Just over a year ago I left a position where I was working exclusively in paid search. I found myself in a small agency environment and as a result was that the mix of projects I was involved with diversified. I was thrown into the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Having worked in paid search, I wasn’t a complete newbie. I was familiar with how search engines worked, analysing data, attribution models and lots of other things that gave me a head start.
Learning from the mistakes of others
In hindsight I was very lucky with my start to SEO. I avoided many of the pitfalls which people fall into. The single biggest mistake I see is that people focus far too much on rankings. I can see why, as SEOs our job is to influence search results, right? And after all, the client knows their business better than me and will know the areas to target, right? Wrong. Well, generally. There are clients out there that know their businesses inside out. Some of them have also coupled this knowledge with a well-rounded understanding of inbound marketing and know the right areas to target. Unfortunately, 9 times out of 10 it is your job as an SEO to educate them. If this is not done properly, and the client is poorly managed, this generally results in a list of keywords that are on the first page but no increase in revenue. These keywords either didn’t really drive traffic or it was the wrong kind of traffic.
Revenue over Rankings
The problem is that there is often too much focus on things like rankings. Now, I’m not saying rankings aren’t important. They are a great top level indicator and can be used to show that all your hard work as an SEO is working. The question that you need to ask is “is this improving my clients business?” I heard Rand Fishkin say it first, revenue over rankings. This means that at the end of the day, you may be top of the search results but if you don’t see any revenue, so what? What value is this really adding?
The first thing you need to do is sit down with your client and discuss their business goals. In fact, they shouldn’t even be a client at this point. This conversation should happen when you are preparing to pitch. Otherwise how would you know what you are actually trying to achieve? Business goals should be specific, measurable and achievable. For example, grow online revenue by 15% year on year. Both the SEO and the client need to agree that these goals are what your campaigns success should be measured on. This is what you should report on.
Your tactics are how you will achieve the business goals. Now we know that we need to increase online revenue by 15% we have to work out how we will do it. This needs to be a clear and actionable plan. For example we will increase organic traffic by improving rankings for keyword A and get onto the first page. We will improve the UX (user experience) of the site by performing customer journey analysis and conversion optimisation. Etc.
These are the techniques that an SEO will use to actually do their job. For example, you might improve rankings by earning links through content marketing and blogger outreach. The methodologies are going to change based on your tactics, which will change based on your business goals. It’s not a copy and paste job. Everything needs to be bespoke to each client.
KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
This is where things like rankings, domain authority (DA) and page rank come into play. While the rankings can be important as key performance indicators, they are not what your work as an SEO should be judged on. The real question is “Has online revenue increased 15%?” Due to the complexity of search, something as acute as the ranking of a single keyword can be incredibly misleading. I have had discussions with client who are upset that some of their rankings have fallen, but have seen a rise in online revenue of 30% from organic search.
When reporting to the client, you should only go into as much detail as you need to. Report directly on the business goals and include a little detail on how this was achieved. Be prepared to drill down into specifics if you have to, but with reporting, usually less is more. The client is usually only interested in the top level stats (unless something has gone wrong). This is not because you are hiding anything from the client. It is simply to avoid over complicating the discourse. Where possible, you need to be talking about your business goals.
To summaries, placing too much importance on top level indicators like rankings can sometimes be misleading. Well established business goals should always be used to measure success. As Google’s ability to theme content becomes more advanced, focusing on specific keywords is becoming increasingly redundant. The rise of (not provided) was the start of this as it removed our ability to successfully attribute revenue to specific keywords.