The scientific world is separated into two sections – ‘hard’ science and ‘soft’ science. Hard being sciences which you can conduct experiments and gather concrete proof of results, i.e. chemistry. Soft being sciences based on observation and different-to-measure results – economics, sociology, psychology generally falling into this area.
The marketing world is often the same way. Paid search, in many ways, is like a hard science – it’s very easy to run experiments, having full control over search position, ad copy, the keywords you display for, and more.
Unfortunately for some, SEO is more of a ‘soft’ science. Marketers and business owners don’t have a ton of control as to where Google ranks them. We know the things that lead to strong SEO results – good quality backlinks, well-written content, and a well-designed site that loads quickly and is usable on all devices.
With paid search, you understand exactly what was spent and can calculate ROI with some amount of certainty. You can see what keywords work and which do not. On the organic side, we don’t have keyword data, and it’s hard to calculate an ROI on your efforts when it takes significant time for SEO efforts to get off the ground; and you don’t have that same level of keyword control.
However, like any marketing effort, you need to be able to measure results and understand your successes and failures so that you can make adjustments as needed. Today we’ll dig into some tips into interpreting your SEO results by defining the right KPIs, indicators, and tools you need to be using.
In my life as an SEO consultant and now a marketing manager for a software company, the number one mistake I’ve seen clients and companies who pitch me make is its focus on traffic.
If you’re hiring an SEO firm to do work for you or investing the time and energy to try to do it yourself, you’re not doing it because you want page views. You’re not the Wall Street Journal, you don’t make money off of page views. You want to get people to the website who will pick up the phone, e-mail you, and are interested in your service. In terms of analyzing your results, this should come before all else.
(This isn’t to say traffic isn’t important. It definitely is. More on that later).
When analyzing your SEO results, start with conversions and make that your key metric of focus throughout your campaign. Ultimately, if you aren’t getting more conversions, then your SEO plan isn’t working and it’s time to find another provider.
A conversion is defined as…well, a goal. An action you want people to take. In the case of most businesses, there are two key actions we want users to take:
Assuming your website and Google Analytics are set up correctly, you should easily be able to see a number of contact forms that are submitted via organic search per month and use that number as one of your KPIs.
You aren’t going to be able to understand where every customer comes from, however, you want to monitor the overall quality of leads you’re seeing if organic is your primary channel of conversion. You also, of course, want to monitor the quality of these inbound contact forms – forms with fake e-mails and irrelevant questions do happen, but shouldn’t be the majority of your conversions.
An oft-overlooked asset within Google Analytics is Assisted Conversions. By default, conversions are credited to the last channel used. If someone finds you through organic search, then comes back via a remarketing ad – that conversion would be credited to Paid Search, but organic would earn an assisted conversion. In evaluating your SEO results, you need to account for these conversions as well.
A final note: you also want to understand how organic compares to your other marketing channels, to ensure the best marketing decisions going forward.
So, now you’re tracking your contact forms – great! However, the other key for service-focused businesses is call tracking – being able to understand what channels are leading to calls and ultimately customers.
There are a handful of great tools for this: CallRail, Marchex, and Invoca being great tools for this, all of them operating on a similar principle – when someone hits from organic search, a unique number displays to them. This unique number routes to your phone; and the call is tracked. It sounds a bit scary at first but is incredibly simple once you get the hang of it.
The beauty of call tracking is that you can export the results and match the organic inbound calls to your customer records in your CRM of choice – giving you full visibility into the percentage of calls that were strong leads, the percentage that turned into customers. It’s a game-changer for service businesses – if you’re not already using it, it’s something you should be implementing immediately.
These two components – contact forms and phone calls – are the key focus for your SEO campaign. They won’t go up overnight. There will be down months. But above anything else, these two numbers should be rising through the course of your SEO campaign and be the first KPIs to be analyzed.
While conversions are the key metric you’ll want to look at with your SEO campaign, that doesn’t mean the other metrics aren’t important. The other metrics you have can provide some great valuable insight and help you make changes to your SEO plan that ultimately result in more conversions. These secondary metrics include:
So, here’s the fun part. Figuring out that ROI.
With phone call tracking, you should be able to match your organic call list to your CRM (please, for the love of god, use a CRM). Match the numbers to customer records and transactions for the month. Then you should be able to pretty easily see the amount of qualified/unqualified leads from SEO, and the revenue those leads have generated
For contact forms – or if you’re not using a CRM – you’ll have to do a bit of guestimation to get to truly understand the value that SEO is bringing to the game.
My recommendation is to build your own sales funnel projection. Get a good sense of the percentage of quality leads you receive, the percentage of leads that turn into customers, and your average order value.
From this, you can make a pretty good guess at the true impact of your SEO results.
Let’s say I’m a handyman who currently averages 50 leads per month, and about 20 of them turn to customers (40% conversion from lead to customer) The average ticket for a customer is rough $500. I hire an SEO expert at $2,000/month. What’s my return on that investment if the SEO guy grows my leads to 65 per month?
Clearly, this analysis isn’t overly scientific – but it’s a good back-of-hand way to understand the ROI of your SEO efforts.
While a ‘soft’ science, it’s certainly possible to measure your SEO results and get a good feel for the quality being produced.
There’s a lot of guesswork – but some clarity is better than none at all!
Barry Dyke is the marketing specialist for ServiceBridge, a company providing field service management solutions to businesses in the areas of pest control, landscaping, home repair, commercial services and more. Before coming to ServiceBridge, Barry spent 5 years as an SEO consultant working with service businesses, e-commerce stores, and large B2B firms.