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SEO Reporting for 2013 and Beyond

John Doherty —  January 16, 2013
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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.

Conclusion

SEO is changing, no doubt about it. So how are you going to be reporting moving forward?

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

22 responses to SEO Reporting for 2013 and Beyond

  1. I’m a big fan of looking at landing pages and use that in many of my own dashboard reports.

    http://www.blindfiveyearold.com/seo-metrics-dashboard

    The (not provided) keyword issue definitely makes things more difficult though you can do interesting things with rank tracking (both in third-party tools and Google Analytics) and landing pages to tease out more breadth of (not provided)

    But what would really be nice is if Google would simply provide a drill down of anonymized (keyword) so we knew how many keywords were comprised in that bucket. Then these kinds of metrics would again be possible.

  2. Landing pages driving traffic can be a bit inconsistent IMO, seen this over the years with a few different large properties. I think an important piece of the equation is data archiving, not only changing the way we think about future data, but how valuable the data we have no is. It’s not like your niche is going to radically change, having those long tail incoming keywords archived for use at a later date can be extremely valuable in a world of 100% (not provided).

  3. I for one am adjusting my KPIs and keeping my clients focused on the development and optimization of “intent” and “interest” content types. The latter we use to bait authoritative page authors to use as an additional reference or resource. The results have been great when we look at the bottom line and medium data within GA (even without digging into keywords).

  4. Nice article. I am with you the (not provided) is throwing a monkey wrench in the whole game. Keep writing!

  5. The number of unique pages driving traffic has the big disadvantage of being heavily influenced by seasonality. For instance, many retail sites see traffic and conversion increases in November and December because more people are shopping online.

    Despite rankings moving up or down this fact alone is sufficient to increase the number of pages driving traffic and conversions so YoY comparisons on top traffic/ converting pages would be more beneficial.

    Another important factor to take into consideration is the online market increase. In the UK online retail is on the rise as high street shops are closing down. Therefore, increases in number of visits and conversions are expected without rankings necessarily moving up or SEO deserving all the credit. I think there is no blanket approach and each business needs to address this differently.

  6. in Vietnam Seo is growing dramatically, where seo services but also that very little revenue from seo.Believe that 2013 was a difficult year for seo

  7. I really believe that all SEO should invest in analytics since in a short period of time this digital marketing tool will be essential.

  8. Good insights John,

    I have shifted my agendas to KPIs that are anchored around page types. Page type onsite changes are easier to implement in enterprise level eCommerce and analytic folks can pivot views to show page type KPIs with keyword associations. Rather than chasing keyword phrases, I work to improve organic entries based on factors I can control based on page type. Generally, this aligns with branded, long tail to up broad terms.

    Thanks+

  9. Are there not some data programs out there that give more of the info you are looking for than just relying on google analytics.

    Nice admission you were an article spinner #JohnDoherty. Sorry but that inspires nill confidence by me in you. Sorry if that’s too harsh.

    And what’s so new abour landing pages driving traffic. Isn’t that they way it should be. Sorry but you lost me as to the importance of what you said here . But I do see one of my seo idol’s #AJKohn commenting numero uno so I’m probably all wet here.

    • Hey Anthony, the answer is that unfortunately no Analytics platforms get that referrer data from Google. So no.

      What I’m saying is that once keyword data is gone, we need to report somehow, and SEOs that currently rely on keyword traffic reports need to change their methodology.

      Hope that clarifies some things.

    • I wouldn’t be so hard on him Anthony, show me an SEO who hasn’t tried everything in the book when nothing else seems to work and I’ll show you a social media resource. :)~

      • Thanks Steve. I personally think that if someone hasn’t tried it all, they’re not really trying to think outside the box and learn. I’ve bought links. I’ve spun articles. And now I am where I am – as whitehat as it gets.

        And it must be working, Anthony, because you’re reading my blog and not vice versa :-D

  10. No doubt share the really important factors which can help us in time… Thank you

    CEO
    MyBlogMyMoney

  11. thanks for sharing & hi from austria

  12. Nice Post, thanks for sharing this information.

  13. My suspicions are high that Anthony just wanted a nofollow link. Haha! :)
    I feel as if most SEOs first learned of SEO in a black hat way- even if you didn’t implement it yourself. I vividly recall being told as a intern to copy and paste content by the VP of Search at a large, established firm. I wonder how those 200 something pages of identical content are doing now.

  14. It certainly is getting tougher and tougher thanks to someone we all know.

    Thanks for this.
    George

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