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Kate Shaughnessy

Focus on Traffic and Conversions, Not Rankings

Kate Shaughnessy

Rankings are the most traditional metric used to measure success in SEO campaigns. “We rank #1” or “we’re on the first page” are declarations of a job well achieved. We’ve already covered why rankings are a red herring…so where should the focus be instead?

As the point of rankings is to generate traffic, and the point of traffic is to generate conversions, let’s shift the conversation to better metrics. We’re particularly concerned with:

1) Traffic volume

2) How that traffic interacts with your site

3) The actions that traffic takes to move closer to the ultimate conversion goal

Gauge Visibility

If you’ve successfully mapped your top terms to appropriate pages, you’ll have a list of URLs where you expect to see traffic increases. Monitoring the landing page traffic to these specific URLs month over month will let you know a couple of things:

  • Am I getting more search visibility?
  • Are users coming to my site and sticking around?

Increases in traffic to these pages are indications that you’re improving your visibility with your on-page optimizations, and that your meta description is speaking to user intent.

But the analysis doesn’t stop there – after all, your traffic is only as good as what you’re doing with it.

Understand Engagement

Once users land on an optimized page, are they getting the information they want? We’ll talk about conversions in a moment, but gauging engagement from non-converting (or not-yet-converting) users provides meaningful insight into their intent.

Bounce rate is important to flesh out a picture of your users’ funnel path. A high bounce rate can tell you a couple of things: either your content isn’t meeting user expectations, or users who come to this page are very early in the funnel. If you see a high bounce rate, check into the term(s) a page is targeting – does the information provided match the query? Are you hoping to merely snag a visit, or go further and engage a user? Consider, too, the role that this page’s target term has in a user’s research process – we know that a user’s language will change as they get closer to a purchasing decision (for example, someone may search “healthy dog food” when they’re doing research, and shift to “unprocessed dog food” as they better grasp the appropriate terms for what they want), and if your top-of-the-funnel landing pages can help users get closer to their end language, you provide a meaningful step in their conversion process.

High session duration on pages that convert poorly is another indicator that this content snags a lot of users in early research stages. Instead of writing this content off, check in on your keyword optimization strategy to make sure these pages are mapped to informational terms, then consider if your content is meeting users’ needs and how to get them the answers they seek.

Set up Micro-Conversions

Once users progress past the informational stage, they may still not be ready to take the plunge and fully convert. While most sites have one clear goal (such as a purchase or download), there’s more to a user’s site experience. There are likely other signs of engagement before the final purchase – for example, signing up to receive a newsletter, looking at a pricing page, or contacting someone in customer support. By diversifying what counts as a conversion and understanding engagement points pre-conversion, you create opportunity to understand what the non-converting users who make up 97% of your site are doing. Breaking down user engagement into small goals – micro-conversions – also helps you understand which pages and SEO terms usher users through the funnel.

This means getting your analytics up-to-date, which is likely a mix of having unique URLs for thank-you pages upon successful conversion completion, and/or implementing event tracking. Suddenly the picture of your SEO traffic goes from “x visits with y conversions” to “x visits with y conversions, z newsletter signups, and non-converting users performing these specific behaviors.” This not only provides you with a better understanding of your users, but gives you far more options against which to optimize.

Which Metrics to Use?

If you’re still reporting based on page views to SEO pages – stop. Please, stop. Or rather, rethink.

Hopefully you’re gauging SEO traffic to optimized pages by looking at entrances to that page and session engagement or conversion on a page-by-page basis. You can throw page views into the mix, but that doesn’t tell you much other than how many times that page was loaded. I tend to find unique page views more useful – this tells you how many sessions incorporated that page. By juxtaposing unique page views with entrances, you get an idea of content that users navigate to instead of land on, versus content that brings in visitors. Combine this picture with conversion and micro-conversion rates (and track all of this over time), and you’ll have a comprehensive and sophisticated way to decide if your SEO efforts are paying off.

Ultimately, the mix of traffic to specific pages, user engagement on those pages, and micro-conversions is a more effective and nuanced one than the simple – and flawed – rankings metric. The latter may appeal to an SEO’s vanity, but the more appropriate mix leads to the kind of revenue increase that earns promotions.

Which KPIs and other metrics do you use to measure your success? Let us know in the comments.

Kate Shaughnessy, a proud alum of 3Q Digital's SEO team, is part of the Performance Marketing team at Strava. Most weekends, you'll find her running Bay Area trails or enjoying a book with a strong cuppa tea.

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