(Read in entirety at Search Engine Land. Published 2009)
In my last article, I shared a set of metrics that will help you create a powerful SEO business case for your natural search projects.
Through the process we’re now able to tell the CFO something like this: “Our addressable market spans 200,000 unique keyword markets and totals roughly 5,000,000 searches per month, of which we’re capturing 1% currently. The cost of acquiring that traffic through PPC totals $1,000,000 per month.”
That paints a compelling (perhaps rosy) picture. But what’s driving your current performance? Why do you believe you can do better? In this installment, I share three more metrics that can you help create strong baselines, set realistic expectations, and direct your campaign towards the most effective outcome.
So you’re getting 50,000 searchers from natural search a month (1% CTR). But is that good or not? It depends. Are a handful of search phrases sending 99% of the traffic? Or is traffic distributed evenly across thousands of long-tail phrases? The Keyword reach metric helps you quantify the breadth of your presence to better manage it.
To understand keyword reach, start with the number of unique search phrases that drive natural search traffic to your site currently. What volume of traffic does each phrase drive? Your analytics package likely contains this basic data. But before we get excited, let’s apply a few filters.
First, differentiate brand phrases from non-brand phrases in your calculation. Why? Searches for your brand or company name are just table stakes. Don’t let yourself feel good about them. What you care about increasing is your share of the non-brand markets. Once you’ve separated these, determine the percentage of your traffic driven from brand vs. non-brand queries. Many retailers, for instance, find that as much as 95% of their natural search traffic comes from brand vs. just 5% from non-brand phrases. This confirms a big opportunity.
Now that you’ve distinguished between brand and non-brand traffic phrases, you can calculate your traffic per keyword yield rate on your non-brand phrases. If 5% of your search traffic (2,500 searchers) is from 1,000 non-brand phrases, your yield rate would be 2.5 searchers per keyword (2,500 searchers / 1,000 phrases). If your optimization is successful at increasing rankings in these 1,000 keyword markets, you’d expect to see the keyword yield increasing as well, perhaps doubling to 5.0 searchers per keyword.
For benchmarking purposes, you should also slice search phrase data by engine. This helps you avoid being misled by high level trends, and will show you if your optimization work is helping your Bing performance, at the expense of your Google performance, for example.
Last, make sure you can determine whether keyword reach is increasing or decreasing on a comparable basis, such as month-over-month (MoM) or year-over-year (YoY). This way you can measure the impact of your optimization work going forward in an objective manner.
Understanding keyword reach lets us augment our business case with some more powerful information: “Of our 200,000 addressable keyword markets, we are reaching only 1,000. These keyword markets drive 2.5 searchers/keyword. 95% of our search traffic comes from queries for [company name].”
How highly do you rank in those 1,000 non-brand keyword markets that drive traffic? Can you do better?
We all know there are scraping tools to capture rankings. Rather than worry about ranking in markets no one searches for, and that you get no traffic for, what if you could determine where you rank for the thousands of phrases that did drive traffic? There are tools that tell you this by parsing the referral strings on engine traffic. Each major engine thankfully passes an argument in the URL which tells you what page of the SERPS (although not the actual position—yet) the searcher clicked on to land on your page. Naturally you want to filter these by engine.
Armed with this information, you can identify which phrases are ranking on Page1 (P1) of Google, Yahoo, or Bing. You can use this of course to talk up your SEO ninja skills in front of your CEO. More importantly, you can identify which phrases are ranked on P2 or P3 etc, in each engine. Perhaps you’re ranked on Google’s Page 1 in 70% of the non-brand markets. 20% of the time you’re on P2. You can begin to imagine an SEO campaign aimed at these markets, in order to get your ranking onto P1, thereby increasing CTR and traffic by many multiples.
The keyword placement metric helps you further enhance your business case: “Of our 200,000 addressable keyword markets, we are reaching only 1,000. We rank on page 1 of Google in 70% on these keyword markets, driving 2.5 searchers/keyword. 95% of our search traffic comes from queries for [company name].”
Landing page yield
Natural search is a marketing funnel: at the top are your supply of pages which get crawled. Some percentage of those get indexed. A percentage of the pages indexed get ranked. A percentage of those get clicked, etc. So an important way to baseline current performance is to map your search traffic against the pages that drive the traffic. Surprisingly, this is more difficult than it seems. In fact, it is highly likely that you do not know how many pages are on your dynamic site (don’t worry—I won’t tell).
The easiest way we find to approximate site size is to measure the number of unique pages crawled by a particular engine over a period of time. Engine crawl has slowed recently. Review your log files for unique URLs requested by Googlebot over a 60 day time frame. Or you can run a crawler over your site. Either way, you should be able to parse highly duplicated pages from the count. For our purposes, let’s assume there were 10,000 unique URLs requested by Googlebot over the past 60 days. In other words, Google thinks your site has 10,000 pages.
Naturally, you want to compare this to how many pages Google reports having indexed. If you have just 1,000 indexed, you should investigate why 90% of the available landing page “inventory” you take to market is being rejected, and then develop strategies to address the issue.
You need to understand how many of your URLs drove search traffic. Suppose 250 pages are driving your 2,500 non-brand monthly searchers. That means 250 of your 1,000 indexed pages are performing—a rate of 25% yielding 10 searchers per page. However, you have 10,000 total pages, of which 250 are performing—an actual yield rate of 2.5%. If these were your metrics, you should have many questions:
Asking and answering these questions leads to smarter strategies and more accountable performance.
Your business case now looks like this: “Our addressable market spans 200,000 unique keyword markets and totals roughly 5,000,000 searches per month, of which we’re capturing 1% currently. The cost of acquiring that traffic through PPC totals $1,000,000 per month. Of our 200,000 addressable keyword markets, we are reaching only 1,000. We rank on Page 1 of Google’s in 70% on these keyword markets, driving 2.5 searchers/keyword. 95% of our search traffic comes from queries for [company name]. 97.5% of our pages drive no search traffic.”
Remember, you can only manage what you measure. With these metrics, you can create performance baselines and develop data-driven SEO strategies aimed at achieving specific performance outcomes. Trust in the force, Luke.
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