For me and the clients I work with, launching an SEO campaign is really exciting. You have a gameplan. You have goals. You have your scope of work in place to help them dominate their keywords, and get more leads than they anticipated (effectively growing their business into a new phase of success while hopefully exceeding expectations). I know this is a scenario that happens for other businesses and their respective agencies all over the world. But for many, the excitement and anticipation begin to waiver over a month or two if expectations aren’t established correctly. By the 3-4 month mark, frustration begins to set in (sometimes even WITH the right expectations). Is my SEO working? Was this a waste? Even with the periodic calls and reassuring emails from the account manager, perhaps SEO isn’t working. We’re going to discuss what “excuses” agencies may have – some with merit, some just attempting to get a few more months out of your business. After that, you’ll know key ways of being able to identify whether your SEO campaign is working, or at the least showing progress and promise.
Account reps/managers are big on customer retention. The most common phrases you’ll hear when you are the most wary of their efforts are:
- “We’re still in the ramp up period.”
- “Expecting results only in a few more weeks.”
- “Google just rolled out a huge update.”
- “Your keywords are just more competitive than average.”
- “Your website platform/design is just not really suitable for good SEO.”
- “The package you have with us is small, maybe you should upgrade.”
- “We’re shifting strategy to SEM, social, remarketing, microsite, etc etc etc, because of the (unique) nature of your business.”
I’m sure there are plenty of others – these are what I’ve heard in the past myself and what some clients I work with have also heard at some point in time. I could answer some of these questions in order, but that is a little too self-serving and we’re more focused on what important metrics there are for testing if your marketing campaign is working (unless you want to email me and I’d be more than happy to go more in-depth).
For me, there are some very straightforward indicators from an SEO standpoint:
- Increase in traffic indicated by analytics software like Google Analytics or Google Adwords
- Increase in impressions indicated by Google Search Console
- Increase in rankings indicated by rankings tracking software like Serpbook.com among dozens of others
- (Optional) checking the metrics of the website to see if there has been any meaningful link-building
Of course, there are CONCRETE indicators of progress such as leads (phone calls, contact form submissions, chat submissions), increase in Twitter/Facebook followers, sales via e-commerce platform, but we’re talking about progress happening prior to an end-goal being reached. So let’s look at the scenarios and what you should consider important:
For an SEO company, you’re really only concerned about organic traffic – perhaps a little bit of referral traffic but we know what that ends up looking like:
Also, depending on the different campaigns you have running, you may be considering the improvement in social and paid traffic (but that’s a separate story). Stick to organic, and maybe give some consideration to direct and referral depending on your directory, guest blogging, and other off-site placement. Most SEOs will give you a general report here – say you’d like the traffic broken down by source. Getting as granular as possible is helpful.
Google Search Console/Webmaster Tools
It isn’t common for an SEO company to give you this info – not because they are hiding anything from you, but mostly because the information here isn’t extremely pertinent to a business owner. There is one thing that is important though should you want to know a big picture of where “you’re coming and going”. Under Search Traffic, Search Analytics is a great tool for knowing where you’re positioned overall on Google. Though impressions and clicks are arguably projected and not actual, they’re a decent indicator. And when you look at 90-day trends for positioning and impressions, you’ll know pretty quickly if you’re headed in the right direction.
Rankings aren’t always the “end all, be all” of SEO working, since what you deem to be your main keywords could be so limited within the scope of what you perceive as being important. This is why Google Webmaster Tools/Search Console is so important – it gives you a look into the 97% of keywords you didn’t know you were ranking for along with the actual, accurate interest in those phrases. Regardless, there are short-tailed keywords you know are valuable to your business no matter what. If you’re a pest control company in Columbus, OH, obviously the progression of “Columbus Pest Control Company” should be of importance to you. If you’ve been with a company for several months and that keyword hasn’t moved or has dropped, there really isn’t any defense for the strategy and efforts in place falling short. It’s important for a good SEO company to identify other keywords via Google Webmaster Tools though, like “Pet Friendy Pest Control in Columbus” and “Best Pest Company that Handles Bed Bugs South Columbus” – if they have enough interest, it should be a closely tracked keyword.
Rankings fluctuate over days and weeks – it certainly isn’t uncommon for the nature of a keyword to trend up, slip a bit, trend up, slip, trend, all in a upward motion towards its end goal of one. This is one of the most common traits improving keywords exhibit.
There are plenty of rebuttals for everything and fortunately I haven’t had to use them (too much) at least without support from something else positive. Even with this knowledge, there are still rebuttals.
You: “My organic traffic is down!”
SEO: “Well what’s the cyclical nature of your business? You asked us to make an aesthetic update that may have affected SEO. You didn’t approve our blog quickly enough!”
You: “My impressions are down!”
SEO: “There was an algorithm update! Didn’t you know those stats aren’t really reliable?”
You: “My rankings are down!”
SEO: “They fluctuate a lot. Those keywords aren’t important. Don’t you know these ones are up?”
Really it is tough to be fully aware of whether SEO is thoroughly working without being in the industry. You can trust your gut business instinct which is viable, but it could take a real expert SEO audit from a third party to make a solid conclusion. The aforementioned information about traffic, impressions, and rankings are excellent indicators though and I would go as far as saying a business owner should feel confident in ending a relationship with an SEO agency should all of these factors be negative. On a last note, don’t expect huge things to happen within a month or two either (unless you’re in a relatively non-competitive industry). The average time to see some traction is roughly 8-10 weeks, 12-14 in tougher markets.
So it’s time to say goodbye – no more contract, the payments will end. But what do you need? How can you protect yourself, and ensure the SEO agency doesn’t do anything vindictive with your departure? Don’t worry, we’ll cover you in the next part of the blog series.