SEO is getting harder. When I started in the industry a few years ago, it was possible to throw a bunch of exact match anchor text at a page and it would rank fairly quickly. You could spin content all day, or just replace keywords in templated content, and still rank fairly well fairly quickly.
Now things have changed, and SEOs are trying to deal with the ramifications. We’re dealing with (not provided), personalized search, location-specific search, Penguins, Pandas, and more.
The biggest change, in my opinion, is (not provided), though. This, single handedly, is the pink elephant in the room that we’re all scared to talk about (other than complaining) because we’re all scared because none of us have ANY idea what do about it. We’re losing our data more and more every day, and at some point we’re going to live in a world of 100% (not provided). Just have a look at NotProvidedCount.com:
Just the other day I was looking at a large tech site (and we’re talking millions of organic visits a week) and I noticed that they had over 50% (not provided). While they are ad-supported and therefore not tracking conversions from a keyword-perspective as much as trying to ride the waves of tech news, this still has a huge impact on their site.
So how can we report as SEOs moving forward? Outside of what we are doing for our clients (links built, technical changes made, etc), what can we report on metrics-wise that will help our clients see what is happening?
Here are my thoughts for 2013. You’ll notice that all of these are page-centric, not keyword-centric.
Landing Pages Driving Traffic
In a world of 100% (not provided), we are going to need to rely on landing pages for information instead of individual keywords (which has been Google’s plan all along) to show the results of our optimization efforts.
As a result, we will be optimizing pages and reporting on their performance. Depending on how you have goals set up, you should report on the conversions coming from specific pages (and possibly the page category if your site is organized that way). You’ll probably want to set up a custom report in Analytics that looks something like this:
# of Unique Landing Pages and Unique Ranking URLs Driving Traffic Over Time
The next metric that we can easily report on is the increase in number of landing pages driving organic traffic over time. This metric will be influenced by how much content you are producing, to be sure, so the metric does not stand alone apart from conversions, but it is an interesting metric that shows optimization efforts. The key to note here is that you need to benchmark when you start with the client so that you can then report on this over time.
Eventually, you’ll end up with a graph that can look like this:
Increase in Organic Traffic for Key Pages
When you report these days, you probably report on key individual keywords and the traffic they are driving (not necessarily the rankings). I personally like to sometimes highlight individual keywords that have increased in rankings and the subsequent additional traffic that it has driven.
In a world of 100% (not provided), though, we’ll still be able to report on rankings but not on the traffic that individual keywords have driven. Therefore, we need to highlight important converting pages that are driving more traffic. You can then tie this back to your optimization efforts and show correlation.
Something like this will work:
Use Ranking Data to Optimize and Guesstimate
I hate reporting on keyword rankings as much as the next guy, but I do think that rank checking is going to be increasingly important in the coming months and years when it comes to organic search. In fact, I really agree with Joe Hall in this piece entitled Why Ranking Reports Are Now More Important Than Ever.
Ranking reports can help us extrapolate out which terms might be driving traffic to the pages we care about. From there, we can reverse engineer and give a good estimate about which terms are probably worth optimizing for from traffic and conversion levels.
I think that rankings reports have a long ways to go before they are really useful to us in this way, though. I currently work with a client in an industry that deals with Local Search quite a bit, and all of the tools that I have tried still fall short on location-specific searches. This is one area that severely affects SMBs for sure, and becomes a big problem when working on a client with thousands of locations.
SEO is changing, no doubt about it. So how are you going to be reporting moving forward?