This guest post is by Greg Shuey, the VP of Client Services @ SEO.com, a leading search marketing agency located in Utah. For more information about their SEO services or to read other posts by Greg and other search marketing experts, please visit their site.
A few weeks back, I wrote a post on the SEO.com blog which talks about the ten things that you need to do to get your business ready for SEO.
In my post, I talked about “being ready to set and work toward real online marketing goals”. Gone are the days when business should be working solely toward rankings alone, as a number one ranking may not produce much fruit at all. In this post, I’d like to talk about setting the right SEO goals and the difference between leading and lagging KPIs.
Before setting any online marketing goals, it is important to understand what your overall business goals are. To do this, we at SEO.com do something called a needs audit. In our needs audit, we ask thought-provoking questions that help us dig deep to uncover what the overall business goals are and how SEO can help accomplish these goals.
Once we know what the business goals are, we can start to determine what our KPIs are, leading and lagging. If you haven’t heard of leading and lagging KPIs (I’m guessing most people haven’t), leading KPIs measure activities that have a significant effect on future performance. Lagging KPIs measure the output of the past activity. It’s important to have both kinds of KPIs defined and be working toward them to have a super successful SEO campaign.
Before we talk about the different types of leading and lagging KPIs that you can and should measure as part of an SEO campaign, let’s quickly review what makes an effective KPI.
Ten Characteristics of Effective KPIs
1. Aligned: KPIs are always aligned with business goals and objectives
2. Owned: Every KPI is “owned” by an individual or group within the business and that individual and group need to be accountable for its outcome.
3. Predictive: KPIs measure drivers of business value meaning they are leading indicators of performance desired by the business.
4. Actionable: KPIs are populated with timely, actionable data so users can intervene to improve performance before its too late.
5. Limited: KPIs should be focused around a few very high-value tasks, not scatter attention and energy on too many things.
6. Easy To Understand: KPIs should be straightforward and easy for everyone to understand.
7. Balanced & Linked: KPIs should be balanced and reinforce each other, not undermine each other.
8. Trigger Changes: Measuring the KPI should trigger a chain reaction of positive changes within the business.
9. Reinforced With Incentives: Businesses can magnify the impact of KPIs by attaching compensation or incentives to them.
10. Relevant: KPIs lose their impact over time, so you must periodically review and refresh them.
Okay… Leading and lagging KPIs for a typical SEO campaign.
Although not a complete list of leading KPIs, the examples below are some of the more common leading KPIs that you will find associated with an SEO campaign.
Rankings: Monitoring rankings isn’t evil, but it is evil if this is the end all be all for monitoring your SEO campaign. What you need to remember is that rankings don’t always lead to revenue increases, which could be a lagging KPI which grows your business. Rankings may, however, lead to traffic, which may lead to more leads and sales. That is why this is a leading indicator.
Traffic: Just like rankings more traffic doesn’t necessarily lead to more revenue. As mentioned above, traffic may lead to more leads and sales… but doesn’t always, which is why this is a leading indicator.
Links Acquired: The number of links acquired during an SEO campaign, may or may not be an indicator of business success. If you are building high-quality external links that drive traffic and rankings, then you just might be successful which is why this is a leading indicator.
Page Speed: If you think about it, page speed can be a leading KPI. If your goal is keeping visitors on-site longer so you can hopefully convert them into a lead or sell them something, then yes, this is a leading KPI.
Social Activity: Acquiring more social shares whether they be tweets, likes, pins, stumbles or whatever can potentially put more eyeballs on your site. This can be a leading indicator of leads and sales.
Again, not a complete list, but here are some of the more common lagging KPIs that you will find a business working toward when engaging in SEO.
Conversion Rate: Conversion rate is obviously a lagging KPI because you don’t know what it is until after the fact. Also, working to improve your conversion rate will help you grow your business through increased leads, sales, and revenue.
Leads: Leads, another lagging KPI, but should be a business objective that is worked toward through setting specific leading KPIs.
Downloads: Marketers love more downloads because it allows them to continue to market to these individuals and move them through the sales funnel. This is also a lagging KPI because you don’t know what your numbers will be until after the fact.
Sales & Revenue: Again, you don’t get sales and revenue data until after the fact, so this is a lagging KPI.
Hopefully, that gives you a place to start. However, for you advanced SEOs, let’s take a minute and talk about some more advanced KPIs that I like to track and report on.
Email Subscribers Who Do & Don’t Buy From You: A lot of businesses, wouldn’t consider email subscriber growth as a metric of success, but I do. To me, growing email subscribers is a leading KPI. You can then build two lagging KPIs off this metric. Those who didn’t purchase from you that you can re-target (by email) and try to bring back and those who have purchased and you that you can re-market additional products and services to.
Organic Assisted Conversions: Above, I talk about the conversion rate being a lagging KPI. To take it to the next level, you can set some KPIs around assisted conversions. As an SEO, I like to set KPIs around organic assisted conversions.
Many companies, if they are smart, are leveraging social media and off-site content marketing to drive leads and sales, however, some of these leads and sales can be assisted from your organic SEO efforts. You don’t ever want to discount the assist and it should be a metric you are measuring and reporting on to help sell the benefits of your SEO campaign.
Universal SERPs Prominence: Just like gap analysis is crucial in understanding what it takes to compete in the SERPs, regular SERP analysis is crucial to understand if and how the landscape is changing.
Are there video, image, or shopping results for the particular keyword you are trying to gain visibility for? If so, are you showing up in any… or even better, all of them? This is an advanced KPI that all marketers should be monitoring and measuring.
Number of Golden Guest Blogging Relationships: Anyone can get guest blog posts placed and that can be a basic KPI. It is much harder to win over a high profile blogger to the point where he or she will allow you to post content on their site and will ultimately become your company’s advocate.
These relationships take ample time and resources to create, however, when you secure them, they are worth their weight in gold.
I would say that the KPI here would be how many of these you have and then taking it a step further, how often they are engaging with you and your brand. This leading KPI will ultimately lead to links (higher rankings in the SERPs) and also very relevant referral traffic, which can lead to more leads and sales for your business.
To finish up, when you can clearly define your goals and KPIs, putting a solid strategy together that works toward these goals is much easier. It is also much easier to report to your boss or your client the progress of the campaign if the KPIs are clear and it is understood that leading KPIs are not the end all be all of a campaign, but that they ultimately lead to accomplishing your overall business goals.