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Monday, August 10, 2009

Eight Search Metrics You Should Always Look At

Lots of businesses have paid search and organic programs, but not everyone knows how to measure them and how they are different. Because these two types of marketing are so different in many ways, it's good to know what key performance indicators are specific to each.

There are some generic metrics that are important for both Organic and Paid search. Metrics such as keyword conversion rate, bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit, form abandonment, etc. Most of these look more at user behavior patterns associated with a specific traffic driver than the program itself. But when we are looking to evaluate the performance of a particular initiative, there are some additional and unique key performance indicators to keep in mind.

Organic Search Metrics
Organic search is traditionally what people want when they think of search engines. Referrals from organic search are perceived to be higher value and the medium is perceived to be free. But it could take months before you realize the benefits of your organic optimization efforts, which are normally ongoing. Because of this, determining if your organic search initiatives are a success requires looking for metrics that speak more to the idea that your website is gaining awareness. Here are four unique performance indicators to look for in your analytics:
  • Total visitors from organic search. If the total volume of organic search visits is increasing, then your organic optimization efforts are probably working.
  • Percent of traffic from organic search. Combine this with the first item and if you are getting a greater percent of your traffic from search engines after doing an optimization effort, that is a good sign your efforts worked.
  • Percent of organic search traffic from topical phrases. Organic optimization normally focuses on increasing a website's presence on phrases that are topical, rather than brand specific. When you look through your referring keyword report, how many of them do not contain your brand or specific product name in them? This is your topical traffic. One rare example of when this is not the case is if you work for a company with an extraordinarily well-known name. In that case, you may be competing for your own brand!
  • Bounce Rates for Organic topical search vs. Organic branded search. This one is subtle, but important. Visitors who know your company name or the name of your product are generally considered to be higher value. They also tend to have better engagement (lower bounce rates, longer time on site) and higher conversion rates. If you do a good job at topical optimization for your website, you can increase the engagement of visitors who come to your website and know nothing about you. A good first indicator of this is the bounce rate. If your topical bounce rate starts moving toward your branded bounce rate, that is a very good sign. It's a great sign if it does even better!

Paid Search Metics
Unlike Organic search, Paid search is primarily an ad buy. Because of this, there are several performance indicators that are bottom line key numbers to evaluate. One thing to note is that most Paid search key performance indicators require a goal to compare to. Working with a marketing analyst to establish the goals of the campaign is an important first step to having a successful paid search program. Here are four metrics to keep an eye on:
  • Cost per conversion. Conversion will mean different things to different people. In general, I am talking about conversion as the most important action item a visitor can do on a website. I am not talking about the final sale that happens in an office somewhere off line; I'm talking about the web lead that got the person into the office in the first place. Knowing how much each lead/online sale is costing you and if that number is too high is key to knowing if your Paid search campaign is a going great.
  • Total leads generated. A paid search campaign is an investment with expectations. These expectations normally revolve around a desire to generate a particular amount of business. How well your paid search campaign is tracking to meet this end goal is key to determining its success. Failure here could cast doubt on the efficacy of paid search in general for you, your team, and/or your organization.
  • Conversion rate (conversions / visits). This is a generic number, but I'm calling it out here because paid search campaigns normally have custom landing pages that they drive traffic to. Having an analyst evaluate this number can be key to optimizing a core part of the paid search visitor experience. A landing page that turns people off can kill your effort.
  • Percent of budget spent, either daily or weekly. Not a metric people think of first, but how much of the budget is being utilized periodically is important to knowing if your paid search campaign is maximizing its potential. 100% utilization may indicate your ads are turning off earlier than you think, your keyword selection is too broad, your ad text is too generic, or the market demand is stronger than you anticipated. Less than 100% could indicate weak ad text or that the market is not as robust as anticipated. Percent of daily budget spent is one of those numbers that keeps you on your toes and can really help you right-size your program. If budget is fixed, shoot for 90%-95% utilization. If you can grow the budget and your other numbers look good, go for 100%!

Search Metrics in Summary
All online marketing programs share some metrics that are very helpful in determining what is working and what isn't. However, if you are trying to optimize your website for organic search and also running paid search ads, it's important to know what metrics are helpful to understanding each of these efforts. Organic metrics that look at how prevalent your website is becoming to search audiences are very important. Paid metrics that measure your program against predetermined goals are also very important. Having a marketing analyst work through these numbers with you can give you great insight into the health of your campaigns. It can even help you chart a course for your next campaign!

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