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How do you measure the results of search engine optimisation (SEO)?
2010-11-22: Search engine optimisation is a set of techniques for raising you in Google's natural or organic search results so that you get more traffic to your website.
Google's organic search is still the top deliverer of website traffic.
So one thing you could measure is the increased traffic.
The most common way of doing that is to open a Google Analytics account and install the bit of software they give you onto every page of your website (your web developer knows how).
Once that's done, you just log into Analytics every day and you can see how many visitors you've had.
You can compare date periods, and you can look at only the traffic that came from search engines, only that which came through organic search, and finally, you can see which search phrases the searcher used to find you, and you can select the phrase you want to study and see the results.
So let's say you've been doing some SEO work on "HP Printer Inks", you can compare the traffic arriving to your website after typing in that phrase in a period before you started your work to the traffic after and Analytics will tell you your percentage improvement.
The problem is, traffic is one thing, what if people don't like what they see? What if, in trying to optimise your website, you've made it a worse experience for visitors?
We really must be careful what we measure, and in this case it would probably be better to measure enquiries because that takes into account any rise in traffic along with any rise in your conversion rate. Just to explain that .. if 1 person fills in your enquiry form or buys something or joins your newsletter for every 100 visitors, you have a 1% conversion rate. Relatively minor changes can have a major effect on your conversion rate, so your SEO changes are likely to have an effect and it could be good or bad.
Analytics uses the idea of a 'goal'. Let's assume you want more traffic on "HP printer inks" because you want to sell those products, so you would set up your 'thank-you for purchasing' page as a goal in Analytics. Then you can track how many people arriving on your target search phrase purchased products.
Actually Analytics goes further. If you have an ecommerce store you can send Analytics the value of the order and the products purchased so it can report in more detail on which are your most profitable products, keyphrases, days, times of day/month and the rest.
So, how do you measure the results of SEO? Probably the best measure will be the increase in enquiries from the key phrases you have been targeting.
Presumably you also know the cost of an enquiry across your marketing efforts, so you can also compare SEO with the rest of your campaign.
The only problem with that is that SEO is like a branding ad .. the benefits come over the next few years because SEO position, once achieved, tends to be fairly stable, barring Google's fairly regular convulsions.
For example, if you start an SEO campaign .. they tend to be ongoing .. and it rumbles on for six months and you take a measure and see that enquiries from it are costing £5 each, and you know that your regular magazine ads are only costing £3 I wouldn't be too concerned because if you switch off your ads you've got nothing. If you switch off SEO, you've still got free enquiries coming in over the next few years. What you're doing with SEO is adding energy to your flywheel.
The other thing with SEO is that the higher you get in the search engines, the higher are your rewards. 42% of clicks go to the number one position. So your SEO rewards come later and an SEO campaign should be a continual part of your promotional programme.
So you should be choosing your target keyphrases very very carefully, taking into account competition, traffic volume, relevance, and your current ability to satisfy that traffic, in order to get the best results for your investment. Otherwise you could be spending money and not getting anywhere, or spending money and getting top positions for worthless search phrases.
So ..that's how you measure the results of an SEO campaign for budgetary assessment. For diagnostics and continual improvement, it's not just enquiries .. everything's relevant: time on page, bounce rate, number of pages seen, geography, time of day .. everything .. but that's another story.

By John Allsopp
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