This post is designed to help de-mystify the hundreds of analytics metrics available into a smaller number of important metrics for digital marketing campaigns.
It is designed for analysts and is taken from a presentation given at Measure Camp in 2013. It may seem basic to some, but should still offer a useful reference guide for many (I hope!).
Non-transactional / Informational Websites
I used to spend a lot of time working on informational sites with clients to help launch new products and as part of brand building / educational elements of campaigns in order to build authority and generate leads. Lots of this work was for clients in the pharmaceutical industry – hence the Dr. Evil image (I’m really immature – what can you do?!)
The most important metrics I used to look (bar conversions) were:
• Organic Traffic
• # Referring Keywords
• # Landing Pages generating Traffic
NB: whilst doing this, it was essential to use advanced segments for organic traffic and also for separating out branded keywords for each of them.
These worked well as key metrics on these types of campaigns as strong trends in all three of the above areas helped to prove that there were increasingly more pages that were optimised for more keywords. You could also gain insights into how well offline initiatives were working when analysing branded traffic and probably, most importantly, long term trends for increases in organic traffic.
Pro Tip: Analysis of Traffic Quality
One of the best tips I learnt from a practitioner with over ten years worth of analytics experience was to set up goals around both time on site and the number of page views. We used, as a baseline, 3-5 pages and 3-5 minutes time on site, but it would vary quite a lot depending on the vertical and would require tweaking for each project.
This worked really well when analysing traffic sources, channels and keywords. It’s one of the most actionable analytics techniques I know and can work well on additional profiles in order to help reduce noise depending what platform your using (e.g. if some are aggregating goals like Analytics SEO).
Goals: Getting The Basics Right
This is worth really reviewing as I have seen a lot of different analytics accounts and would expect that 90%+ I’ve seen should be reviewing their goals more frequently and are probably missing some useful goals.
Some more advanced goals we use at GPMD are to set goals around how much visitors are worth on certain pages in certain scenarios and to also set goals on moving around the site in different ways to aid usability and conversion.
Pro Tip: Always Apply Commercial Value To Goals
Another massively under-utilised feature I have seen over and over again is not setting values for organic goals. This is a really simple thing to do which is incredibly effective. The most obvious example is you should be trying to make sure values exist for newsletter sign ups, which I have rarely seen. These are the kind of conversions that can make a huge difference to ROI analysis on digital campaigns and could be the difference between determining if they are successful or not.
Events For Ecommerce
Events on ecommerce projects are really important to us as an agency, especially on projects like The Watch Gallery where we are working on both design and marketing. These work really well to use liberally on key pages around the site to test for user engagement such as more info, calls to action, thumbnails, social sharing icons, finance information and many other features on particularly product and category pages.
It’s particularly useful to see which elements of key pages are working and whether they being used or not. This is really actionable when designing pages and confirming that the right decisions have been made.
Conversion Rates #winning
Probably the king of all metrics is conversion rate. It can act as a huge multiplier for ROI on campaigns and is particularly powerful for three reasons:
It can make every single marketing activity you do instantly more profitable.
If you strive to be the best converting site in your vertical and can achieve even a small ROI on each channel than you can be in a situation where you can aggressively outspend your competitors to attack traffic acquisition with confidence.
For SEO campaigns often the organic search assists can drastically increase the amount of ROI you can deliver for clients.
Web Performance Optimisation / Speed
The thing I love most about improving the speed of pages is that it’s guaranteed to improve both user experience and conversion rates. There are also compelling case studies from Google, Bing, Amazon and Zappos. There have even been direct correlations with sales and average page speed at Amazon and it’s been a key focus for all of these companies. You can read more about the data here.
Google Webmaster Tools
There is some interesting data to be had in Google Webmaster Tools (conveniently pulled into Analytics SEO for you too!), which has been made really accessible since its integration with Google Analytics. Interesting data includes:
1. Crawl Errors
3. Crawl Stats
4. Impressions & Visibility Metrics
The data is often far from perfect, but can be extremely actionable, especially crawl errors and long-term trends as they are always the best way to analyse this data rather than taking it as gospel. Don’t forget to redirect all of your broken pages with external backlinks too 😉
Relevancy & Topical Analysis
I was lucky enough to work with an amazing team at Analytics SEO and our experiments included accessing data from Open Calais, Wordnet and Freebase which can offer deep analysis into relevancy. In recent years this has become a massive factor for Google (since Penguin especially, the relevancy of your backlink profile has become hugely important).
User Engagement & Google
One metric which is tipped by many of the worlds top search practitioners is the increase of bounce rate as a ranking factor. Google is able to track if you click another link in quick succession after visiting a site or run another search i.e. determining a type of engagement metric / bounce rate if they clicked on your site. Google are massive on user engagement and I think we will see an approach where Google puts pressure on webmasters to build sites for users and will expect the best ranking sites to offer a strong user experience.
Out of all of the metrics I have used over the years I have seen "referring domains to domain" and "referring domains to page" correlate with Google rankings more closely than anything else; although, it’s worth noting trying to chase algorithms too much is becoming increasingly pointless.
Domain Authority & Brand Signals
Something I am seeing a shift in from my own experience is domain authority and brand signals causing powerful domains from large companies to rank better and better. There are a number of terms I have been tracking recently where brands seem to be ranking for very competitive terms with traditionally weak landing pages in terms of links. A gradual trend over the last decade has been for Google to become increasingly more biased towards brands (I believe largely because they are less likely to rip you off!).
Social engagement is also definitely becoming a stronger ranking factor, although interestingly due to the churn on social media they tend to provide only short term benefits. However, there are increasingly more case studies of sites ranking purely on social signals, with Charlie Sheen’s affiliate partners ranking off the back of his viral activity on Twitter. There are also case studies that suggest that you can benefit from better rankings from paid coverage on social platforms.
Local SEO & Citations
Local SEO has become more and more important. Something Google has focused on throughout its existence is trust and returning results that are reputable to users. Having a physical location is one of many ways Google can trust you more; and citations and reviews can also offer strong brand signals. I believe this to be especially powerful if you are a large company with many locations and “authorised dealer” type links from other major brands.
Google Penguin & Branded Anchor Text Links
Since Google released Penguin, anchor text has been a huge consideration for SEOs. Previously, I was always surprised how sites could throw exact match anchor links for competitive terms like “pay day loans” with 80-90% exact match anchor text and rank well. It was an obvious aspect of Google’s algorithm that has been gamed for many years. Since this update having a “natural” link profile and monitoring the number of branded anchor text links you acquire in a tool like Analytics SEO or Majestic SEO has become essential.
Identifying Low Quality Links
Some of my favourite metrics are Majestic SEO TrustFlow and Alexa Rank. The logic behind these are TrustFlow gives you a six degrees of separation type score for how close a domain is to a trusted, human reviewed resource.
Alexa Rank (and to be fair all similar metrics) is never as accurate as I would like. This is because the data is always based on samples of either users or keywords. However, if a site is highly likely to be generating organic traffic, it is also far more likely to be a link prospect you would want to approach. Unfortunately, identifying low quality links is highly subjective and difficult to do without actually looking at them. Nevertheless, these two metrics are the ones I have found to be most interesting.
Of course this is really speculative, but I’ll give you my thoughts anyway:
1. Brand signals and search volumes to continue to become major factors, as they are difficult to game.
2. Local SEO, as I’ve touched on, can be used as a measure of how trustworthy a business is through citations, reviews and having physical locations.
3. Citations in particular, due to all the manipulation of links over the years, will also become a really strong and possibly a more reliable signal than links.
4. Authorship to become more important and a focus on who links to you.
5. Automated network analysis e.g. forums and social activity I think will increase a.k.a. Coolhunting.
6. Social signals are really interesting as traditionally social was really easy to game in comparison to Google, such as creating large volumes of Twitter accounts, but there has been a focus on spam detection on social networks and it’s come a long way. This will make social metrics much more reliable in the future.
7. Spam signals and Penguin will certainly continue to iterate as there are still plenty of examples of spam, despite the large changes we have seen.
8. Impossible algorithms – there have been periods where I have seen Google’s algorithm being chased and reverse engineered with obvious areas of success such as anchor text. In recent years its becoming far more pointless to try and spend too much time on this and creative ideas for content and outreach in the future will almost always prove to be time better spent.
Steve Lock works and blogs for GPMD as Head of Search. In his spare time he is the UK Co-Chair for SEMPO and a Search Awards judge. You can follow him on Twitter via @stevejlock.
By: Stephen Lock
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