Measuring SEO Progress: From Start to Finish – Part 1: Receiving Traffic
How to measure (and over time forecast) the impact of features that you’re building for SEO and how to measure this from start to finish. A topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot for the last few months is. It’s hard, as most of the actual work that we do can’t be measured easily or directly correlated to results. It requires a lot of resources and mostly a lot of investment (time + money). After having a discussion about this on Twitter with Dawn Anderson, Dr. Pete and Pedro Dias I thought it would be time to write up some more ideas on how to get better at measuring SEO progress and see the impact of what you’re doing. What can you do to safely assume that the right things are impacted.
Agreed, there is so much you can monitor as an SEO to basically see the impact. Even when rankings don’t move around.
— Martijn Scheijbeler (@MartijnSch) August 28, 2017
You’ve spent a lot of time writing a new article or working on a new feature/product with your team, so the last thing you want is not to receive search traffic for it. Let’s walk through the steps to get your new pages in the search engines and look at the ways you can ‘measure’ success at every step.
2. Submit: to the Index and/or Sitemaps
The first thing you want that you can impact is making sure that your pages are being crawled, in the hope that right after they’ll be indexed. There’s a different way to do this, you can either submit them through Google Search Console to have them fetched, beg that this form still works, or list your pages in a sitemap and submit these through Google Search Console.
Want to go ‘advanced’ (#sarcasm)? you can even ping search engines for new updates to your sitemaps or use something like Pubsubhubbub to notify other sources as well to know there is new content or pages.
How to measure success? Have you successfully submitted your URL via the various steps. Then you’ve basically completed this step. For now there’s not much more you can do.
This is your first real test, as submitting your page doesn’t even mean these days that your page will be crawled. So you want to make sure that after you submit the page is being seen by Google. After they’ve done this they can evaluate if they find it ‘good enough’ to index it. Before this step you mostly want to make sure that you, indeed, made the best page ever for users.
How to measure success? This is one of the hardest steps as most of the time (at least for bigger sites) you’ll need access to the server logs to figure out what kind of URLs have been visited by a search engine (User Agent). What do you see for example in the following snippet:
126.96.36.199 - - [06/Sep/2017:22:23:56 +0100] "GET" - "/example-folder/index.php" - "200" "-" "Mozilla/5.0 (compatible; Googlebot/2.1; +http://www.google.com/bot.html)" - www.example.com
It’s a visit to the hostname: www.example, on the specific path: /example-folder/index.php, which returned a 200 status code (successful) at September 6th. And the User Agent contained Googlebot. If you’re able to filter down on all of this data in your server logs, you can identify what pages are being crawled and which not over a period of time.
- Want to know more about server logs, read the essentials guide from David Sottimano on Moz.
4. Indexed: Can the URL be found in the Index?
Like I mentioned before, a search engine crawling your page doesn’t mean at all that it’s a guarantee that it will also be indexed. Having worked with a lot of sites with pages that are close to duplicate it shows the risk that they might not be indexed. But how do you know and what you can do to evaluate what’s happening?
How to measure success? There are two very easy ways, manual: just put the URL in a Google Search and see if the actual page will come up. If you want to do this at a higher scale look at sitemaps indexed data in Google Search Console to see what percentage of pages (if you’re dealing with template pages) is being indexed. The success factor, when your page shows up. It means that it’s getting ready to start ranking (higher).
5. First Traffic & Start Ranking
It’s time to start achieving results, the next steps after making sure that your site is indexed is to start achieving rankings. As a better ranking will help you get more visits (even on niche keywords). In this blog posts I won’t go into what you can do to get better rankings as there have been written too many blog posts already about this topic.
How to measure success? Read this blog post from Peter O’Neill (Mr. MeasureCamp) on what kind of tracking he added to measure the first visits from Organic Search coming. This is one of the best ways I know for now, as it will also allow you to retrieve this data via the Google Analytics Reporting API making it easier to automate reporting on this.
As an alternative you can use Google Search Console and filter down on the Page. So you’re only looking at the data for a specific landing page. Based on that you can see over time how search impressions + clicks have been growing and when (only requirement is that you should have clicks in the first 90 days of launch of this page, but you’re a good SEO so capable of achieving that).
6. Increase Ranking
In the last step we looked at when you received your first impression. But Google Search Console can also tell you more about the position for a keyword. This is important to know to make sure that you can still increase your efforts or not to get more traffic in certain areas.
In some cases it means that you can still improve your CTR% by optimizing the snippet in Google. For some keywords it might mean that you hit your limit, for other it might mean that you can still increase your position by a lot.
How to measure success? Look at the same report, Search Analytics, that we just looked for the first visit of a keyword. By enabling the data for the Impressions you can monitor what you rankings are doing. In this example you see that the rankings are fluctuating on a daily basis between 1-3. When you’re able to save the data on this over time you can start tracking rankings in a more efficient way.
Note: To do this efficiently you want to filter down on the right country, dates, search type and devices as well. Otherwise you might be looking into data from other countries, devices, etc. that you’re not interested in. For example, I don’t care right now about search outside of the US, I probably rank lower and so they could drop my averages (significantly).
As Google Search Console only shows the data on a 90 day basis I would recommend saving the data (export CSV). In a previous blog post I wrote during my time at TNW I explained how to do this at scale via the API. As you’re monitoring more keywords over time this is usually the best way to go.
7. First Positions
In the last step I briefly mentioned that there is still work to be done when you’re ranking for a specific keyword when you’re in position 1. You can still optimize your snippet usually for a higher CTR%. They’re the easier tasks in optimization I’ve noticed over time. Although at scale it could be time consuming. But how do you find all these keywords.
I still believe in keyword rankings, definitely when you know what locations you’re focusing on (on a city, zipcode or state level) you’re able these days to still focus on measuring the actual SERPs via many tools out there (I’m still working on something cool, bear with me for a while until I can release it). The results in these reports can tell you a lot about where you’re improving and if you’re already hitting the first positions in the results.
How to measure success? You stay in the same report as you were in before. Make sure that you’ve segmented your results for the right date range and that you segmented on the right device, page, country or search type that you want to be covered in. Export your data and filter or sort the column for position on getting the ones where position == 1. These are the keywords that you might want to stop optimizing for.
What steps did I miss in this analysis and could use some more clarification?
In the next part of this series I would like to take a next step and see how we can measure the impact from start to finish for links, followed by part three on how to measure conversions and measure business metrics (the metrics that should really matter). In the end when you merge all these different areas you should be able to measure impact in any stage independently.