It’s exciting to start a new search engine optimization (SEO) campaign, whether you’re handling all the little pieces yourself or you’re outsourcing the work to an agency. You’ll invest time and/or money in creating outstanding content, promoting that content, and restructuring your site so you’re more easily seen and categorized by search engines. Then, you can watch the fruits of your labor develop and reap the rewards of your efforts.
But wait. How can you tell that your SEO campaign is working in the first place?
What Do You Mean By “Working”?
First, we need to be clear about what we mean when we say your campaign is “working.” It’s a vague term that means different things to different people. Accordingly, you’ll need to define what a “working” campaign would look like for your specific business:
- Deciding your main goals. What are your main goals for this campaign? The general approach is to seek ambiguous improvement, ranking higher and getting more traffic. But is that what you’re really after? Are you in SEO just to see a monetary return, or would you prefer to earn more brand exposure? Is SEO just an incidental pursuit, working in conjunction with your content marketing campaign? On top of that, what kind of results are you hoping to see? Is there a specific level of traffic volume you’d like to grow to?
- Evaluating pace. If you aren’t seeing results after a week of effort, there’s no cause for concern; SEO is a long-term strategy. Accordingly, you need to consider the pace of your growth and the time you’ve invested as variables when you measure results and success. Most SEO campaigns see few results at the beginning, see an explosion of results in the middle, and then level off in the late stages.
- Setting reasonable expectations. You should also set reasonable expectations for what results to see based on what you’re investing. Generally, the more you spend and the more time you invest, the more results you can expect to see—at every stage of growth. If you half-bake a blog post once a month, you can’t expect to get the same results as someone spending tens of thousands of dollars working with a professional content agency.
Key Metrics to Consider
So which metrics, specifically, are we looking at? Which numbers will illustrate whether or not your campaign is working the way you want it to?
- Keyword rankings. Keyword rankings are where newcomers usually start. They’re a good indicator of upward momentum in search engines, but won’t illustrate the total package. You can use tools like SEMRush or AgencyAnalytics to keep tabs on your previous and current rankings for any number of head and long-tail keywords you like—Google won’t give you the data directly, so a third party is all but necessary here.
- Inbound links. You’ll also want to use a link profile monitoring tool like Moz’s Open Site Explorer, watching for new links and carefully evaluating your current link profile. New earned links are an indicator that your reputation is growing (and that your content is worth linking to).
- Organic traffic. From here onward, Google Analytics is the best all-around choice for measurement. Organic traffic refers to the number of people who visited your site after finding it in search engines. It’s better than keyword rankings alone, since it tells you not only how much visibility you’re getting, but how much traction you’re getting as well.
- Referral traffic. If you’re building external links, you should also look at your referral traffic. It’s more a pleasant side effect of your strategy than it is a direct result of SEO, but it’s still worth measuring; referral traffic can be a powerful indicator of how well your off-site content is performing.
- Conversions and revenue. Ideally, your content and SEO strategy will connect directly to your sales strategy. You can use your content to funnel visitors to conversion opportunities, and therefore drive revenue. Measuring the new sales and revenue you get from your SEO campaign is important to calculate your overall ROI—the figure that will indicate whether your efforts are turning a profit.
What Kind of Growth Should You Expect?
You know these numbers are meant to show growth, but how much growth should you expect, assuming a reasonable dedicated budget?
- The first month. No matter how much you spend, it’s unlikely that you’ll see results after only a month. It takes time to publish content, promote content, earn links, and establish a reputation. You might see higher rankings due to on-site optimization, but it will be minimal at best.
- The first year. After six months or so, you should start seeing more meaningful results (possibly after two or three months, if you’re working aggressively). By the end of the first year, you should be leagues ahead of where you were, and possibly even be breaking a positive ROI.
- Ongoing improvements. After a year or two of work, your results will probably level off, returning you slow ranking progression and similar levels of traffic. You’ll need to make ongoing improvements and changes to sustain those results, however; though the fundamentals of SEO remain relatively similar throughout the years, there are always new algorithm tweaks and opportunities you’ll need to account for.
So is your SEO campaign working? Hopefully, this article has brought you a little closer to an answer. If you feel like you aren’t getting the results you should with the time and effort you’re investing, you’ll need to make an adjustment and keep going; keeping things the same will only continue to breed the same results.
User-generated content on product or service pages can be key to driving conversions and a fantastic way to add unique content to a page.
If you don’t have the resources to write good content yourself, user-generated content can be especially helpful. However, if your customer review content isn’t optimized for search engines, it can work against you and delay or obstruct your marketing efforts instead of driving more business.
Below are four common issues (and a bonus) I have come across when auditing retailer product pages and the workarounds I’ve used for each.
1. Page speed
This is a much-discussed subject, and as of late, it is a mobile search ranking factor coming July 2018. It is key to sync with your web developers on the optimal page load speed, as images, related products and content will impact load times for this critical part of the purchase funnel.
Customer review content is best when optimized for both Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and page speed. Suggesting you open the floodgates to 500+ reviews on a product page is not ideal for anyone (adds content but also adds load time). Search engine optimization specialists (SEOs) and developers will agree most third-party review providers will issue a standard eight to 10 visible reviews on a page before transitioning to another mechanism for accessing the remaining reviews.
Ask your dev team the threshold of reviews on your pages (don’t feel limited to 10) before speed is impacted by your desired load time, and run tests.
There are a few different ways review content can be exposed to users and search engines:
- Create a secondary page to “read all reviews.” This page can also host the remaining reviews and can be optimized for “product + reviews” search queries. Examples of this can be seen on both Amazon.com and Bestbuy.com in this framework:
- Apply a paginated approach within the main product page, to load the next round of reviews following your determined threshold being hit. For example, after 20 reviews, click next to get the next 20 reviews and so on. If your pagination is implemented correctly (rel=next / prev), this content will still be crawled by search engines.
2. Structured data markup: Have you done it right?
Marking up your product pages with structured data, including the aggregate rating and reviews, can generate a rich result in the search engine results pages (SERPs), which can increase your click-through rate (CTR) over competitors and provides more information to the crawlers about the content on your page. You already know the benefit of markup, but has it been done correctly? You may not know you have an error!
If you use a third-party provider for your reviews, they typically supply the markup on those reviews when they are syndicated to your site. We have seen two issues here:
- The reviews have been marked up outside the itemscope product. This applies to Microdata markup, not JSON-LD. Your page has a separate div the customer review content is pulled into, that lives outside of the div you’ve marked up with your Microdata product schema property. Unfortunately, this is like trying to have a conversation with someone on the other side of a door. Search engines can’t make the connection that the marked-up reviews pertain to the same product you’ve outlined in your schema and therefore does not assign the ratings and reviews to the rich result.
When testing either of these in the Structured Data Testing Tool, it won’t actually flag as an error or warning since it’s testing to see if you have structured data and the required elements, which you do. If you’re not getting rich results, one of these could be the culprit.
3. Shared or syndicated reviews
It’s not uncommon to see retailers pull reviews from a vendor site onto their own site, or sometimes a retailer shares customer reviews across multiple country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) where they sell the same product/service. If done incorrectly, both of these scenarios can cause duplication of the user-generated content and dilute the value of the page. Worst case: a penalty for the syndication of reviews!
Sharing vendor review content across multiple sites (typically retailers): Are you aware of how many retailers are getting the same feed for the same product information and reviews? Perhaps you’re the vendor and want to protect your unique content on your site while still sharing to retailers for increased conversions. Here is an example of a pair of UGG boots for sale on Macys.com but pulling from Ugg.com:
Potential solutions for the UGG boots review could be to block crawlers from he syndicated review content, or perhaps it should be embargoed on the original source for a determined period of time.
That time should be determined based on the content being crawled and indexed before it is shared with other parties. Check log files and crawl rates to determine an approximate time for your site; and test the indexation of that new content once crawled. This allows the search engines to determine the original source.
Often, retailers want to leverage the reviews from their other domains to help sell the product. This is fine, but the duplicate reviews must be blocked from the crawlers. This will continue to benefit the sale without harming or penalizing your site for duplicating the user-generated content.
Amazon is a good example of this. Years ago, they pulled the Amazon.com reviews into the Amazon.ca pages. This practice was later halted in favor of still showing the reviews, but blocking crawler access. Now, they simply provide a link to their Amazon.com site for more reviews.
4. Coding customer reviews
At the very least, perform the audit on your reviews and ensure Googlebot is crawling and indexing them.
You may need to speak further with your review provider to ensure the content is accessible to Googlebot. Depending on the provider and template, they can help resolve any errors or concerns here.
Bonus: 5. Use your XML sitemaps
Now that you’ve created customer reviews that will drive more crawlable content, let the search engines know! Updating the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) sitemap entries will be a strong signal to incentivize the recrawl of those specific pages and access changes sooner. Pending your crawl rates and the number of pages on site, it may be a long time before a crawler gets to all your updated customer review content.
To wrap things up, customer reviews are a fantastic source for growing your organic traffic by means of unique content. Audit your reviews for the following:
- Product page load time.
- Structured data markup.
- Audit of shared reviews.
- Crawler access to the review content.
- XML sitemap updates.
Following these guidelines can deliver significant organic search growth. Run the audit and take a closer look at the reviews on your site for improvements you could be making.