Is Your SEO Actually Working? 3 Ways to Find Out

Searching and filtering words on blackboard

Author: Nate Dame

One concern I hear over and over from marketing managers and executives is about accurately and objectively measuring SEO progress and ROI. The team members in the trenches are monitoring rankings, bounce rates, engagement, etc., but eventually, you have to know what’s actually driving revenue—and the C-suite wants numbers to prove it. But modern SEO hasn’t been the easiest thing to confine to a static set of metrics. Traditionally, SEO efforts that could rely on more technical strategies were easier to measure. Today, effective SEO is much less technical, so we need to adapt our methods.

While search engines are always improving (which means that your content must always be improving), they’re always focused on the same end goal, which means good, modern SEO really is a long-term strategy. How do you measure your efforts for improvements and what do you show the C-suite in the meantime?

The need for some kind of concrete answer has sent marketers after a lot of vanity metrics that look good (or not) on paper, but don’t really tell the brand’s true SEO story on their own. Bounce rate, time-on-site, clicks, and even—to an extent—an isolated view of search rankings don’t relate directly to revenue and don’t give an accurate view of an SEO campaign’s value. Maximizing your SEO opportunities, and providing reports that executives actually care about, means focusing on the right metrics:

1. Keyword Ranking Are Helpful, Sometimes

“Where do we rank for our top keywords?” It’s every CMO and business owner’s first (and sometimes last) SEO thought, and usually the primary metric by which SEO efforts are measured. When we consider the big picture of SEO, it’s a good consideration, but—especially in the day-to-day business of SEO work keyword ranking shouldn’t get too much of your time and attention. There are several reasons for this:

  • Search results are personalized. Google considers factors like browsing history, physical location, demographics, and personal preferences when dishing up search results. When you Google your key terms, you are probably not seeing the same results that your target audience is seeing when they search those same words.
  • All keywords are not created equal. Reporting that your brand now ranks on page 1 for six of your top 10 keywords can be a good excuse to buy the marketing team lunch on Friday, but that’s about it. The importance of each individual keyword depends on search volume and its relevance to your business. Resources should be focused on the keywords that actually impact the bottom line.
  • Ranking changes are not measured by a universal standard. If I told you that your brand dropped eight places for one of your keywords and two places for another, which would be more important to address? The answer: you don’t know yet. Dropping eight places on page 4 of search results isn’t going to impact your organic traffic, but dropping two places on page 1 probably will.

The truth is, effective SEO—the work that drives real, lasting ranking changes and leads to increased revenue—is long-term work. Marketers that make a daily habit of checking their rankings tend to fall into reactive, instead of proactive, SEO habits. Most ranking changes don’t require immediate SEO attention. Search engines are always testing new algorithms, and competitors are always publishing new content. SEO that is constantly responding to ranking changes misuses resources that should be spent on the real job of building influence. And SEO reports that over-emphasize keyword rankings tend to lead executives astray on the health of their SEO efforts.

How to monitor keyword ranking appropriately:

If you must Google, at least use a depersonalized search to strip (most of) the personalization out of your search results. If you are using another SEO tool to monitor ranking, choose one and stick with it. Every tool uses a slightly different process to determine your “real” ranking, so stay consistent with one tool to get results you can use.

As you monitor rankings and track changes, remember to look at the big picture. Resist the temptation to scramble after every tiny ranking change by creating one report that looks at high-value keywords and a separate one for low-value keywords, so you can more easily focus on the keywords that actually drive conversions. Similarly, be sure to note the page and/or position numbers of rankings that change so you can emphasize smaller changes on page one over big changes on page four. 

2. Organic Traffic is a Better SEO Metric than Ranking

Search traffic is the real goal behind improving search engine rankings, so a greater emphasis should be put on your efforts here. Any improvement in keyword ranking could be the result of a standard search engine fluctuation, but increases in organic traffic are concrete evidence that SEO work is paying off.

How to monitor traffic from organic search:

First, make sure you are set up with Google Analytics. It’s a free tool, with a Premium feature that is priced for enterprise-level organizations. The Premium version mostly offers greater support and service, and more specific numbers—whereas the free version “samples” data to provide more rounded numbers. The data you get, however, is enough for your purposes here.

In Google Analytics, use the left-hand column to navigate to Acquisition > Overview > All Traffic > Channels. The table at the bottom of the page breaks down where your site traffic came from, and there’s one row for “Organic Search.”

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Analytics view organic traffic

Of course, the organic traffic number includes branded and non-branded traffic. (Branded traffic is from keywords that use you brand name—e.g. ”Marketo marketing software”—whereas non-branded traffic is from keywords that do not—e.g. ”marketing automation software.”)

Ever since Google took away keyword data, it’s incredibly difficult to break organic traffic data into branded and non-branded categories (although there are some great tools that can help). The best way, within Google Analytics, is to click into Organic Search from the first column in the above table, and then select Landing Page from the Secondary Dimension drop-down option above the table.

Analytics view landing pages

The keywords are, surprise, “(not provided),” but we can gather some clues from the landing pages they point to. For home pages and login pages (rows 1-3 above), we can assume most of that traffic came from branded searches because there is no keyword focus for those pages other than the brand name. Traffic to blog posts and resource content (rows 4-8 above) probably mostly came from non-branded search traffic because they focus on a solution or on information that Google would have delivered in result to a more generic query. Rough estimates to be sure, but we’re at Google’s mercy concerning what data they choose to share.

3. The Bottom Line: SEO Conversions and ROI

The goal of high search rankings is traffic, but the goal of traffic—to push the process all the way to the bottom line—is sales. Every website visitor does not convert to sales, so it’s important to monitor the conversion rate of your SEO efforts.

Every conversion point, which will vary based on your industry and business model, should be considered: from ebook downloads to online purchases. Multi-touch attribution also needs to be considered, since every visit won’t convert—but every visit may lead to a conversion later.

How to monitor conversions and ROI from SEO efforts:

This process can start in Google Analytics, by setting up goals. Analytics has three options for setting up goals:

  • Goal templates: These templates are organized by categories (revenue, acquisition, inquiry, and engagement). If your account is associated with a specific industry in Google, you will also see templates for specific industries. Every template can be edited.
  • Custom goals If you prefer, you can create a custom goal from scratch. You just need to decide whether you want to create a goal based on which pages the user views, how long the user stays on a page, how a user interacts with your site, or how many pages a user views per session.
  • Smart goals: If you’re using Google AdWords, you can take advantage of their machine learning programs to create smart goals. Turning on smart goals allows the program to monitor website visits, track which become conversions, use those insights to score visits, and automatically translate the best ones into goals. Your goals then become those actions that usually lead to conversions, and Analytics monitors them for you.

Goal completions from organic traffic can tie SEO efforts back into the revenue stream. When you start using modern SEO strategies to drive traffic to a specific landing page (one with a good conversion rate), you can watch the views and time on that page increase.

Modern SEO Strategies Need New Metrics

I like metrics. Ask any of my staff: when we launch a new campaign, I put the Google Analytics Real-Time view on the flatscreen TV in our office. I like to gather data and try to extrapolate what it all means, but the truth is that most of what are commonly considered “SEO metrics” don’t mean anything to a brand’s bottom line.

These three metrics—keyword ranking (with huge caveats), traffic from organic search, and conversions/ROI from organic search—can give you the insights you need to drive improvement and growth in your SEO strategy. They will also give you meaningful numbers to report to the C-suite, because they are rooted in a modern understanding of SEO.


Is Your SEO Actually Working? 3 Ways to Find Out was posted at Marketo Marketing Blog – Best Practices and Thought Leadership. |

The post Is Your SEO Actually Working? 3 Ways to Find Out appeared first on Marketo Marketing Blog – Best Practices and Thought Leadership.


How to Accelerate Your Blog’s Growth with a Simple Content Strategy

Be honest for a moment…

When publication day rolls around, do you have a post ready? Or do you frantically scramble at the last minute to figure out what you’re going to write?

When you’re writing guest posts for other blogs, are your topics carefully coordinated and strategic, or scattered and inconsistent?

And what about your efforts to fuel the growth of your blog?

Have you tried several different tactics, such as webinars, Periscoping, and Facebook ads only to see lackluster results?

If so, your blog is suffering from randomness.

Fortunately, there is a cure.

The Certain Cure for Blogging Randomness

No matter how good your instincts are as a blogger, real success comes from careful planning, not a series of in-the-moment decisions.

And that means having a content strategy.

It’s the linchpin that makes everything work together. It’s what helps you build momentum to continue to grow over time.

So what exactly is a content strategy?

Demian Farnworth, chief content writer at Copyblogger, defined it this way:

“a plan for building an audience by publishing, maintaining, and spreading frequent and consistent content that educates, entertains, or inspires to turn strangers into fans and fans into customers.”

Research from Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs shows that those with a documented content strategy consider themselves more effective with their content and social media channels.

But even though the data indicates that a strategy is essential for building a successful blog, the vast majority of bloggers don’t have one. No bueno.

Why Most Bloggers are Allergic to Strategy

Bloggers have an abundance of choices. They have almost no limit to the number of possible tactics that could move the dial on their blog.

But the paradox of choice is that when you have many options available to you, it becomes difficult to choose between them.

Here are a few of the decisions you face when it comes to growing your blog.

First, there’s the medium. Should you only blog? Podcast? Make videos? How about all three?

Then there’s the format. Should your content be long and detailed like the posts here on Smart Blogger? Or should they be short and pithy like Seth Godin’s posts? Or perhaps you should curate the content of others?

And what about frequency? Should you post daily, weekly, or only when you have something truly epic to say?

Then there’s the equally important task of how you drive traffic to your blog.

Here too you have multiple approaches when it comes to figuring out the right plan for you.

The result of having so many options is always the same. You end up paralyzed, anxious, and wasting time.

As a result, your blogging “plan” resembles something like this:

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But imagine your results if your plan looked more like this:

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When you compare the two, it’s easy to see which approach will likely yield tangible results, and which will leave you floundering in a sea of randomness.

How to Create a Simple but Effective Content Strategy

When I worked my corporate job, our annual business planning was a long, grueling process over the course of four to six weeks.  The good news is creating a strategy for your blog doesn’t require the same level of pain.

All you have to do is follow a framework that charts a clear path to get you to your goals.

1) Begin with The End in Mind

In his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote about the importance of getting clear about where you want to go:

To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

In building your content strategy, your first choice should be deciding on your objective.

Specifically, you have to get clear about why your blog exists, by defining your ultimate goal.

Smart bloggers blog for a definitive specific reason. What’s yours?

Here’s an example:

“My goal is to build a business that enables me to work from anywhere in the world. Ideally, I’d like to work no more than six hours per day.”

Next, take this “big prize” that you are working toward, and break it down into specific targets you need to achieve to grow your blog along the way. This will help to guide the strategy you create for your content.

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Your milestones will vary depending on where you are in your blogging journey. Here are some common ones:

  • Build an engaged and loyal fan base who share and comment on your posts
  • Reach your first 1,000 email subscribers
  • Consistently earn $5k/month

Your strategy may need to adapt as you hit each important milestone, so it’s a good idea to revisit your content plan after you hit each one.

2) Get to Know Your Audience Inside and Out

Every decision with your blog must begin with your readers. You’ve got to consider their likes, dislikes, and needs, as well as their dreams, desires, fears, and frustrations.

If you’re tempted to ignore this step, assuming you know everything there is to know about your audience, don’t. This is the glue that makes everything work.

Some common, helpful advice for getting to know your ideal readers well is to develop personas. Here’s how blog and business writing coach Henneke describes the relationship you should have with your ideal reader:

“Your ideal reader should become like an imaginary friend. You should know your ideal reader so well that you can start a conversation with her at any time. You know when she shakes her head because you say something she doesn’t agree with. You know what makes her smile or laugh. You know the questions she asks. You know how to charm and flatter her.

When describing your ideal reader, don’t just think about demographics like age, gender, income, education, and family circumstances. Do you know what he dreams of achieving? And what keeps her awake at 3am?”

(To find out more about getting to know your readers better than they know themselves, go here, here, and here.)

Once you’ve got a strong handle on who your audience is, you can use that information to guide your content strategy.

3) Design Your Content Conveyor Belt

Your content plan will serve as a “conveyor belt” to help you move your audience along the various steps in the journey that leads you both to your goals.

Here are the typical stages you need to move your audience through:

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To effectively move your readers from phase to phase, use the knowledge uncovered in the previous stage to answer the following question:

“What keeps my audience stuck in this phase and what do they need from me and my content to move forward?”

Because when you think about everything you publish not simply as “content” but as a catalyst for a specific change, your approach to blogging will shift.

Great content transforms your readers. And that transformation should progress both you and your audience toward your respective goals. That’s why every piece of content you publish needs to have a purpose.

To induce this change, you need to know what issues are dominating your readers’ thoughts, as well as what they need to move to the next step with you. This will help you determine what type of content to give them.

Matching the right content to where your audience is on their journey with you is critical to helping you get results.

Here’s an example of what types of content works for the various stages:

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And here’s an example of that playing out in the real world.

In this guest post on The Change Blog, international best-selling author Stephen Guise uniquely addressed a common burning pain of his ideal reader: getting in shape. As a result, he was able to turn thousands of strangers into readers.

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By offering a free chapter of his book on mini-habits, the strategy he wrote about in his guest post, Stephen was able to convert a good number of those new readers into subscribers for his blog.

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Every Tuesday morning when he sends an email to his list, he works to turn those subscribers into loyal fans by continuing  to address topics that interest them.

And some of those fans become customers whenever he releases a new book or reminds them of other books and courses he has available that are in line with their needs.

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4) Determine the Optimal Format for Your Content

When deciding what content to give your audience, you’ll also have to determine the best format.

There are basic choices such as the medium: i.e., text, audio, or video. But there are tons of other considerations too, including length, use of images, and even if your blog post should be a listicle, case study, or tear jerker.

Before you get overwhelmed, take comfort in knowing there’s a simple way to discover which choices are ideal to help you grow your blog.

Let the data decide for you.

Mining the comments you’ve received on content you’ve already published can give you clues about what your audience is most receptive to.

Andrew Warner at Shade of Info published this long-form post. Based upon the gleeful comments he received, his audience is hungry for more content with the same level of detail.

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You could also ask your audience what their preferences are. In this post, Linda Formicelli used a simple survey to figure out if her audience wanted her to branch out into audio and video content.

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And in this case study, Andrianes Pinantoan, detailed how Canva used 3rd party data to figure out the ideal post length, type (list post), and even the number of images they should include in every article.

By doing research on their competitors’ most popular posts, using forums to identify new ways to tackle common issues, and capturing insights on what their readers were already sharing, they were able to create a profile of the form their content needed to take if they wanted to grow.

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5) Choose the Right Channel for Your Content

As with the format, the objective of each piece of content plays a role in channel selection. If your goal is engagement with your audience, then publishing on your blog or sending an email to your subscribers is the way to go.

If you are trying to reach a new audience, you’ll need to select a channel that lives outside your blog.

Here’s a way to think of which channels are most appropriate for each stage your audience goes through.

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Srini Rao, host of the Unmistakeable Creative podcast, publishes blog posts on Medium as a way to get new listeners.

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Because creating great content can be so time-consuming, consider publishing different elements into different channels to get as much traction as possible out of the core pieces you produce.

Gary Vaynerchuk swears by this repurposing strategy. From his core content pillars of The #AskGaryVee and Daily Vee shows, he and his team make several pieces of content reach different audiences in different places.

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Jay Baer of Convince and Convert does this as well. Three times a week, Jay publishes a three-minute Jay Today video. And each video becomes eight different pieces of content. It’s part of what they call their “atomizing” strategy.

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6) Build Relationships with Regular Communications

Have you ever met someone, hit it off brilliantly, then failed to stay in contact afterward?

That relationship would have had a chance to develop if one of you had been more intentional about keeping it going.

In growing your blog, you can’t expect your audience to actively build the relationship. It’s up to you to provide consistent communication to maintain the connection with your audience.

The key is to set expectations so they know when to expect to hear from you.

Ben Settle emails his subscribers daily and is very clear in making sure that people considering signing up to his list are aware of how often he will show up in their inbox.

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Even if daily contact seems too much (and it probably will be for most bloggers and audiences), it makes sense to email your subscribers more frequently in the beginning.

Many smart bloggers will automatically add new subscribers to a short welcome sequence before falling into a regular schedule of sending their latest blog content.

Brian Clark sends new subscribers to his Unemployable list a series of three emails as a part of a mini-course, and then transitions into weekly emails.

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Once into your normal publishing schedule, the ideal frequency for you and your audience will be determined by a variety of factors, including their preferences, and how much time you need to produce quality content.

Your aim should be to email often enough so that your audience remembers you and is happy to hear from you, but not so much that they are overwhelmed with all your messages.

Danny Iny and his team at Mirasee email their audience six days a week. But for those in their audience who feel like six messages are too much, they give them the option to receive fewer messages.

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And if you’re unsure about what the right frequency is for you, err on the side of publishing less often, and make sure that when you do post, it is the best content you can possibly write on the topic.

Here’s Jon Morrow’s take on this issue:

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7) Pick the Perfect Promotion Strategy for Your Content

Another major consideration is how you will get people beyond your subscribers to see your published content.

There are six common ways to do that – you can use one approach or some combination, but each has its pros and cons.

Paid Traffic

If you’ve got money to invest, this can consistently bring qualified leads to your blog. Facebook Ads can be complex to setup but very successful once up and running.


If your content ranks for a relevant term, it can bring a steady stream of traffic from people searching for the topic you write about.

Danny Margulies at Freelance to Win writes about how to make money on Upwork, and he gets plenty of search traffic because he ranks #1 for this term.

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However, be careful about selecting SEO as your primary traffic generation strategy, especially as a beginner. Despite the obvious appeal of search traffic, it’s not the best approach for everyone. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it altogether.

Here’s more Jon Morrow advice for effectively incorporating SEO into your content strategy:

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Influencer Outreach

If you know how to build relationships and connect with influencers, having them share your work is a great way to get introduced to new audiences.

Borrowed Audience

Publishing your content on sites or platforms with significant built-in audiences is a popular way to get more visibility for what you produce. Two common approaches for this strategy are writing guest posts and contributing to 3rd party sites like Slideshare.

Email Subscribers

When you have a critical mass of people in your audience, who are also sharers, they can serve as a valuable army, quickly disseminating the word about your content.

Here’s how Smart Blogger encourages their engaged readers to share their posts:

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Social Media

Social platforms are designed for sharing and connecting. If you establish a following where your audience hangs out, it can be an excellent way to reach new people and get them back to your blog.

About Meditation uses Instagram to find new readers. Here’s how they strategically use individual posts to get people back to their website:

Here’s the post:

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Here’s the call-to-action:

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And here’s the link in the bio that leads readers to a landing page on their website:

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8) Close the Deal with a Call-to-Action that Converts

The last component of your content strategy often seems like a minor detail, but not giving proper attention to this essential element can mean the difference between reaching your goals or not.

It’s all about conversion. Specifically, the content elements that make it clear what next action you want your audience to take, and making it easy for them to do so.

For instance, let’s say your ideal reader comes across a piece of your content on Twitter. They get to your website, read the content, and love it. Once they’re done, they say “that was great” and off they go, never to be seen again.

You did all the hard work to get your ideal reader to your site, but you didn’t have content in place to close the deal. Shame.

To prevent this unfortunate occurrence, make decisions in advance about what specific content you need to convert your audience to the next step in your continuum.

Here are some examples of the conversion choices you could make in each of your audience stages.

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Here’s how Happify uses relevant hashtags to increase discoverability on Instagram.

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To turn readers into subscribers, Primility uses an exit intent pop-up box that appears after someone finishes reading a blog post.

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To turn subscribers into loyal fans, Marie Forleo encourages her audience to leave comments on her videos and gives explicit instructions on how to do it.

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And to help convert loyal and engaged fans into customers, I include a money-back guarantee on my coaching sales page.

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In each instance, the bloggers make it clear and easy for their audience to take the next desired step.

Reject Randomness and Create a Simple Content Strategy

It’s time to admit it.

You invest too much time and energy in your blog to accept a ho-hum response.

But the truth is, randomness is killing your chances of success.

Without a coherent strategy for turning strangers into subscribers (and maybe even customers too), you’ll burn out before reaching your destination.

You don’t have to create a complicated plan—you just need to work out what content will move people from one stage to the next.

So, give your blog a simple content strategy and start getting real results.

Your blog deserves it.

Your audience deserves it.

And you sure as heck deserve it too.

About the Author: Sonia Thompson is a content marketing strategist at TRY Business School, where she helps entrepreneurs create and execute plans that get results. Grab your free 5-part email mini-course on the five essentials you need to effectively implement your blog’s content strategy (including a handy-dandy content strategy worksheet). Access it here.