Defining Optimization Success
I posed a question recently in several online forums. The question was directed to SEO professionals to see if anybody had a standard to measure the success of a search optimization campaign.
Success, of course, is a relative term. Obviously the only success metric that matters is ROI (Return on Investment). Anybody who puts down several hundred or thousands of dollars down on an optimization campaign wants to get a return many times over that which they have invested.
ROI, however, is a very difficult thing for an outside vendor to measure. Unless the marketing or optimization firm has access to pre- and post-campaign sales figures, it’s difficult to produce the most accurate ROI figure–advertising dollar spent per gross dollar(s) earned.
There are other ROI figures which can be utilized such as cost-per-click delivered, and cost-per sale. Pole Position Web has been a leader in providing quality reporting services to help the client get this information in an easy to use and understand interface.
Outside of cost-per-sale, per-click or per-whatever, what is an acceptable measure of success for an optimization campaign? The obvious answer is search rankings, but that also brings some of the most obvious objections to such a single-minded measurement.
Objection 1: Top rankings for keywords that generate little or no searches will do little to improve business.
Objection 2: Top rankings for non-targeted keywords will bring in the wrong audience and produce little or no sales.
Summary: Top rankings are meaningless unless the right keywords are targeted effectively.
Both of these objections and summary above contain substantial merit. With proper keywords targeted these objections can be put to rest and ensure that you ARE getting the greatest benefit from your optimization campaign.
Finding an Accurate Measure of Success
Looking solely at keyword rankings as a measurement, what makes a successful optimization campaign? Is it top 10 rankings for all keywords? Top 5? Top 3? What search engines “count” toward the mark of success when keywords are ranked well? Google? Yahoo? Excite? AltaVista? What is the likelihood of achieving your top rankings on all top 20 U.S. based engines? Or the top 10? Or just the top 5? Which search engines matter more, and by how much?
Posing this question on the forums failed to produce any solid or substantial answers.
The question of how and when you can determine that an optimization campaign has been “successful” in terms of search rankings is quite difficult to answer, and I believe it is primarily due to the fact that very few SEOs want to be held to a specific standard. Many promise or “guarantee” top rankings but are vague when defining what counts as a top ranking.
Questions often left unanswered are:
* What search engines are monitored?
* How long must the rankings be maintained?
* What are the specific keyword phrases are counted?
* and which of the above count toward achieving the “goal”.
Primarily you’ll get promises of X number of top 20 keyword rankings. A goal that can often be easily achieved by getting one or two keywords to perform well on multiple engines while the bulk of your keywords don’t rank anywhere at all.
In very few instances can you expect every targeted keyword phrase to rank highly on each of the top five search engines consistently, regardless of the quality of SEO or services performed. Statistically, there is very little overlap in the top rankings from one engine to another. In fact, only about 21% of keywords will fall in the top 10 from one engine to another, and less than 1% between 5 or more engines. An average SEO should be able to get you ranked well for many terms on a single engine. An excellent SEO should be able to get you ranked well for many terms on 3 of the top 5 engines.
Attempting to answer the question of how is SEO success measures (again, outside of ROI), Pole Position Web has developed an internal algorithm that takes the following into consideration:
* Search engine rankings on the top 5 U.S. search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, Ask/Teoma)
* Click-thru rate of top search ranking positions
* Actual ranked position of each keyword
* Search engine market share for all web searches
* Click-thru and conversion rate of each search engine
* Top ranking overlap across multiple search engines
* Other statistical metrics
From this we have put together a very comprehensive Keyword Ranking Performance score for all our clients which provides an accurate at-a-glance measure of how their current optimization campaign is succeeding. Many in the industry may instantly disagree with applying such a metric to an optimization campaign, based (again) on the objections already raised above. However, we firmly believe that having such a metric in place greatly enhances the knowledge and expectation level for the client, giving them just one more tool in their arsenal to evaluate true success vs. unrealistic expectations.