How to Tell If Your SEO is Working
by Hillary Weidner
Search engine optimization (SEO) can be a tough nut to crack sometimes, and with all of the different ranking factors that are at play at any given time, it can be difficult to determine whether or not your SEO is even working. While the art and science of assessing SEO impact is still far from exact, there are some key data points you can look for to gauge the effectiveness of your SEO efforts; read on to find out what they are.
Percentage of Visits Originating from Search Engines
Your traffic stats are a veritable gold mine of information, so you’ll definitely need to have some type of website analytics program (e.g., Google Analytics) installed on your site to keep up with how visitors are arriving there. For SEO purposes, one of the most important stats to pay attention to is what percentage of your visitors is coming to your site via search engines. Most analytics programs will sort your visitors into three major categories:
- Direct Traffic – Visitors that arrive by type-in traffic (i.e., they typed your URL into a browser’s address bar), email links, bookmarks, etc.
- Referral Traffic – Visitors that arrive via a web page that links to your site (e.g., other websites, social media, etc.)
- Search Engine Traffic – Visitors that arrive via search engine queries.
If your SEO is on point, the percentage of visitors that you’re receiving from search engine traffic should be your biggest category. This means that you have one (or more) web pages that are ranking well in the search engines for certain keyword queries. This type of traffic is far more reliable and consistent than other forms of traffic such as social media links, which tend to have a very short shelf-life.
Referring Search Engines
Most analytics programs not only provide the percentage of your visitors that come from search engines, but they will also give you a list of the referring search engines in order of traffic count. If you’re doing it right, Google should be the number-one source of your search engine traffic.
Google is still the 800-pound gorilla when it comes to search, and although Yahoo, Bing, Ask.com, and other competitors can bring in fairly consistent traffic, they simply don’t have the same reach that Google has in terms of traffic volume. For example, a number-one ranking in Yahoo and Bing combined would still not garner as much traffic as a number-one ranking in Google for the exact same search query.
If your stats reveal a sudden drop in search engine traffic across the board, your site may be experiencing accessibility problems, which definitely merits your immediate attention. However, if you notice a drop in Google traffic while traffic levels on the other engines remain roughly the same, you could be dealing with a Google-specific ranking penalty, or an algorithm tweak that has placed importance on other ranking factors that don’t favor your site.
Keywords and Keyphrases
Analyzing the keywords and keyphrases that are sending traffic to your site is one of the most important pieces to your SEO puzzle. While Google gave the entire SEO community a gut punch when they decided to make logged-in users’ search queries private by default there’s still quite a bit of value you can extract from your keyword stats, as not all users log into Google before performing search queries. In addition, Yahoo and Bing have no such restrictions on search queries. Use the data that is available to help piece together which keywords and keyphrases are sending visitors your way.
Landing Page Reports
Even if your keyword stats may leave much to be desired (tired of seeing “not provided”?), you can look at your landing page reports to get a good idea of which pages tend to attract traffic from search engine queries. If you’ve been targeting a keyword/keyphrase with a certain page on your site, and your website stats are telling you that that particular URL is pulling traffic from search engines, it’s fairly reasonable to assume that the traffic you’re receiving comes from search queries that are rooted in your target keywords.
Find Out for Yourself
It’s not the most sophisticated way, but it works: Pull up Google and perform a search query using the keywords that you’re targeting, and see where your site ranks in the search engine results pages. Make sure that you’re logged out of your Google account before you do this, or you’ll receive biased results based on your search and browsing history. Make a note of how your site is ranking for various keywords, and do your best to boost your SEO efforts for any search queries for which your site ranks poorly.
The above list will help you get a good grasp on how well your SEO is working. Use the data from your discoveries to help you develop an action plan that will strengthen any weak areas, so that you can receive the full benefit from your SEO efforts.