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Chapter 9. Tracking Results and Measuring Success

Chapter 9. Tracking Results and Measuring Success

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These are all valid objectives that relate directly to the business. Missing from this list are things

such as measuring rankings, measuring the total number of links, and measuring the average

cost per acquired link (organically obtained links still have a cost: the cost of the marketing

campaign to get them). These other measurements may be interesting, but they are not the

end goal.

Closely connected with this are direct drivers of results. These include parameters such as:

• Total site traffic

• Traffic to your most popular pages

• Keywords driving the traffic

• Keywords driving conversions

The mechanics of measuring results in terms of the main business goal should always be the

first set of measurements you put in place. From there you can diverge and look at other metrics

that might help you diagnose problems with the site or give you additional insight into how

to set up a campaign.



Why Measuring Success Is Essential to the SEO Process

Although quantifying deliverables and measuring progress are important for external reporting

purposes, it is just as important for SEO practitioners to measure the efficacy of their own efforts

to make timely adjustments as necessary. As you will see in this chapter, numerous tools are

available to aid in this process.

At the beginning of any SEO project it is wise to establish baseline data points for the website.

This includes the following:

• Quantifying organic search traffic by search engine and keyword

• Quantifying a baseline of the major keywords that are driving traffic by search engine

• Quantifying a breakout of what sections are getting the current organic search traffic by

search engine and keyword

• Quantifying data on conversions broken down by search engine and keyword

• Identifying poorly performing pages

• Tracking search engine crawler activity on the site

• Determining the number of indexed pages

• Identifying 404 error pages and external sites linking to these pages, if any

Remember: you cannot methodically improve what you cannot measure.

Defining and mapping the path toward concrete goals are crucial aspects of the SEO process—

and over time, some goals may change. Therefore, it is also important to make sure the data

you capture helps you understand your progress against these goals.



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In the world of web analytics, this is referred to as picking Actionable Key Performance

Indicators (or Actionable KPIs). The best data measurements are those that potentially result

in an action being taken in response. Think of this as data-driven decision making.



The Tracking Cycle: Produce, Launch, Measure, Refine

In summary, the basic process usually looks something like this:

1. Define an SEO campaign and set goals.

What are you going to accomplish, and what is the strategy for accomplishing it? How will

you measure progress?

2. Discuss your strategy.

The marketing and business development teams are your allies here—you want to ensure

that your SEO objectives are based on the overall business and site objectives, both longand short-term.

3. Establish a baseline.

Now that you are about to start and you have decided how you are going to measure

progress, establish a baseline by recording the current stats prior to beginning work. Make

sure you don’t get a false baseline due to seasonal factors or some other unusual event.

4. Proceed with your project.

Implement the new pages, the site changes, the link-building campaign, or whatever you

have planned. Put it in place and execute.

5. Collect data.

Collect the newest data for each metric you decided to focus on. Since this is SEO and SEO

can take many months to show results, make sure you wait long enough for your efforts

to have an impact. Of course, if you are a student of the process, you can take more

frequent measurements so that you can see how things begin to progress over time. For

many on-page changes, 60 to 90 days are enough, but for link-building campaigns it may

take six months or more to see the full impact. Many factors could influence the length

of time you should wait. Here are some of them:

• If your site is brand new, it may take longer for your changes to take effect.

• If the scope of the change is drastic (such as a complete redesign), the time to see results

will probably be longer.

• Sites that get crawled at great depth and frequency will probably yield results faster.

• Sites seen as authoritative may also show faster results.

6. Compare the baseline data to the new data.

The new data has little meaning unless it is compared to your baseline. This is the time

when you can really assess your progress.



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7. Refine your campaign.

Now that you have compared your old data with your new data, you can make some

decisions. Is the campaign a bust? If so, abandon it and move on to the next one. The old

business axiom “Fail quickly” applies here. The faster you diagnose a failure and move on

to the next thing, the better.

You may also find you are getting mediocre results. Examining the data more closely may give

you some ideas as to how you can improve those results. And if you are achieving great results,

look for ways to scale the effort and drive even more volume.



Using Analytics As a Business Case for SEO

You can use a properly structured plan as the business case for an SEO project. The way to do

this is to express the target results of an SEO project in terms of financial impact. You could

include a variety of metrics in a business case, such as:

• Revenue

• Lead generation

• Margin

• Branding value

• Reach

• Other action triggers (newsletter sign-ups, contact requests, demo requests, free-trial

acceptance, viewing a specific piece of content, etc.)

Measuring such things requires that you tie organic search engine visits to the revenue and

other conversions that result.



Measuring Search Traffic

Classic web analytics data is an incredible asset to SEO. Here are three examples of ways to

utilize this data for SEO purposes:

• Look at your daily referral reports to detect newly received inbound links (the great

majority of webmasters click on a link after implementing it, to make sure it works)

• Look at the search terms people use to come to your site to spot long tail search

opportunities

• Measure the results of your campaigns by tracking the increase in conversions you are

driving over time

Web analytics are a must-have for any web publisher.



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Basic Overview

Your hosting company most likely provides a free web analytics solution, such as AWStats,

Webalizer, or something similar. Although these tools provide valuable data, they are very

limited in scope, and other tools out there provide significantly more data. Here are six of the

best-known ones:

• Google Analytics

• Omniture

• Core Metrics

• Unica Affinium NetInsight

• Webtrends

• Yahoo! Web Analytics

Web analytics platforms track your site’s traffic in two major ways. The older of the two

methodologies is to use software that analyzes your web server logfiles after traffic has

occurred. Setting up this type of solution generally involves installing the software on an

internal server that is able to gain access to the logfiles.

The newer methodology involves implementing JavaScript tags on all of the pages of your

website. Provided that you have a basic template for your pages, this generally is a fairly

straightforward process. JavaScript then tracks the activity on your web pages as it happens

and builds a data profile reflecting that activity.



Selecting the Right Analytics Package

Logfile tracking and JavaScript tracking are equally valid methods, and each has its own

strengths and weaknesses. The biggest advantage of the logfile method is that you can track

search engine crawler activity on your site. This is something you cannot do in JavaScript

implementations, because search engine crawlers do not execute the JavaScript.

The second big advantage of a logfile-based solution is that you run the software in-house, so

no third party has a copy of a logfile with your proprietary traffic data on it. This distinction

can be a big security issue for some organizations.

Ultimately, most companies opt for JavaScript tracking because JavaScript offers a much

greater level of flexibility than logfiles. You can tweak the JavaScript to do custom conversion

tracking, or gather pages into logical groupings in a manner that cannot be done in logfilebased applications.

Some companies, such as Unica and Webtrends, will offer you both options, or they will even

offer the option to implement a combined solution. This kind of approach can bring you the

flexibility and power of JavaScript, but still get you your search engine robot crawling data as

well.



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Making this decision is only the first step in picking an analytics package. We listed six of the

more popular vendors earlier, and there are many more vendors than that. Each of these

packages has different strengths and weaknesses. Not only that, they all do their counting a

little bit differently. The chart from Stone Temple Consulting’s Web Analytics Shootout

report, shown in Figure 9-1, helps to illustrate the point.



FIGURE 9-1. Web analytics accuracy



The chart in Figure 9-1 shows the results of seven different analytics packages (listed on the

right). The traffic data for each vendor is reported across five different sites (represented by the

acronyms on the bottom).

On the AMD site, the lowest reporting package (HBX Analytics) shows a little less than 750,000

unique visitors, and the highest reporting package (Clicktracks) shows about 1,050,000 unique

visitors during the same period—almost 50% more!

These differences result from different decisions in how the analytics packages conduct visitor

tracking. None of them are right or wrong, they are just different in the exact thing they are

measuring.



NOTE

HBX Analytics, which is listed in Figure 9-1, is no longer available, as WebSideStory

was acquired by Omniture. In addition, IndexTools was acquired by Yahoo! and is

now called Yahoo! Web Analytics.



The more important component of this is whether the functionality of the web analytics

software fits your needs. Making this more difficult to understand is the fact that you often do

not know what your requirements are until you have used analytics for a while. As you engage

with analytics, you will continually learn more things you want to investigate, and develop

new requirements.



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For many companies, one of the best solutions is to start with a free analytics package such as

Google Analytics or Yahoo! Web Analytics and then look to buy a higher-end solution once

they have pushed these packages to their limits. By pushing the limits of these free analytics

products first, you will end up developing a set of requirements you can use in deciding where

to go next.

None of this is meant to say that you should not brainstorm your requirements in detail before

selecting an analytics package. You should (and must). Just expect that you will develop new

requirements along the way. Web analytics is a journey that unfolds over time.

Based on the requirements you establish in your upfront brainstorming, you may find that

you require a set of features that the free packages do not provide. Use that as knowledge to

select the right package to start with.



Valuable SEO Data in Web Analytics

You can extract all kinds of data from web analytics. Here are a few of the more interesting

types of information you may want to extract.



Traffic by search engine

One of the first things you may want to know is the breakout of traffic by search engine.

Figure 9-2 provides an example of such a report in Google Analytics.

Notice how small the traffic is on Yahoo! compared to Google (about 2.5%). This may be

indicative of a problem with the site in question and Yahoo!. This site owner might want to

spend some time exploring why the site traffic from Yahoo! is so low.



Traffic by keyword

One of the basic data points of interest for an SEO practitioner is what search terms are bringing

traffic to the website. This provides a quick way to see where the SEO campaign is going well

and where it is not going so well. You can also use this to spot opportunities where a key search

term is providing some traffic, but not as much as you would expect if you were ranking highly

for that term.

You can then look to see where you are ranking for that term. Perhaps you are in a lower

position on the first page, or on the second page of the SERPs. If so, it might make sense to

focus some attention on this term. With a little effort, such as a focused link-building campaign

for the page in question, you may be able to move up several positions and obtain a traffic boost.



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FIGURE 9-2. Traffic by search engine



A traffic-by-keyword report can also show you the long tail of search as it relates to your current

site. Figure 9-3 depicts a snippet from the organic search phrases report of Yahoo! Web

Analytics showing some of the small-volume terms for Stone Temple Consulting’s website.

Notice that a lot of names are showing up in the list, in addition to the rather interesting who

is the author of ask.com. Looking into this query data can give you a broad perspective on

opportunities for long tail search.

Notice also how two of the names combine Google with a person’s name (jack ancone google and

google carter). This could indicate an opportunity to make sure the person’s organization name

is a part of the title of the articles in the Stone Temple Consulting interview series.



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FIGURE 9-3. Long tail keywords



Segmenting Search Traffic with Multiple Parameters

Next, you can consider putting these things together. Even the free tools provide substantial

capability for building out custom reports. Figure 9-4 depicts a screen shot from Yahoo! Web

Analytics that shows the search phrases just for Google, and the pages of the site that Google

sent users to when users clicked on your link.

This is a key improvement to your SEO research for two reasons:

• If you are looking into what terms can bring fast traffic benefits as a result of some

additional optimization, you are going to want to know in which search engine you are

ranking.

• If you are going to optimize a page to rank higher, you will need to make sure you are

optimizing the right page!



Referring Sites

It is interesting to look at a referring site report for a number of reasons, but one of the more

interesting SEO reasons to do so is to spot when you receive new links. You can often see those

new links in these reports first, even before the search engines report them. Figure 9-5 shows

a sample portion of the referring sites report from Google Analytics.



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FIGURE 9-4. Search phrases from one search engine



FIGURE 9-5. Referring sites report



Expanding on this example, consider the site circled in Figure 9-5, edwardbeckett.com. If this is

the first time you have ever noticed this site in your referrers, it can be a leading indicator that



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you have received a new link. This is of interest as it can help you to detect new links that

result from your link-building campaigns, and therefore help you measure which of your linkbuilding campaigns are yielding the best results.



Using Analytics Dashboards

In analytics terms, a dashboard is a single-page view that contains your most critical metrics all

in one place. Of course, your most critical metrics are different from those of the next publisher,

because the needs of different sites vary greatly.

In addition, multiple dashboards may be required in any given organization. For example, the

CEO of a large public company probably wants to see different data (and a lot less of it) than

a senior business analyst.

Each analytics package provides methods for implementing a custom dashboard. Figure 9-6 is

an example of one from Unica’s Affinium NetInsight.



FIGURE 9-6. Custom dashboard



As you can see from Figure 9-6, a dashboard can be quite visual. What is most important,

though, is that it provides the data that is most important to the person for whom the dashboard



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was designed. As an SEO practitioner, you can implement a dashboard to show progress against

the goals you set for your SEO campaign.

Providing this type of visibility has two important benefits:

• The person viewing the report will appreciate the fact that she does not have to work hard

to do a quick health check on the progress of the SEO efforts. As we suggested at the

beginning of this chapter, the fact that you agree to measurable goals will be a great

comfort to management.

• You will know what data your managers are looking at. When something goes wrong (or

right), or when management wants to discuss some aspect of the business, they will have

started from the dashboard you set up for them.



A Deeper Look at Action Tracking

Action tracking is one step deeper than basic analytics. Rather than simply observing what

pages are visited and how many unique sessions are logged, action tracking allows you to

narrow down groups of visitors based on the actions they take on your site.

In most instances, it requires setting up a code in your analytics program and attaching that

code to a button, page load, image rollover, or other JavaScript-trackable task (a click or hover).

Once you’ve plugged it into your analytics and the website, you can use the action to refine

data you’re already collecting. Figure 9-7 provides a look at how this works.

You can see from Figure 9-7 that:

• SEOmoz’s sign-up form has action tracking applied to it.

• Based on the people who sign up, you can predict which search terms will be better at

converting visitors into applicants.

• The Revenue column is empty, but if you were tracking e-commerce buyers, you could

put their totals into the Revenue column and track high-volume buyers.

• Expanding on this idea, you could also track users by time of day, the search engine they

used, their geographic location, and so on.

So, what types of actions should you be tracking on your site? The answer varies depending

on your business and site structure. Here are some suggestions as segmented by site type.

E-commerce site:

Add to Cart button

Studies have shown us that users who “add to cart,” even if they do not complete the

checkout process, are more likely to return to make a purchase. This is also a good way to

calculate shopping cart abandonment and make changes to refine and improve the

process.



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