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.
Search outpaced social for referral traffic last year, driving 35% of site visits vs social’s 26% share of visits
According to a new referral traffic report from Shareaholic, 2017 was the first time since 2014 search owned a larger share of visits over social.
After a year fraught with terms like “fake news,” and headlines centering around brand safety issues and extreme content, it appears the actions taken by social sites to curb the influx of malicious content is turning out to be a real boon for search referral traffic.
For the first time since 2014, Shareaholic says search outpaced social in the percentage of overall traffic it delivered in 2017. According to the analytic platform’s data, search drove 34.8 percent of site visits in 2017 compared to social networks which accounted for 25.6 percent of referral traffic.
Chartbeat, an analytics platform for online publishers and media organizations, has witnessed a similar trend with traffic from Google search to publisher websites up more than 25 percent since the start of 2017.
“Google Search has always been the largest referrer to Chartbeat clients,” writes the company’s CEO, John Saroff, on Chartbeat’s blog, “In late August, Chartbeat data scientists noticed that Google Search referrals across our client base were trending up.”
The CEO says his team initially thought the rise in Google referrals were attached to events like last year’s solar eclipse and Hurricane Irma, but traffic continued to rise even after news headlines around the events subsided. Instead of falling back into normal patterns, Chartbeat saw Google search driving even more traffic to publisher sites.
Search beats out social for share of visits
“At a high level, it’s clear that social media’s tenuous grip on being the top referral category is over. After beating out search for the last three years, it’s given back the title, driven by changes to the algorithms behind Facebook’s News Feed,” writes Shareaholic in its latest traffic report.
Shareaholic’s findings are based on traffic to more than 250,000 mobile and desktop sites that have opted-in to the content marketing platform’s publishing tools. The company says it analyzed a variety of traffic sources — direct traffic, social referrals, organic search and paid search — for websites that ranged in size from a thousand monthly unique visitors to one million, and spread across a broad selection of website categories (food, tech, fashion and beauty, marketing, sports, general news, and more).
Google was the top overall traffic referrer for the year, and owned a 36.82 percent share of visits during the second half of 2017. While Google’s share of visits was up more than seven percentage points between the second half of 2016 and the second half of 2017, Facebook’s dropped 12.7 percent during the same time frame.
Even with a double-digit drop however, Facebook remained the top social network for share of visits in 2017.
Shareholic notes the changes Facebook has made to its news feed algorithm, boosting content from “trusted” news sources while penalizing spammy, click-bait headlines, influenced the site’s drop in share of visits: “After a rocky 2016 US election year, Facebook made a number of major changes to what content they display in the news feed and how they display it.”
The two charts below, one from Shareaholic and the other from Parse.ly convey similar trends with respect to search vs. social referral traffic in 2017, through the third quarter of the year. The Parse.ly data reflects the upward trend in referral traffic from Google (all – including AMP – Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages format) and declining trend in referral traffic from Facebook specifically (all Facebook – including Instant Articles).
Publishers also see continued gains from search driven by AMP
While Shareaholic’s traffic referral report is based on a wide category of websites, Chartbeat’s data is specifically attached to publishers’ web traffic.
As mentioned earlier, Chartbeat saw a 25 percent surge in traffic to publisher sites by Google search over the last year. Josh Schwartz, Chartbeat’s chief of product, engineering and data, told Digiday that Facebook referrals to publishers was down fifteen percent in 2017 — aligning with Shareaholic’s findings.
Facebook’s news feed algorithm tweaks to curb fake news and spam content are definitely impacting its overall referral traffic numbers, but Chartbeat reports the most significant factor driving traffic to its clients’ sites is AMP content. After analyzing whether or not the rise in traffic was the result of a bug, or “un-darkening” of previously dark social traffic and finding nothing, Chartbeat turned its attention to mobile versus desktop traffic numbers.
“We then looked specifically at search traffic by device and the answer was clear from our dataset. Mobile Google Search referrals were up significantly while Desktop Google Search referrals were flat,” writes Saroff.
Chartbeat then dug further into its data to evaluate sites using AMP and said it found a “stark” difference between the sites using AMP and those that were not.
“While Mobile Google Search traffic to our AMP-enabled publishers is up 100 percent over the same time-frame, traffic to publishers not using AMP is flat.”
Chartbeat says, during the last six months, Google Mobile Search referrals now outpace both mobile and desktop Facebook referrals.