Traffic is the lifeblood of all commercial activities online. The more visits a site receives, the more opportunities it has to convert its audience into paying customers. However, not all forms of traffic are equal in value. Targeted visitors who are looking for what your site has to offer have the highest chances of turning into customers later on.
This is why search engine traffic is so valuable to online enterprises. Search traffic pre-qualifies users based on the intent that their queries carry. When you receive a visit from Google, Bing or Yahoo, you can be sure that the user found your page because he was looking for information that your site might have.
And while getting listed in search engines is free, maximizing traffic referrals is a completely different matter. To get as many search engine-driven visits as you possibly can, your site’s pages have to rank on the first page of search results.
A study by Chitika reveals that 38% of searchers click on the number 1 listing in a search results page while 18% click on the second-placer. The percentages drop off significantly the lower the ranking is. In the same study, Chitika also showed that only a small minority of searchers ever check the second page of a query’s results.
Fortunately, rankings are not arbitrary and they’re not permanent either. Search engines use sophisticated algorithms to determine rankings based on a diverse set of factors. The craft of understanding these algorithms and implementing strategies that will help a website rank higher in search result pages (SERPs) is called search engine optimization (SEO).
How Modern SEO Works
The goal of every search engine is to deliver results that are as relevant to the queries of their users as possible. To that end, algorithm details are kept top secret and are regularly updated. This prevents webmasters from gaming the system and diluting search result quality. More natural results usually correlate with better user experiences.
In the Internet’s early days, search engines relied solely on on-page factors that webmasters manipulated to climb the rankings. Google later revolutionized web search by introducing the PageRank algorithm which introduced backlink quality and quantity signals to the equation. Today, search engines look at a wide range of ranking factors that include a site’s technical health, branding, content quality and authority. This has enabled the major search engines to identify and favor authoritative entities in the results that they serve up.
These developments have compelled legitimate SEO practitioners to abandon strategies that may violate the quality guidelines of search engines. The holistic approach adopted by Google and other major players has changed the SEO landscape from an industry of who’s best at gaming the system to who’s best at building a site that users like.
To succeed in today’s search engine landscape, your SEO strategy should cover the following bases:
- Technical Health –Availability, load speed, code quality, information architecture and usability are telling factors in SEO. Having a technically sound site allows search engine spiders to crawl pages with ease and recognize which ones carry the most weight. Good site health also makes for positive user experiences. Not having any broken links and making a site easy to navigate are hallmarks of good usability.
- Content Quality – The substance, correctness, credibility and length of a site’s content matters. Google’s Panda update weeded out thin and low quality pages from high ranking search result positions to favor sites that legitimately deliver material that users find uniquely useful.
- Brand Strength – Lately, search engines have started showing a bias towards brands in search results. This is due to the fact that brands tend to make editorial decisions with their audience – not search engines – in mind. A good SEO strategy in this day and age establishes your brand online and extends its reach so it can make more people aware of who you are and what you do as an enterprise.
- Authority Signals – Authority is one of the most crucial elements in effective SEO. How your site is perceived by people online can be picked up by search engines using a variety of signals. Domain authority (determined by site age, size and backlink profile), social signals, brand mentions and usage data (time on site, bounce rates, etc.) are just some of the ways search engines can tell if a site carries enough authority or not. The more authoritative a site is, the greater the ranking power of its pages get.
Measuring SEO Success
SEO has traditionally been measured with rankings and organic traffic driven by target keywords. As innovations like personalized search, geo-specific search and socially-influenced search came into play, these KPIs stopped telling an accurate story of how well a campaign is going. Savvy marketers tend to look beyond traffic and rankings as they delve into metrics that illustrate SEO’s full business impact.
If you’ve hired a SEO agency or you’re doing it in-house, you should considering measuring your SEO program with the following KPIs:
- Organic traffic growth – This is the difference between your baseline organic search traffic and the organic traffic you get once the SEO work gets underway. SEO should only be credited with how much more organic traffic it brings in, not what was already there in the first place.
- Organic traffic conversions – The objective of traffic acquisition should be to feed your business goals. If organic traffic isn’t translating into more leads and sales, SEO’s value isn’t fully realized.
- Revenue from organic traffic – This is the actual dollar value of the conversions that SEO drives.
- Customer Lifetime Value – an educated prediction of how lucrative a relationship with a customer will be over a given period of time. It’s generally a better way of assessing a conversion’s overall worth compared to one-off transactional revenues from individual sales.
- Cost per Acquisition – This is what you pay your SEO agency/in-house team to get you a new customer or a sale. It’s calculated by dividing total SEO costs by the number of conversions attributed to it. For example, if you’re paying $3,000 a month for SEO and you get 10 new customers from it, the cost per acquisition is $300. The lower your cost per acquisition is, the better your SEO program is performing.
- ROI – This is the most popular measure of profitability. It’s calculated by dividing the net profit of SEO-driven revenue with the total cost of SEO services. The quotient is converted to percentage and the ROI is obtained. For example, if an SEO service provider charges $3,000 a month and the revenue from SEO are at $6,000, the ROI would be at 200%.
Choosing the Right SEO Agency
If you want to do SEO work in house, hiring an agency is a practical alternative, You don’t have to hire a team, pay for overhead costs and go through a training process. However, not all agencies are built equal and some do a much better job than others. Given the fact that there’s no institution or licensing organization that can certify an agency’s competence, you’ll have to do your homework before you sign a deal with a service provider.
When choosing the SEO agency that you’ll commit a lot of time and money to, look for the following qualities:
- Reputation – An agency’s degree of recognition, its place among the industry’s thought leaders and how it’s perceived by the community as a whole can tell you a lot about how the firm does its business. Reputation isn’t built in days and months – it takes years of excellence to establish. That’s something fly-by-night businesses can’t fake and it’s something you should be on a lookout for.
- Track record – This can be gauged via the degree of satisfaction that current and former clients have with the agency. When considering a firm, ask for the contact information of some of their clients. Give those people a call or send them an email and get some feedback on how the agency did in their SEO work.
- White hat methodology – Legitimate SEO uses practices that are permitted under the quality guidelines of search engines. White hat SEO agencies play by the rules and you can expect them to tell you that doing things right involves waiting for some time to get good results. Agencies who use white hat SEO usually propose a healthy mix of technical fixes, content development, promotions and brand-building activities. Black hat agencies who try to cheat their way to getting your site ranked high usually issue broad guarantees that they may or may not fulfil. In almost every case, black hat SEO ends up in penalties for client sites that will set marketing efforts back for months or years.
- Complete transparency – It’s your site and you deserve to know everything the agency does with it. In the proposal stages, make it clear that you want fully detailed task reports and KPI reporting that measures ROI. Good business relationships are built on keeping both sides honest. If the agency seems unwilling to comply, walk away and take your business elsewhere.
SEO Services from GDI
My company, Glen Dimaandal, Inc. is a full service online marketing agency that offers search engine optimization services sourced from the Philippines. We have the manpower, processes and technology necessary to help your business gain better search engine visibility. To inquire about SEO and other things we’re good at, drop me a line via the Contact Us page.