Improving a site’s SEO is more like a marathon than a sprint. It’s a long, tedious, and constant struggle. In fact, SEO specialists (people who work on a site’s search engine rankings, either as freelancers or for a given company) must keep an eye on industry news, take search engine changes and updates into account for their SEO strategy, and maintain a clear vision of their short-, medium- and long-term SEO strategy. Therefore, it’s indispensable to ask questions, and take small breaks in this race to check in and assess the results of the implemented strategy. So how should you establish these checkpoints? What should you observe, exactly? And when should you do it?
The key? Record all actions to give your analysis context
A large number of factors have an impact on SEO. According to the urban myth, there are more than 200 factors which affect your website’s ranking on search engine results pages. Some of them are obvious, while others are much more debated in the SEO world. But let’s avoid speculation. What does this actually mean? Even the smallest changes to a website can shift its search engine ranking. So what should the SEO specialist do?
First of all, the specialist should ensure that all colleagues working on the site or SEO know to record (and date!) any actions taken on the site (optimisations, new added features, added or deleted content, etc.). Afterwards, this information can be centralised, sorted, filtered and categorised as necessary. Why keep these records? The purpose here is to correlate this information with the analytics data. The next step for the SEO specialist will be to ask the right questions in order to extract some value. The SEO specialist must think with the following logic:
“The search engine traffic to the ‘T-Shirt’ section has dropped considerably. What happened? We removed a product page 3 months ago… Sales of that particular T-Shirt were quite low, but that page had brought a lot of traffic to the ‘T-Shirt’ section.
Therefore, I’ll find the keywords that were used on that page, reincorporate them, optimise my redirections, and reorganise my internal linking in order to redistribute the lost traffic.”
By asking the right questions, using the right information, and correlating it with the right data, the SEO specialist found a solution to this problem. He took a truly analytics-driven approach. To be able to do the same, it’s a good idea to create an SEO journal. Any modification on the website must be recorded in this journal. For example, you might describe an action, its purpose, and the affected areas of the website (recorded in a pyramidal way: page URL, then subchapter, chapter, and level 2), what aspect of your strategy this action corresponds to, and then date it.
Cross-compare this information with a large amount of data
As you can see, in order to discover the causes of your problems and the consequences of your actions on the website, you must compare and correlate the collected information with the right data. Each and every metric can be useful and significant in terms of SEO; what matters most is that you can centralise them and track any changes. A few examples are below.
In your digital analytics tool, you’ll find many metrics that are highly significant for determining the effectiveness of your SEO strategy.
- Measure the share of traffic from search engines… and how it’s changing
Line graphs are often the preferred choice for SEO specialists. In your digital analytics tool’s interface, look at your traffic sources and isolate search engine traffic to your website. Then, observe how this traffic has changed over time. It’s a good idea to go beyond simply studying the share of search engine traffic for your overall website: Try zooming in on each section of your website to better understand traffic trends on specific sections. Then, ask questions such as: “What caused this drop in search engine traffic? Which pages, chapters, and level 2s are affected? Is this due to seasonality?” To find answers, simply refer back to your SEO journal and correlate these trends to any actions or changes you applied to your site.
- Quantify your long-tail traffic
As the number of “not provided” keywords has risen, it’s become more difficult to evaluate the portion of long-tail traffic within the total search engine traffic. However, you can estimate your long-tail traffic with this little tip. Simply create a segment for your search engine traffic, and count the number of entry pages. If you’re seeing a large number of different entry pages for your search engine traffic, chances are you’re capturing long-tail traffic. From there, you can study these entry pages and deduce which keywords the search engines are taking into account on each page, and then use this information to enhance your positioning strategy.
- Determine if your traffic is qualified and engaged
Google loves any signs that your website is engaging users. A site on which users visit several pages, stay and convert will be favoured. Learn more about key metrics for evaluating engagement on your site based on traffic from search engines.
- Determine if your visitors are “loyal”
One of the best ways to boost your traffic is draw visitors back who have already visited once. And Google can also recognise the share of users who frequently return to your site. This is also a good indicator of your site’s quality (which is what Google favours). Learn more about about useful metrics for measuring loyalty on your site.
- Determine if your website is optimised for all devices
Today, mobile optimisation plays an important role in improving SEO rankings. With an increasingly large share of mobile traffic, it’s necessary to have a site that’s optimised for all devices. It’s a good idea to compare your desktop site KPIs with those on other devices. For example, you can examine whether you see substantially different engagement trends between mobile devices and desktop. Nevertheless, remember that mobile devices and usage are leading to new user behaviours, which are not always entirely comparable with user behaviours on desktop. The takeaway here is to monitor your engagement metrics on mobile devices over time and look out for significant declines, which could be detrimental to your SEO.
- Study your internal search engine data
Is your website’s internal search tool efficient? If not, which keywords or expressions are generating errors, or zero results? By identifying these expressions, you can apply these insights to your keyword and site content strategy.
You can compare certain purely SEO indicators with your analytics metrics, thanks to the interconnections AT Internet has in place with specialised optimisation tools (like Searchmetrics and Analytics SEO).
- Observe any evolution of the keywords you’re targeting
If you manage SEO activities, you’ll most definitely have established a keyword strategy. Tracking any changes in your rankings for these keywords is the first step. Determine which keywords should be monitored automatically, and set up regular exports to track your rankings for these keywords according to different criteria. For example, evaluate whether your strategy is producing efficient results, or if certain keywords are too competitive and providing less traffic than expected, or if certain pages should feature more of the keywords you’re monitoring.
Of course, your rankings for the keywords you’re targeting on search engines do not depend on your actions alone. Nevertheless, this can provide very interesting information about your sector, as well as numerous ideas for optimisation. Everything depends on your strategy. Are you targeting the right keywords? Is your overall ranking improving? Are the pages that you want to see well-ranked actually well-ranked?
- Quantify and determine the source of your backlinks
As you know, not all links are equal. Observe which domains and pages lead towards your site. In addition to quantifying the results of your netlinking strategy and seeing which actions provided the best links, using traditional backlink data (domain authority, page authority, relevance of anchor text, etc.), you’ll also be able to identify the worst links. Moreover, by examining the pages that lead towards yours, you will be able to find new opportunities for backlinks!
- Observe the number of errors on your website
Broken internal links, redirection errors, missing tags… By using Google Search Console (or your good old Screaming Frog), you can quantify, identify, correct, and track all data involving errors on your website. There is nothing more satisfying than to see your number of errors remain at a low level.
This is just a non-exhaustive list of significant metrics – other indicators can also be useful in terms of SEO. Therefore, you should determine which metrics would be most useful for your SEO strategy, and then integrate these metrics into your SEO strategy. Generally speaking, be sure to ask the right questions and favour an analytics-driven approach. Creating an SEO dashboard could, for example, help you best track the digital analytics performance indicators that matter most for your SEO strategy.
So when should you check in on your strategy’s effectiveness?
This depends on your SEO strategy. It can be useful to review your progress by checking in in the short-, medium- and long-term. It is up to you to find your pace, keeping in mind that Google also requires time to take your modifications into account. Here are some examples of actions that can be taken in the short-, medium- and long-term:
MONITORING YOUR SEO STRATEGY
In the short-term – On a weekly basis:
- Observe any errors on your site, keep watch over the landscape, and monitor the ranking of your keywords.
“Are there any new competitors? Which errors have we corrected this week?”
In the medium-term – On a monthly and quarterly basis:
- Determine the impact of any changes implemented on your website.
“What influenced the increase in my search engine traffic to this level 2? Is it due to the addition of this new page? What are the keywords on this page?”
In the long-term – On a biannual and annual basis:
- Evaluate your strategy overall, and put your analysis into perspective.
“Is my content strategy working? Does it capture enough traffic? Should I continue with this strategy?”
Certainly, every website has its particular challenges, its particular industry landscape, and its particular objectives. So these questions are only examples to simply demonstrate the approach we recommend you adopt. Any question you ask will only serve to improve your SEO. As the field of SEO continues to grow exponentially, a greater number of people on your team (or across your company) can have an impact on your results. And SEO and analytics are becoming increasingly interconnected: Taking an analytics-driven approach enables you to ask the right questions and determine the right growth levers based on your challenges!