Website and Ranking Metrics to Watch One of the most valuable sources for data, analysis and refinement in an SEO campaign is in the statistics available via website tracking and measuring programs. A good analytics program can provide an incredible amount of data that can be used to track your visitors and make decisions about who to target in the future and how to do it.
Below is a short list of the most valuable elements in visitor tracking:
Campaign Tracking – The ability to put specific URLs or referrer strings onto ads, emails or links and track their success.
Action Tracking – Adding the ability to track certain actions on a site like form submission, newsletter signups, add to cart buttons, checkout or transaction completions and tying them together with campaigns and keyword tracking so you know what ads, links, terms and campaigns are bringing you the best visitors.
Search Engine Referral Tracking – Seeing which search engines sent which visitors over time and tracking the terms and phrases they used to reach your site. Combined with action tracking, this can help you determine which terms are most valuable to target.
Referring URLs & Domain Tracking – This allows you to see what URLs and domains are responsible for sending you traffic. By tracking these individually, you can see where your most valuable links are coming from.
First-Time vs. Return Visitors – Find out what percentage of your visitors are coming back each day/week/month. This can help you to figure out how “sticky” and consistently interesting your site is.
Entry Pages – Which pages are attracting the most visitors and which are converting them. You can also see pages that have a very high rate of loss – those pages which don’t do a good job pulling people into the site.
Visitor Demographics – Where are your visitors coming from, what browsers are they using, what time do they visit? All these questions and many more can be answered with demographics.
Click Path Analysis – What paths do your visitors follow when they get to your site? This data can help you make more logical streams of pages for visitors to use as they navigate your site, attempting to find information or complete a task.
Popular Pages – Which pages get the most visitors and which are neglected? Use this data to help improve low popularity pages and emulate highly trafficked ones.
Page Views per Session – This data can tell you how many pages each visitor to your site is viewing – another metric used to measure “stickiness.”
Applying the information you learn from your visitor tracking is a science unto its own. Experience and common sense should help to discover which terms, visitors, referrers and demographics are most valuable to your site, enabling you to make the best possible decisions about how and where to target.
Working with a Pro vs. Do-It-Yourself SEO
As in many other areas of web development, a long-standing argument exists between those who feel that learning and practicing SEO should be done in-house, vs. those who feel it is best left to the professionals. There are advantages to either side, and it’s best to weigh these against each other when making a final decision:
Advantages of Working with a Professional SEO
Diverse Experience – Professionals with several years of SEO experience under their belts can tell you what to expect from the search engines as you conduct the optimization process. They can also interpret and understand rankings data and “hiccups” in the results that may indicate certain trends or strategies that should be implemented or avoided.
Pre-Existing Relationships – Many SEOs have contacts inside the SEO industry to folks with experience in certain fields, expertise in unique areas (i.e. press releases, article distribution, directories, etc.) that can have a great impact on the success of your efforts. Several SEOs even have personal relationships with the folks at the search engines, although the use of these contacts is very rare and SE representatives pride themselves on not showing favoritism.
Link Building Knowledge – Professionals will have the ability to quickly identify topical communities and the most popular and relevant sites in them, saving time when link building. SEOs also have considerable experience with link acquisition, and will recognize the requirements of certain sites for paid links, link requests, etc.
Identifying Linkable Content – SEOs are often masters of crafting and launching content. Not only can they identify the content most likely to get links from the specific web community, they’re also experienced in how to package and promote it.
Fixing Possible Problems – Professionals are competent at identifying and managing issues that can cause a lack of indexing, low rankings or penalties from the search engines. This is a skill that can be very hard to develop without years of practice and experience. If you have a ranking issue, an SEO can be of great value.
Time Savings – SEO can be an exceptionally time-consuming endeavor. An experienced SEO has the processes and systems of optimization down to a science, and can use that efficiency to provide better service in less time.
Advantages of Do-It-Yourself SEO
Complete Control – With personal responsibility comes complete control for each element of your site’s progress. There can be no question as to who or what created a link or modified a document.
Learn from Your Actions – The ebb and flow of the SERPs will quickly teach an amateur SEO what what works and what doesn’t. Certain links, timing and on-page changes will be fully visible and recordable, making it a learning process.
Personal Responsibility – Your success or failure will depend entirely on your own efforts, narrowing responsibility and preventing overlaps in work or issues of blame.
Cost Savings – Doing SEO yourself means you don’t have to pay someone else. If you find that your time is less expensive than hiring an outsourced provider, do-it-yourself SEO can be a great way to save money.
With these pieces of information in mind, you’re prepared to make an informed decision. Remember, too, that many SEOs offer consulting services, which provide you with a strategic plan that can be implemented and a helpful consultant to provide advice as needed on the project. This type of arrangement may offer a good balance if you’re torn about which direction to choose. Look for costs between $100-$300 per hour depending on the experience and notoriety of the consultant.
If you choose to outsource to an SEO firm, be well aware of the many pitfalls that await the uninformed. SEO has classically been an industry that has attracted many untrustworthy and dishonorable firms, resulting in an unfortunate perception from many. Pay particular attention to the following:
Manipulation & Search Spam – Overly aggressive tactics can get you banned from search engines
Link Exchanges & Free-for-All Links – While the promise of easy link building through link exchanges or link farms is tempting, these tactics often achieve sub per results. Natural, organic inbound links from sites that your competitors can’t get links from are the best way to rank well in the long term
Optimizing Pages for Search Engines vs. Visitors – Professional SEOs should have specialist copywriters who can craft well-written pages that attract both users and search engines. Repetitive keyword use (as noted above) is largely useless, but compelling, intelligent dialogue is a great way to get both searchers and engines interested in your content.
Guaranteed Rankings – Guaranteeing rankings is often one of the first indications that you’re dealing with a less-than-reputable firm. No SEO can guarantee rankings, because the search engines are responsible for the results and are constantly changing. Be wary, too, of promised success at “thousands of engines” (remember that the top 4 account for 95%+ of all search traffic), daily submission (completely unnecessary) and other “tricks” or “secrets”. Great rankings come from having great sites with quality links – no tricks or secrets required.
Investigate – The firm you work with should be able to provide references, preferably from both customers and industry folks that will let you know their skill and ability. Use your best judgment here – if a review or response seems canned or fishy, it probably is.
Finally, if you opt for do-it-yourself-SEO, be aware that are many, many parts of the SEO process not covered by this guide. SEO is a practice that has even the most respected professionals learning and researching every day to keep with trends on the web and algorithmic shifts in the search engines. A business or site owner will certainly want to join several SEO web communities (see the list in the links section) and keep up-to-date with information and best practices from the industry experts.