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The most frequently asked question I get from clients is, “What should we measure on our Web site?”

After spending a healthy amount of time identifying goals, we spend a healthier amount of time determining which metrics will reveal how well they are attaining those goals.

The second most frequently asked question is, “What does a best-practices Webanalytics dashboard look like?”

This question is usually prefaced by some higher-up having asked for the most important information boiled up, distilled down and delivered in the least space about what's happening on the site. They want a couple of needle-gauges and a few traffic lights: green means it's all good, yellow is tolerable and red means somebody is going to get a serious talking to.

Yes, it's a political question. What is the most important information about your site? What few numbers will tell you whether everything is on an even keel? Clickthroughs, pageviews, and revenues, of course.

Clickthroughs tell you where people are coming from: advertising, affiliates, search engines, pay-per-click service and the like. Pageviews tell you what people are looking at. Revenues, of course, represent the bottom line, the goal, the moment of success whether that means buying, registering, downloading, calling for an appointment or whatever your particular conversion event might be.

So let's start at the beginning. Where do people come from? Do you really know what is driving people to your site? I asked the director of Web traffic at one of my clients for his Ultimate Dashboard, the most useful resource-at-a-glance to help him do his job. He started out with a straight face and then this dreamy look came over him.

“First, it would include all the promotions we're running. We've got cost-per-thousand banners on Yahoo, pay-per-click ads on Google, ads in newsletters and e-zines, and a host of affiliates. I want to see a weekly and monthly calendar showing when those promotions start and end.

“Then there's all the offline advertising we do that's designed to drive traffic to our site. Ads on the radio with the announcer intoning ‘www dot company dot com,' and thirty-second spots on TV with ‘' on the screen.

“We do direct mail, magazine ads, newspapers, co-op promotions and in-store displays. I want to know when each of them is running and then chart them against our visits, pageviews and online sales.

“I'm also going to need a secondary list showing my competitors' promotions. When they advertise, we get comparison shopper traffic. We need to understand what drives people to come to our site and search for ‘tastes great' or ‘less filling' or ‘got milk' or ‘the quicker picker-upper' or whatever our competitors are mouthing at the moment.

“But traffic comes in for a lot of reasons, so there would also need to be a tie-in with an up-time service watching competitors' sites. When our competitors' sites go down, people flock to us. It took us two years to figure that one out and now it's a standard item to check when we get a traffic spike.

“Roll all that into one report and I'll be able to figure out where to spend my money in the future. It might be that three runs of ads on AOL followed by a TV blitz on CNN and a two-for-one offer on the K-Mart site with an email blast chaser is the magic combination.”


“So,” I replied, “you're going to need an integrated, updated picture of everything your company does in the way of marketing and advertising, which is logistically improbable, along with all the advertising your competitors and partners do, which is logistically impossible, plus Website uptime reports.”


“And you realize that you still won't know what you want because you have come smack up against the Mortifying Mystery of Marketing.”

“You mean,” he said with a sigh, “the Mystery that says we will never have anything better than a good guess at why people click? You mean that if they saw the ad and heard the jingle, then read the magazine review and saw the ad again after hearing a radio commercial, and then clicked the keyword buy from the search engine—that we'll never know which communication media should get a bigger budget?”

“Yeah,” he added, the wind taken completely out of his sails. “I realize that. So what should we measure?”

“Conversions,” I suggested. “See what people did just before they bought, and figure out how to get more of them to do that. Then work the chain backwards from there.”

“But my job is to drive traffic and that's all,” he said.

I said, “Not any more.”

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image of Jim Sterne

Jim Sterne founded the Marketing Analytics Summit in 2002 and co-founded the Digital Analytics Association in 2004. He now advises companies on analytics strategy planning at Data Driven Leaders Studio and teaches AI and machine-learning to marketers.