Developing an SEO strategy

How To Determine Success For An SEO Campaign

SEO is one of those things that most people have heard of but don't understand how it really works.  And since SEO can be costly as it is labor and time intensive to do right, a business can spend a lot of money on an SEO campaign and still not understand if it is actually working or not.

So how do you determine if an SEO campaign is actually working?

In the old days, ranking reports were the defacto way to show if an SEO campaign was working or not.  If you had high rankings then it worked, if you had low rankings, then it didn't work. Rankings are relative to the searcher now, so don't assume you rank in the same spot everywhere and for all people.  Especially for local search. Rankings are a good general indicator that you are moving in the right direction or that there is a problem with your SEO campaign, but should not be the main indicator of success.

Using rankings as a measure of success if faulty for a few reasons:

  • You could rank high for low volume keywords that produce negligible traffic to your website
  • The keywords you are ranking for may not be attracting traffic that will convert into conversions and sales
  • You have higher rankings but no added conversions or sales for your business

As you can see, higher rankings do not equate business success.  Looking at ranking reports should be used as a general guide to see if your keywords are trending up or down over time but should not be used as an end metric.

Setting Goals For Your SEO Campaign

First off, before any SEO campaign begins you should already have a strategy in place and know what the goals are for your SEO campaign.  One of the worst things you can do is hire someone to, “do SEO for my site”.  How would you begin to measure something as vague as that?  The more specific you can be with your goals the easier it will be to measure success for your SEO campaign.

An example of some SEO goals:

  • I want organic traffic to increase by 25% for service page “x” within 6 months
  • I want to see 20% year over year organic traffic increases on my site
  • I want to see top 5 rankings in Google for category page “x” with a 20% increase in sales from organic traffic for this category.
  • 20% increase in organic traffic form conversions on the site within 6 months

Now you can include ranking as goals but they also need to be tied to other business metrics that are going to help move the needle for your business.  High rankings in Google are great, but you need to see a corresponding increase in organic traffic (and ultimately conversions) to justify the higher rankings.  You also need to set enough time to achieve your goals as SEO results do not come fast.  Depending on your competition, the keywords you are targeting and the state of your own SEO, this process can take anywhere from several weeks to several months or longer.

What is ultimately going to bring you results is the corresponding organic traffic that comes with higher visibility and rankings in the search engines.  More organic traffic should translate into more conversions, whether that is email signups, lead form submissions or online sales for ecommerce stores.  That is assuming you are continuing to optimize your campaigns to increase conversions.


Metrics That Help Define SEO Success:

Year over Year Organic Growth

One of the best long-term indicators that your SEO is going well is measuring organic traffic growth over time.  The best comparison is year over year growth as the timeline is long enough to see real growth and it also compares seasonally to the previous year.  Month by month comparisons are too short to see any real growth and a single month does not give you enough data to make any changes to your campaign.  Also, month over month data does not work well as many businesses are seasonal in nature so comparing August and September might now match up well as you are comparing a summer month with a back to school month.

Google Analytics: Compare year over year traffic growth

Google Analytics: Acquisition ->All Traffic ->Source/Medium

If you are a newer business or have recently started an SEO campaign, compare that data that you do have such as quarter by quarter comparisons or organic traffic growth over a 3-6 month period.  The key is to not make knee-jerk reactions based on a month's worth of data as any given month can be an anomaly and not reflect the true results of your SEO campaign.


Organic Traffic By Landing Page

Sorting your organic traffic growth by landing page is another great way to measure the results of your SEO campaign.  The Landing Page tab in Google Analytics shows you the first page people “landed” on when they came to your website.  You can create a secondary dimension to break it down by each traffic source.

Google Analytics: Organic traffic by landing page

Google Analytics: Behavior ->Site Content -> Landing Pages (Select Medium as secondary dimension)

If you are running an SEO campaign for specific pages on your website this is a great way to isolate the pages and measure the organic traffic growth for a single page.  You can also run comparisons over time to see how any individual page on your website is performing over time.


Conversions & Sales From Organic Traffic

The end result of any SEO campaign is to generate more organic traffic, which in turn generates more leads and sales for the business.  If your rankings and organic traffic are improving but you see zero gain in leads and sales, is your SEO campaign really a success?

Google Analytics measuring conversions

Google Analytics: Acquisition -> All Traffic -> Source/Medium (Select conversion goal you want to analyze)

In order to measure conversions and sales in Google Analytics you need to make sure you have set up goal tracking in Google Analytics as well as ecommerce tracking if you are an ecomm store.  This is the only way for you to measure conversions based on traffic sources and will give you a clear picture of which traffic sources are the most valuable for your business.

When these are set up in Google Analytics you can easily see which traffic source is generating the most leads and sales for your business.


Impressions & Clicks For Search Terms You Are Targeting

While Google Analytics shows you how people get to your website and what they do when there, Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) gives you valuable insights on how Google views your website.  It is also the only place where Google will ever notify you if they have an issue with your website such as a penalty being applied to your site or if they are having trouble accessing it.  If you haven't set up Google Search Console yet, here is how you do it.

In Google Search Console, under Performance, you will find some valuable data such as what search terms your website is showing for, how many times people have clicked on it and how many impressions it had in the Google search results.  You can also see what position each keyword ranked for on average in the Google search results.  You can compare these metrics over time to see if there is a general up or down trend for each search term.  match it with the timelines of your SEO campaigns and you'll be able to see how your campaign is performing.

Google Search Console: Measure Clicks and Impressions

Google Search Console: Search results -> Queries (can also toggle to other tabs to gain additional insights on traffic)

Google Search Console is also a great place to find new keyword opportunities as you can see search terms Google is starting to show your website for that you are not currently optimizing for SEO.

When it comes to search position (where you ranked for a specific search term), please note, these positions do not mean that you rank for that search term like you would see in a keyword ranking report using rank tracking software.  All Google is showing you is that when they did show that search term for your website, this is the position they put it in.  It's a subtle difference but a big one.  You may see that you ranked in position 2 for a specific search term but it only had 20 impressions when you know in reality that search terms get thousands of searches a month.  This is because you do not rank in position 2 for this search term but for whatever reason Google showed your site a few times for this particular search term.

Like I said earlier, the Google search results depend a lot on the searcher, their location, what Google knows about them and any previous interaction with a particular domain.



Rankings should never be the end goal for an SEO campaign but they can serve as a general indicator of how your campaign is performing.  You have to use ranking software in order to get a real view of your ranking as their searches are agnostic so you can an unbiased view of how you rank.  If you conduct searches yourself in Google to see how you rank, it is almost always rank you higher than you really rank as Google knows you have a closer connection to the website than others.

If you do not have ranking software available to you, your next bet is to use Incognito Mode in your Chrome browser, preferably from a computer or device you do not use for your regular browsing during the day.

Example of Search rankings report

Example search rankings report TopVisor – Can also compare previous dates to see gains/decreases in rankings

If you want to use ranking software, Advanced Web ranking is quality ranking software.  If you are on a tight budget, Top Visor is a great budget friendly one as well.

Determine what success means for your SEO campaign

As you can see, there are several metrics you can use to help determine if your SEO campaign is working or not.  And the best part is that they are free to use.  Ranking reports are great but should serve as more of a high level metric that you monitor to see what direction your SEO campaign is heading in.  You'll need to dig through the weeds a little bit in Google Analytics and Google Search Console to get a better understanding as to what is happening with your SEO campaign.

Before you start an SEO campaign, or any marketing campaign in that matter, make sure you have a clear marketing strategy in place with goals you can work towards and metrics you can monitor on a regular basis.


About 3Bug Media

3BugMedia is a web marketing company that helps businesses develop comprehensive online marketing strategies that are proactive and work at generating online leads for their business.  Sign up for our free course on how to create your own high performing marketing funnel.

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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
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