There inevitably comes a time for marketing managers, and in-house search-engine optimization (SEO) practitioners for that matter, when pressure regarding natural-search performance starts to build from the higher-ups on the corporate ladder.
They start asking questions, probing for more information about their natural-search channel—and they want answers.
Measuring your natural-search performance is definitely a good idea. However, establishing goals for your natural-search program is what will help communicate direction for the program and serve as a guide for measuring overall success.
The challenge lies in establishing realistic goals in an achievable timeframe.
Most marketing managers are interested in growing traffic to their Web sites and ultimately converting that traffic to a sale, whitepaper download, or the like. Measuring traffic and conversions is relatively straightforward using the myriad available tools such as Enquisite (www.enquisite.com) or Google Analytics.
Understanding the metrics that can be used in growing your natural-search performance is imperative: For the purposes of determining natural traffic-growth potential, focus on analyzing the nonpaid keywords that are currently driving traffic to your site and their respective traffic referrals.
Measuring Keyword Opportunity
At this point, you should understand the keywords helping to drive natural search traffic to your site. But what traffic have you left on the table, if any? What keywords are outperforming or underperforming versus overall demand?
You can use Google's free keyword tool to help determine the average demand for keywords. Follow these steps to determine estimated keyword opportunity:
- Import the list of keywords currently driving traffic to your site in the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
- Export the data.
- Compare the amount of monthly traffic you're currently receiving for any given keyword versus the average monthly demand according to Google. Use this formula to determine a percentage for growth opportunity: (Google Average Demand for Keyword - Site Traffic for Keyword)/Site Traffic for Keyword
That formula will help you quickly identify what keywords are performing well or underperforming for your natural-search program.
Approaching the available keyword market conservatively will help you shape more-realistic expectations for your program. Based on clickthrough research for search-engine results page (SERP) positions, assume that you can capture 3-5% of the average monthly demand for each of the keywords. (For additional insight, see this analysis of estimating keyword potential as detailed by one of my colleagues at Netconcepts.)
Establishing a Timeframe for Reaching Your Goals
Keyword performance and opportunity for your site should now be clearer. But when you'll achieve your natural-search goals is likely the most difficult question to answer. Each Web site is unique; therefore, there is no magic formula to determine exactly how the search engines will treat your Web site with a sound SEO program in place.
You can implement elements adhering to SEO best-practices, but there is no easy way to determine exactly when your freshly optimized title tags will start to drive more traffic or when that PageRank 7 inbound link will boost your overall rank position for that crucial URL.
Testing and measuring natural-search optimization is the best way to estimate natural-search growth over a given timeframe, regardless of the level of SEO implementation on your site. Start a test, such as optimizing a set of URLs that target keywords you wish to improve traffic referrals for, and measure the performance of those keyword referrals over 30, 60, or 90 days. You'll then have a rough estimate of how quickly, or how slowly, the search engines react to your site.
Let's say you achieve 10% growth in incremental traffic for the test keywords after 45 days in Google. Your overall natural-search goal for site traffic growth is 45%. You could then estimate that it will likely take over 200 days (nearly seven months) to achieve your goal after full optimization for all targeted keywords is installed on the site.
By analyzing keyword-performance data and comparing that against estimated keyword opportunity, you should be able to establish natural-search traffic goals for your Web site.
Taking that data a step further using your site's conversion rate, you should be able to set goals for sales, downloads, RFPs, etc.
Finally, when determining a timeframe for your goals, test and measure optimization tactics to gain a better understanding of how long it takes the search engines to interpret your site changes.
Establishing realistic natural-search goals will set your program up for success and should help with communicating progress along the way.