Why SEO Metrics Aren’t Everything They’re Made Out to Be
With search engine optimization (SEO) becoming more ubiquitous by the day, the term has officially entered the mainstream. SEO as an online marketing service has led to billions of dollars in revenue for local businesses and website owners worldwide. The purpose of SEO is to have a website optimized to appear higher in the search results on search engines like Google, in turn, driving more traffic to the website. In many cases, this leads to a business or site owner gaining income from the services or products promoted on the site. But for many business owners and marketers, SEO metrics, rather than revenue, act as proof of the value of SEO.
What Are SEO Metrics?
SEO metrics are the tools that track the progress of an SEO campaign through extracted data like the site’s position for a search term or keyword, specifically in the realm of search marketing – a form of digital marketing focusing on the search engines. A keyword is a targeted search term that a web property is optimized for in the search results. One example is a personal injury lawyer’s site showing up for “car accident attorney near me” on Google.
Digital marketers always stumble upon the error of putting all their hopes and progress in metrics. Yes, metrics help and quantify the progress of your SEO. However, they should not act as the be-all and end-all, as virtually none are 100 percent accurate. A good rule of thumb is to apply good SEO habits regardless of what the metrics say. You only need to analyze them occasionally to see what direction you are heading in your campaign and make sure you’re on the right track.
SEO Metrics You Should Track on a Casual Basis
It may seem that metrics are all you need to perform well, but the fact is that, while these tools do help, they don’t substitute success. Besides, there are extra hurdles automatically put in place when deciphering even more data, and keeping track of a myriad of indicators can end up being counterproductive. To avoid having information overload, marketers should track a couple or a few metrics once a month because search engine rankings change by month or even year, rather than on an hourly basis.
For starters, download a browser plugin called Keywords Everywhere that pulls real-time data from Google (Keyword Planner) instead of other tools that utilize numbers that don’t match Google’s. With it, you can track cost-per-click (CPC) and real-time search volume. Rather than being helpful from a search marketing perspective, this plugin is more useful for calculating a retainer for your services. You can accurately use the volume and CPC figures to calculate your cost and determine a margin that will fit with your bottom line.
Furthermore, Keywords Everywhere lets you set a service fee backed up by data. The common practice to avoid is pulling prices out of thin air. This will severely diminish your closing rate and credibility when clients find out (which is possible).
Additionally, gaining insight from your digital marketing actions and seeing if they translate positively into a website’s lead conversion outcome is the main reason to be casually monitoring your site’s SEO performance.
Whether you are looking at Ahrefs, Moz, Majestic or any other platform that developed metrics, you may be thinking it’s a hassle to understand each one. Fortunately, you don’t need to study everything. These tools rely on gauging how optimized a website is for the search engines, chiefly Google. Many platforms measure it on a hundred-grade scale. Nevertheless, each interface has its own metrics that calculate different facets of a site’s presence on the search engine result pages (SERPs).
For example, Majestic quantifies how trustworthy a website is based on the number of creditable sites backlinking to it in a metric known as Trust Flow (TF). TF is the trustworthiness of the links a site receives. Domain Authority (DA) is the grade that Moz uses to determine how well the website ranks on Google. URL Rating, or UR, is the page rating Ahrefs provides to see the strength of a site’s backlinks (but not the trustworthiness and authority of its backlinks).
These all exist for you, the website owner, to track your platform’s performance on the search engines. Also, they back up what you should charge for your services. You can see from the images below just how different these metrics can be.
A Few Things to Remember About Keywords
No matter what background you have, you can understand how it makes sense to avoid analysis paralysis. This is especially pertinent if you are in charge of growing a business, which is what a digital marketer’s job description entails. Since this job requires many responsibilities, it is always a good idea to simplify tasks that don’t need to be complicated. Extracting data is one of them.
You need to narrow down the SEO metrics you track per month to a manageable number. Going back to what was mentioned earlier about keywords, the metrics monitoring these rankings are the top key performance indicators (KPIs) for SEO. Over the past few years, though, the search engines have refined their algorithms to the point where other variables determine whether a website appears on the search results or doesn’t, such as the length of time a visitor interacts with a site’s embedded video or contact form.
With the advent of the Google answer box, it has become harder for digital marketers to gauge their success by the number of impressions made on a search. At the end of the day, though, Google decides on and presents the best answer – the one it believes is the most appropriate for the user. Worst of all, many rankings or website positions for keywords show an outdated site position on the SERPs. A good ranking for a zero-volume keyword will not be as rewarding as a low ranking on a high-volume keyword search. It’s clear that Google rankings alone can’t be your only guide. Consider that having your site appear on page one for some keywords can be less impactful than it appearing for others. If you are a marketer and are showing up for a more specific, long-tail keyword or a less popular search, you probably won’t have much of an issue with having it appear first on that SERP.
On the other hand, hardly anyone types that search. You will have more visitors coming to your site if you are on page four for a popular phrase like “digital marketer Los Angeles.” However, in terms of conversion, your numbers would still be low, because hardly any consumer looks past page one for anything they are browsing, let alone digital marketing services. To sum up, not all search words are created equally and should not be considered a strong indicator of your keyword rankings.
Don’t Rely Solely on These SEO Metrics
These metrics are certainly nice to know, and it’s worth it to keep an eye on them – but they don’t necessarily tell the full story about your SEO campaign’s success.
Let’s begin with conversions. It doesn’t paint the full picture of your site and business unless you own an eCommerce website. An SEO campaign is all about obtaining leads, and when it comes to conversion, leads are a prerequisite. The last thing a site owner wants is to have a newsletter form and still lose out on sign-ups because no one found it in the search engines. On top of this, virtually all SEO metrics label conversion data in almost a deceptive way. For starters, conversions only occur when money is exchanged for a service or product. It does not count when a visitor submits their email on your website’s sign-up form, nor is it when a site receives clicks (unless you are part of an affiliate program where the buyer makes a purchase based on your product or service review). Even though these actions are good signs for your digital presence and business, they aren’t the ultimate objective.
Moreover, conversion from a metric standpoint is oversimplified. SEO is a much more nuanced process that couldn’t possibly be fulfilled by tracking a site through Ahrefs or Moz.
This metric refers to the rate at which visitors leave a website only after viewing one page. That can include users clicking on your website post, reading a paragraph on a single page for as long as 20 minutes and then leaving. In a case like this, the metrics tracking bounce rate would increase inaccurately.
Let’s say you have a garden website where a visitor searching for vegetable gardening hacks finds your site on the search results. That person clicks your site and reads the tips you wrote for half an hour. Afterward, they add their email to your call-to-action (CTA), for example, a newsletter form, then bounce off. Do you see how superficial bounce rate as a metric can be? It does not accurately distinguish the website visitors interested in what you have to offer versus those who are not. Don’t let the numbers add to your anxiety levels.
A rejection or bounce, for now, may become a new client later as not all are ready to commit right away. Who knows? The person could have been interrupted and left their browser, in which case it has nothing to do with you. Lastly, if money is coming into your business, there is no need to fret about a measly little metric: Money earned is what matters.
This metric is envied by many who struggle with it. Don’t worry about checking your traffic every day through Ahrefs, SEMrush or Google Analytics. Instead, ask yourself: “Did this traffic convert to any dollars made today or did my income grow?” If no, then it means nothing.
Imagine waking up one morning to find that your website drove more than 200 clicks from a campaign you placed. When checking Google Analytics, you find out that half a dozen took your CTA. After a month, none of those leads captured by the CTA bought your product or service. That scenario is common. Traffic doesn’t matter when it doesn’t augment your revenue. Don’t beat yourself over the head for not gaining an extra 1,500 visitors or for not showing up on page one of Google for the service or product you sell in your area.
Quantity of Links
Arguably the most-viewed metric, the number of links is measured by all sorts of SEO tools like Ahrefs. They use a site URL to scrape and find the number of links connected to your website and serves as a confidence booster for many. An online marketer, for example, would have an instant dopamine shot if they knew that their SEO worked. One popular way of quantifying that success is by seeing new referring links, pointing to your sites, going live. Even if this result ends up bumping their organic presence on the SERPs, you need to reconsider whether you are making money from this or not, as your digital marketing efforts do not pay off until your bank account grows.
Having more websites link to yours isn’t the best practice. Search engines like Google are sophisticated enough to know that tons of marketers throughout the years have tried to game the system by just having a ton of websites link to theirs. It’s best to be careful, as this practice can backfire spectacularly. For example, Google penalizes or “blacklists” websites with many websites linking to them when they are new (i.e., less than a year old). You don’t need to be a genius to realize that – common sense tells you that a new website isn’t going to convince 200 other sites to link to them if there is no traffic, nor is a highly authoritative article by a publication like Forbes going to refer to that brand-new site on day one. It isn’t realistic, even if you are an Instagram influencer. To succeed in SEO, you will have to work for it by putting in the time and effort to provide value to the internet. One way of giving back value is via writing guest posts for websites in your niche. If done correctly, you often get a link back to your website.
That isn’t to say that reaching out and convincing other websites to link to your digital assets isn’t essential – in fact, it’s crucial. Without this practice, there is no way you are going to get third-party websites to link to your website in the short- and long-term, and that’s the crux of off-page SEO. Without off-page SEO, you have no SEO, because search engines like Google cannot gauge what other online platforms think about you. This could result in your site being ignored: not being analyzed or indexed, and not showing up in the search engines.
To optimize your site to appear on search platforms like Google, you have to prove yourself. Getting others to acknowledge your online assets (i.e. through linking) is a must. So don’t discredit the hard work you put in the beginning by doing outreach to site owners – it was probably the only option you had. Instead, take your off-page SEO campaigning at a steadier pace by continuously doing what you need to do without punishing yourself for every day you didn’t track your links. There is only so much these link tracking metrics can do. Although smart engineers made them, keep in mind that these people likely do not know the full nitty-gritty behind SEO.
Something else that was briefly touched upon is that an SEO link metric doesn’t account for all links being seen equally in Google’s eyes. After decades of online marketing, search engines have caught many fraudulent linking. A lot of this falls into the category of black hat SEO, a discouraging approach to ranking sites. An example of this is paying a site owner to include your website in their business listing or paying to have an anchor text linking to your website on an article without the original author’s consent. A link from a directory will not have as much power, or “link juice”, as one from the chamber of commerce you belong to, as Google knows that you had to invest time and money into that organization to receive a link. You could be inadvertently associating yourself with spammy websites that substantially decrease the link juice your site receives, and there’s no way of knowing if a site owner accepted money from a hundred other sites that may have been blacklisted.
Secondly, Google is smart and identifies the differences amongst the websites that are linking to you. To put it plainly, you wouldn’t want one website linking to you a thousand times as opposed to many different websites (including some that are hard to convince, like a .edu or .gov site) linking to yours over a span of 18 months.
Lastly, let’s discuss something called a no-follow link. If you use a tool like Ahrefs, you will notice when pulling up your website’s links that a few say “no-follow,” as seen below.
That is a code telling search engines that that link should not influence the search engine rankings of the site receiving it. Website owners tend to do this to avoid powering up any websites they are referencing in their content. Many metrics count this in its “total number of links” metric, but this is deceptive because Google does not count these types of links. Especially if you’re a beginner, why bother convincing these site owners to send you these types of links if there is a high probability they may work against your efforts?
Simplicity Goes a Long Way
Let us be clear in saying that this article is not about discrediting metrics. Instead, it is to justify why search engine metrics aren’t the holy grail. We provided concrete examples of situations in which this is the case. The main focus is to provide value to your potential customers, whether you are an eBook store, a garden center or a restaurant, long-term planning and due diligence go a long way. What good is it to use metrics if you don’t know how to interpret their information? Once you have a great grasp of SEO, the tools automatically work more in your favor.