Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the most prominent areas of marketing in the 21st century. It stands to reason that, with approximately 5.8 billion searches on Google per day, outranking competitors and putting your organization at the forefront is great for business.
One of the biggest problems that come along with such a monumental task, however, is measuring performance as it’s done.
Marketers and non-marketers alike face the task of setting, tracking and controlling key performance indicators (KPIs) on all levels, and understanding how to get over the biggest problems is something valuable to all. Here are some of the most common KPI mistakes to avoid in SEO.
No matter what role in the business an employee, owner or director is playing, over-measuring is one of the first traps many SEOs fall into. A sense of control and key data analysis is essential in any SEO plan, but, as with all aspects of the field, over-measuring is just another opportunity for misaimed efforts.
It can feel almost like a natural reaction to measure all of the data that is available, and often too. In reality, that can be more detrimental than people realize.
Having too many metrics being observed and thought about on a constant or even overly regular basis is just one of many actions that lead directly to less control over the KPIs that count. KPIs are key performance indicators, after all, and they are key for a reason.
The goal should be to highlight those most essential to the business or mastering objectives at that time, and not be over-concerned with other performance indicators (providing they are reasonable and without the need for dramatic action).
This granular and overreaching over-measuring always leads back to having less control and dramatically less concentration being put into the core KPIs that have been determined as the focus of the business.
Results will worsen all round if this becomes too prominent, and by trying to take care of everything at the same time, it’s not uncommon to see everything slip.
Vanity metrics don’t get discussed as much as they should. They are always enticing and an easy target to set your sights on because of their desirable implications, but misusing them is another huge KPI mistake that can see a campaign torn to shreds.
This isn’t to say, however, that vanity metrics don’t have a place in SEO. Of course they do. That’s what makes them vanity metrics in the first place. Things such as clicks indicate a huge surge of people visiting your site and becoming potential leads, right? Not exactly.
Although more traffic can be a signal that your SEO efforts are working as they should, they shouldn’t necessarily be a KPI, because what if those clicks aren’t worth what they should be?
What if, instead of attracting 100 people per month that are absolutely interested in your product, you’re attracting 1000 that are looking for something else? This is exaggerated, of course, but the principle matters.
With vanity metrics, you can miss the bar completely, and unless traffic can correlate to revenue directly (like with ads making money), always look deeper into the true value of the traffic.
This KPI mistake is very dependent on business type and website structure, so although it doesn’t apply to everyone, there are different aspects of this that can be applied.
Predominantly, this falls in the remit of service providers and shop owners rather than eCommerce (unless the business is international). The point is, remember where you are targeting and what each geographical region does to your SEO.
That sounds very generic, and that’s partly because the principle is exactly that: generic. When setting KPIs, for example, if you are a business operating in and around London, don’t take the keyword data for the whole of the U.K. into account as your maximum and set your targets in line with this.
Likewise, also remember that different products and services are more applicable to different people and in different places. It’s far too easy when setting KPIs to assume that every number represents the same situation. People are very different, and so are their lives.
Even things like average house prices in certain areas and socio-economic status can have the same implications to your KPIs. Don’t necessarily expect the same sales and SEO figures in London as you would in Peterborough.
Although people may be searching for something, is your business the right fit for the gap?
Does the whole market have the facilities, the resources or the need for the same product?
Consider who is making up the search volumes, and who isn’t, too. Remember this in your KPIs where you can to prevent unrealistic or irrelevant goals from being aimed for.
Lastly, there is also the importance of technical SEO on your KPIs and how the two are so often not associated when, realistically, they should be. SEO is often limited by SEOs as content and keywording, but in reality, technical SEO really can make or break your marketing performance.
Time on page and bounce rates, for example, may be your KPIs since you are really underperforming in these areas. The first place most people will look to as marketers could be the visual appeal of the site or the content that is on the page or pages when people are arriving. Even the behavioral flow tends to come into play before SEO implications do, but in reality, it’s just as significant.
Factors such as your page speeds as well as your site security, URL health and internal links, just to name a few, can be hugely detrimental factors if not correctly set up where they could be.
Your content could be perfect and your KPIs great in theory, but without these things, they wouldn’t even be close to being met because people don’t trust, don’t want to wait for or simply can’t access your site.
Don’t fall into the same traps.
Moving back to the search engine marketing KPIs directly, however, there are still more mistakes that can be spotted when an analytical approach is taken. One of the biggest examples of this is relying on average positions.
Average positions are, we’ll admit, a great way to track SEO success. It’s always a smart move to track your core business keywords and see where you are ranking and what progress you’re making – that much can’t be argued with. What isn’t such a smart decision, however, is using your overall site average position as a way to measure success.
As your site grows and you have new content, services and generally an increased online presence, your averages are bound to drop. That’s the first issue: You’re ranking the core pages that could be doing well with the new and even the old pages that aren’t meant to rank in the first place.
On top of that, consumer behavior needs to be kept in mind, too. Consumer behavior is changing drastically as time goes on. They change, Google changes, technology changes – the whole world changes – and that all has a massive effect on search. The result, even as confirmed by Google itself, is that a staggering 15 percent of searches done on Google are completely new and unheard of.
Search engines and SEO always take time to become accurate and correct. With new queries cropping up all the time on top of new content (even on your own site), averages change, sometimes dramatically. Beware of what this can – and can’t – mean, and make sure your KPIs reflect this, either on a page or a query level but not both.
Using a conversion rate KPI is another way that many businesses choose to move forward with aligning their marketing goals with overall business goals, and just as with the points above, it isn’t a poor choice if it’s done correctly. The biggest problem is that it rarely is.
Many SEOs are quick to forget about the process of goal creation. Setting goals is what allows conversion rates to operate as a whole, and setting up good, proper and accurately measured goals is always step number one in the system of battling mistakes here.
Sign-ups are a common example of this, and sales are simultaneously another. That’s great, but remember to measure these separately rather than using an overall site average as is so easy to do, especially when skimming analytical tools.
Another big issue with the conversion rate KPI is that people often forget the purpose of their page as well. If the common site structure of having a blog area alongside a sales or lead generation area is being utilized, remember that the conversion rates of these pages are not supposed to be the same. Content can certainly be a sales tool, but only in very select cases. Other than that, content is often a supportive or educational tool.
Delving deeper into the conversion rate of content affecting your KPIs, remember to account for the landing page of the session, too. If it was on the content pages themselves, oftentimes queries are answered and then sessions end.
People may not always buy in the same session they choose to engage in content. That doesn’t mean you have failed in converting, but instead, you may have simply advanced the consumer to the next step in the funnel. Even calculating these figures excluding certain page URL sections or by looking at landing pages can be wise.
One of the most complex, vague and often misleading online metrics that are used in SEO KPIs comes from Moz’s Domain Authority (DA), or any other domain scoring tool out there, really. The biggest reason behind this is that DA isn’t a clear-cut metric, and it’s near impossible to understand what has an impact upon it and how far it actually needs to go.
It’s often argued that Google, just like Moz’s DA, is impossible to influence, what with services out there like RankBrain having their hold on the search engine results pages (SERPs) – but DA is different. It is hailed by marketers at all levels as the overlying factor that determines the quality of a site, and it needs to be ever-growing and ever-expanding in order for a website to get the best results, which on some levels is true, but only some, at best.
The problems with Moz’s DA go deeper than this. Initially, there’s the misconception that can lead to a rabbit hole of over-optimization. DA does not need to be 100 for you to be the best site on the SERPs. Sites don’t need to set these impossible standards in order to reach position one.
The fundamental thing to remember is here is that sites are only competing with their competitors. Every time a site moves into the next set of 10, progression becomes even harder, and this leads to a huge amount of wasted effort in most cases.
On top of that, actions that many SEOs take in a bid to ensure Google isn’t taking any tolls on SEO with manual actions or penalties, like disavowing links, for example, aren’t accounted for either, which can make things even more complex (although that service can get you in hot water, too).
Ultimately here, DA is great, but it isn’t always worthy of a KPI in SEO. Page Authority is a better metric to keep in mind in most cases, especially for service pages or pages reflecting competitive queries, but even this isn’t everything. You’re not competing with pages like Google or Facebook – just your niche. Keep an eye on the latest content marketing trends.
Overall, the takeaway to this is relatively small once you understand all of these concepts. Above all else, planning is the key. Make sure you understand your current situation and future situation exactly.
Make sure you steer clear of falling for some of the misconceptions that are thrown around so freely in the marketing world and keep your focus tight on your specific business, niche and market.
Take the time to research your KPIs individually if you are not comfortable with your own, and always take the time to learn about advancements that are affecting them, too.
Understand your keywords, your website(s) and your audience even more. Focus on setting yourself up for your KPIs to work, and work from there.
Success is only one good plan away.