising practices seem exact sciences to us consultants, especially if compared to enterprise SEO where it all gets extra complicated.
Two more stones in our path to glory. Can you imagine an A/B test where, once you try to implement it, changes take weeks or months to be visible to users? This is how Search Engines operate: they index quickly but reevaluate relevancy (thus rankings) slowly. Even more fun, el Señor Google made some changes and a remarkable chunk of keywords triggering visits to our site are now reported as '(not provided)', up to 50% in some cases. Thanks amigo.
Crazy eh? Thankfully, we love to be challenged. In such a scenario, analytics or just plain analysis is more crucial for SEO than ever.
Half the picture. Data from web analytics tools
Despite the issues mentioned before, web analytics solutions do give us truckloads of relevant data which help answer key questions and fine tune SEO work.
Is our site matching their search intentions?
What kind of content is doing a better job engaging the audience or converting visitors to customers?
Are our product images fully optimized for search engines? Do they assist conversions?
Isn't that enough? Why is it half of the picture? Because the journey ends in our site, hopefully, but starts with someone typing keywords in a search engine, a very important piece of the puzzle.
Web analytics' data + SERPs analysis
Is there any decent analytics tool/data telling us what is happening at SERPs level? Well, we have some numbers for short periods of time kindly offered by major search engines' webmaster tools.
They offer some metrics like impressions, clicks, CTR, and rankings for keywords making your URLs (and which ones) appear at SERPs. What they don't offer:
Accurate data. Numbers are rounded, keywords are missed, not all activity is reported.
An easy way to match this data with the one coming from your favorite web analytics tool. This idea of not making it easy for you to see both sides of the coin.
Data for longer periods of time at Google Webmaster Tools (only two months) or historical data. No way to check what happened 5 months ago for example unless you accumulate data your own way. Bing Google Webmaster Tools is doing better in this case but they still represent a small share of traffic.
It is not fantastic but it gives a sneak peak to the other side of the fence. If you want to go further you have to be creative:
Create your own tools to scrap analyze SERPs and pre-cook data.
Pay third party tools to get SERPs data.
Use some data analysis tools to mix data from SERPs analysis, Webmaster Tools, web analytics tools and make some sense of it all like NextAnalytics, Tableau or just old school "spreadsheet + CSV + lookup formulas."
Ok, we are done here, or are we? Not so fast Speedy Gonzales.
Three-Dimensional SEO View
There is a saying as of late: users are the new algorithm.
Right, Social Media is here to stay and Likes, ReTweets, Google+s, Pin-its, mentions, citations, comments and such are part of the ranking algorithms search engines are using to evaluate the popularity and relevancy of a page/site.
How much? We SEOs have no idea, as usual, but figuring this out is the job of an analyst.
What about the second pillar of SEO? Yes, link building has been, and still is, a key factor. Analytics tools tell us the visits from a referral link but it is not giving us any remote idea of the quality of the link what is a very relevant factor.
This is where we go from a flat map to a 3D one adding more data sources to the previous mix of SERPs + on site analysis. Web analytics solutions are giving baby steps to incorporate those metrics to make our life easier. However, there are many other signals from social media channels SEOs would like to have under their microscope, so we have to continue being creative in our particular pursuit of light helping us break through the black boxes that are algorithms.
SEO is a challenging discipline. Search engines evolve quickly, introducing changes overnight that can tear down what you have been constructing for months, unless you keep the mindset of the analyst:
Understanding the audience you target. Obvious but frequently despised.
Tailoring the appropriate SEO strategies aligned with business objectives.
Measuring every possible bit of information from every relevant source.
Predicting as much as you can about what the conversion process of search may look like with the help of deep site analysis, search engine data, and social media channel data. Not to mention all kinds of devices where a search box is available.