Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tips to Measure SEO Success

Part Three - Justifying SEO
This is the last in a series of articles related to justifying a rework of your website with SEO in mind. Today we will look at how to capture and measure the results of your SEO efforts. Many of these solutions will require some programming skill.

Remember the goal of SEO is to improve performance of your website. In order to do that you need to have defined what was going to be improved and have a baseline measure from before the changes were made.

Measuring Results

The simplest way to measure your success it to use the methods used to get your baseline data. Use the same methods used to justify the need for SEO.

In most cases SEO related changes will take time to deliver results. Wait 2 weeks before you check on changes to your site. (Some benchmarks, such as Alexa.com can take more than a month to show a difference.) If your site is static and has not changed much over the past several months, it may take a few more weeks for search engines to recognize the changes and to incorporate them into their search results.

But what if you need better ways to track how your site is being used.

For example did you know that Google Analytics credits the keyword or referring URL visitors from the last time they visited your site.

What does that mean:
If someone searches Google for the term "Blue Widgets" and clicks on the link to your site. They look around and then leave after reading a few pages on your site. Analytics credits one visit to your site for "Blue Widget".

A few days later, the visitor decides your company had the "Blue Widget" they want and they search Google for your company name. The user adds the "Blue Widget" to their cart and also purchase a "Red Widget".

If you've got Google set up to track what keywords people search on that lead to purchases your company name will get credit for the sale. In reality you want "Blue Widget" the original search term to get credit.

Luckily there is a way to configure Google Analytics so that the first search term gets credit. Patrick Altoft wrote a great blog that describes how to set Analytics to track first clicks.

Using 800 Phone Numbers

If your company has several unused toll free 800 numbers, you can have your IT department configure the web site to display different numbers based on what search terms (or PPC campaign) visitors click on to find your site. The usage reports for those 800 numbers will indicate how many phone calls your different SEO efforts are delivering.


Contact or Request For Quotes Forms

You can use a similar mechanism to track when someone fills out a contact form or fills out an online request for a quote. With a bit of judicious programming you can generate reports to track what keywords or PPC campaigns are generating new business.

If the IT department implements either of those two solution, I  would suggest that cookies be used to track previous visits to your site. That way the first click ("Blue Widget") will get credit for the call, or quote.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Solutions and Benefits Of Search Engine Optimization

Part 2 - Justifying SEO.
This is the second part of a series of articles related to justifying a rework of your website with SEO in mind. Today we will look at defining solutions and benefits.

Providing a Solution
This article assumes that you are familiar with many of the best practices for SEO and recognized that your corporate website was lacking in this area. If not let me suggest you read Website Basic SEO Review, from last Novembers's blog.

You should be able to list concrete examples and fixes that can be implemented on your website. For example:
  • Creating unique page titles.
  • Using Images for headers text.
  • Use of keywords in Title or Headers.
  • Better worded internal links.
  • et cetera...
Benefits
You should also list clearly defined benefits (think goals). Increased traffic is a nebulous benefit, you want benefits to be measurable. Some examples would be:
  • Increase website traffic by 15% in 3 months.
  • Grow website sales by X dollars, or by x percent.
  • Reduce bounce rate on targeted keywords by 1/3.
  • Raise the number requests for quotes by ___ a month.
  • et cetera...
Try to be specific, but not overly optimistic.

Next weeks, will cover methods to measure the performance of your SEO efforts.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Search Engine Ranking Data 2008 to 2010

Search Engine Ranking
Whenever comScore, Inc. releases their search engine rankings, everyone who blogs about search engines or SEM comments on the new statistics. Since comScore just released their February 2010 results I've been reading lots of posts about the new data.

I have not seen anything that shows the results over time, so I thought I'd take a bit of time to put something together. The following chart shows the U.S. search engine ranking from comScore for the top five search engines from January 2008 to February 2010.
The graph shows data for all Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft sites. (Google's share includes youtube.com.)

I find it interesting that up until May 2009 when Bing was launched Google's share of searches were rising while the other four search engines shares declined. Since then Google's share has remained relatively unchanged, Bing's has risen and the other three engine's shares have declined. Although it seems that most of Bing's growth is due to loses by Yahoo.
Download the excel file used to generate these chart.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Justifying Search Engine Optimization

Have a feeling that your website content or design is not as good as it could be? Not getting the traffic or sales that you hoped for? Search engine rankings are as not as high as they could be. (Unless you are #1, you probably feel that way.)

The solution you think is reworking your website with SEO in mind or maybe a good online marketing campaign. But you don't know how to justify it? This article is the first of several which will give some suggestions about how to go about justifying the work.

Prove Your Point

If you want to get a budget for reworking your website you are going to need to convince whoever allocates budgets. To do this you need do the following:

  1. Demonstrate that there is a problem.
  2. Provide a solution to the problem
  3. Explain expected benefits the fix.
  4. Prove that the benefits can be measured.

Houston We Have a Problem

Showing that there is a problem is easy. You can show how your site compares to the competition.

Site Traffic
While you can not find out the exact traffic for competitors you can find out how their traffic compares to yours using Alexa.com. This service allows searches by entering a website addresses or entering search terms to see traffic rankings of websites. You can even compare up to four other sites to yours. For example search for nbc.com then click on the link for NBC and you should see a screen like this.

Fill out the form with other domains, such as abc.com, cbs.com then click on the "Compare" button. You will see a graph that shows how the other sites traffic compares to NBC's.

Using Alexa, you can demonstrate that your site's traffic is not as high as competitor.

Search Results
Unfortunately there is no similar free service for comparing how your site ranks with others for keyword search result pages. Keyrow.com tries, but they only let you compare two domains against one keyword at a time.And they don't explain where they are getting their data from. I  think it is from Google search results.

That leaves you with using a paid service or program, such as WebPosition to monitor your and competitor's sites.Or doing it the old fashion way by spending time searching Google yourself and tracking results on a spreadsheet.

Keywords
If you are using Google Analytics they you can look at your site's keywords and bounce rate. I like looking at the Top Landing Pages report, in the Content section. You can view the bounce rate for keywords of individual landing pages. Pay attention to keywords relevant to your business with high bounce rates (IMHO those over 30%).

Social Media
You can spend a few minutes a day or so checking out social media and seeing how you are doing versus your competition.
  1. Use TweetDeck or Twitter Search to monitor what people are saying about your company's and competitor's products.
  2. Set up Google Alerts for products, brand terms and even your company executives names.
  3. Check for Facebook fan pages.

Profits / Sales
These can be the easiest to measure, if your company has the systems in place to track where sales came from. But attributing sales to websites can also be the hard. For example, the call to your 1-800 phone number, is it someone who is looking at your website but doesn't like to shop online? Or maybe they had a question that wasn't answered on the site. Does that revenue get assigned to the website?

Baseline Data
 The key is to get good baseline data. That way you have something to compare to after you update your website. If you have the time try to get or track information over  2 - 3 months, especially social media.

 Next week we will talk about solutions and benefits.

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    SEO Long Tail of the Snake or Chasing Your Own Tail?

    What is the long tail?
    If you are just getting started with SEO and trying to market your small business website, you might have run across the term "long tail of the snake". It is an expression that refers to the terms that people interested in purchasing your product or service might use in a search, that are not the obvious and most popular terms (those are the head of the snake). It is a successful strategy for driving traffic and dollars to a website, but many people have problems figuring out what terms belong to the tail. This article will give some suggestions on how to find those search words.

    There is nothing new about long tail SEO optimization, people have been doing it for years, at least since 2004 that I am aware of.

    Finding Long Tail Terms

    1. Hire an SEO consultant. That will work, but be prepared to spend several thousand dollars.
    2. Look at paid keyword database and services such as wordtracker, keyworddiscovery or wordstream. Costs will be around $50 - $100 / month, and are usually cheaper if you purchase an annual contract. 
    3. Use In House Expertise. If you know your product and market, odds are you know what terms clients use when talking about your product. Cost Free.
    I have nothing against consultants, some of my  friends are SEO consultants. If you are a small business owner like me, you do not have the marketing budget to hire an SEO consultant.

    I would suggest a combination of 2 and 3. Check out a couple of the services, they have free trials of varying lengths. Read reviews about the services (wordtracker review, keyworddiscovery review, wordstream review) and see which work for you.

    Create a spread sheet of words used to describe your product or service. Include items that your product is used to build. Do you manufacture latex tubes? Are your tubes used in surgical equipment, or to make exercise equipment. If so, then add terms such as "surgical tubing" , "medical grade tubing" or "black rubber tubing".

    Free Tool

    Google's Keyword Tool is a great free tool to find related keywords. If you enter a list of keywords, it will show you how many times those words were searched for last month, in the US and globally. Sometimes it will display "Not enough data". Don't let that throw you. If you know your industry and that is a term used to describe your product, then your term is still a valid long tail word.

    Take a look at this blog about picking and using keywords from December of 2009. It will help you prioritize which keywords to target first.

    Is it worth going after long tail search terms?
    Yes, but justifying it can be difficult, especially if the website does not sell product. Next week I'll talk about some simple business practices that can be implemented to help justify all this work.