Last week, we wrote about how Google is taking legal action against SEO firm Local Lighthouse. Amidst the claims leveled against the company is that it guaranteed customers placement on the first page of the Search Engine Results Page – something Google staunchly maintains is impossible. That last piece concluded with the message that SEO is an intensely strategic practice which requires hard work and a strategic mind.
Let’s continue with that line of thought. Today, I’d like to talk about metrics. Specifically, I’d like to take a look at which ones you should ACTUALLY be focusing on if you want to maximize results.
Because believe it or not, the most-hyped metrics aren’t always the best for your business.
“Digital marketers love to geek out on a good SEO metric, be it “Domain Authority”, “PageRank” – there are many,” writes Built Visible’s Richard Baxter. “Every metric can be useful for its own purpose, it’s just that those metrics don’t always represent a measurable impact on the marketing outcome.”
So which ones are important, then? What should you measure and analyze if you want to determine whether or not your SEO campaign’s going down the right path? Which metrics really, actually, TRULY matter to your business?
Frustratingly enough, the answer is “it depends.”
The Red Herring of Search Engine Rank
Let’s start with the one metric everybody likes to slam down on the table right out the: ranking. Literally, how high your website appears on the SERP. This is the one that seems to excite the most people – after all, it sounds pretty authoritative to say you’re ranked #1 on Google, right?
At the same time, it also matters the least.
“Search engine rank is the metric focused on more widely than any other, and yet only in rare cases is it the metric that matters most,” explains Josh Steimle of Forbes. “There is certainly something emotionally appealing about ranking #1 for your most desired keyword, but a #1 ranking by itself doesn’t pay employees or contribute to your retirement fund. Rankings are worthless unless they lead directly to other metrics that truly matter.”
Want to use your website’s rank as a measure of success? Want to determine how well you understand ranking factors and ranking signals? Go for it.
Just don’t expect your website to succeed solely because it ranks high – the web doesn’t actually work that way.
Quality over Quantity
Next, let’s examine a few other SEO favorites: keyword density, number of social followers, traffic and backlinks. When taken in context, each of these metrics can form a complete, valuable picture of how far your SEO efforts have gotten you. On their own, however, they’re pretty much useless.
See, the thing is that over the past several years, Google’s been not-so-subtly pushing how search works in a completely new direction. Rather than focusing quantity – on the number of backlinks a site has or how many keywords it has – it focuses on what the site actually offers.
Similarly, number of followers is right up there with like/favorite counts in terms of viability. Sure, it’s great to have a page that organically gets a thousand likes, but in order to do that, there are other things you need to focus on. Other factors that are important.
Instead of keyword density, focus on keyword placement. Focus on knowledge graphs and semantic connections. Focus on how your content reads instead of how effectively it bellows at Google.
Instead of traffic, focus on what your audience DOES when they visit your site. What’s their bounce rate, conversion rate, and clickthrough rate? On average, how much time do they spend on each page?
Instead of follower counts, focus on how those followers engage with your content – how often is your content shared and how often does your audience engage with or respond to what you have to say? Stuff like reach, engagement, conversions, impressions, audience growth, and funnels is what really matters.
Above All, Contextualize
None of the metrics we’ve talked about today are inherently useless, mind you. The problem is that many of them are individually ascribed far more value and importance than they deserve. It’s that many SEOs focus entirely on statistics, without considering the most important factor of all: context.
“At the end of the day, a metric is only valuable if it’s looked at through the right lens,” says Samuel Edwards of Inc. “Out of context, even the most informative statistics and measuring points are useless. Whenever you hear your SEO tell you about a certain metric (or you run across one in your own analytics), inquire about the context. How does it relate to your current situation and why is it relevant? By keeping everything in context and choosing the right metrics, you can learn a lot about your website.”