What are metrics for? The knee jerk reaction is "to measure goal satisfaction." And there's some truth to that. But if you're only using metrics as a way to compare progress against goals, there's a gaping hole in your strategy. There is a pervasive belief that we can just incentivize our way out of any problem, and that metrics are just a way to do that objectively. But metrics also serve a different, perhaps more useful purpose: the ability to understand how your business works.
How to Double Your Revenue With SEO Metrics
Here's my stereotypical assumption about how most SEO firms use metrics:
- They start building links
- They check their on-site traffic each day
- They attribute every increase in traffic to link building
- They attribute every drop in traffic to a penalty or a lack of effort
- They click through their Google Analytics metrics haphazardly in an effort to justify their conclusions
I present this straw man SEO only because it draws attention, in an obvious and exaggerated way, to a problem with goal-driven metrics. Measuring success in comparison with goals or status quo performance doesn't lead to an understanding of what's working, and what isn't.
If you want to double revenue, you need to start by figuring out what works.
1. Stop Evaluating in Aggregate
The success or failure of your site as a whole tells you almost nothing about how it's working. A sudden increase in the number of visitors, time on site, links, or social shares is great, but the future of your site demands an understanding of why it happened.
Your site already has a single source of traffic that generates more subscriptions than any other source.
Your site already has a single piece of content that attracts more links per visitor than any other post.
Your site already has a single type of visitor that is more likely to share you on social networks than any other.
Analytics give you the power to identify these individual traffic sources, pieces of content, and (hopefully) types of users, so that you can focus your efforts where they matter most. Instead of just measuring how well your site is doing, find your top performers (based on ratios, not total figures). Invest in those performers, and emulate them, in order to grow your most important site-wide metrics at the fastest rate.
2. Compare Apples With Apples
To identify your best performers, do the best you can to compare just one thing at a time.
For example, suppose you wanted to identify your source of traffic with the highest time on site per visitor. It would be tempting, but wrong, to just click on "Traffic Sources," "Sources," "All Traffic" in Google Analytics, and sort by average visit duration. The problem here is that your results are going to be skewed toward traffic sources that are more likely to land on pieces of content that have high time on site.
To avoid this, you need to compare time on site for different traffic sources across the same piece of content.
Similarly, if you wanted to identify the single piece of content with the best time on site, you would need to compare the time on site for each piece of content on the same traffic source.
3. Scale What Works (But Keep Measuring)
Once you've identified your best performers, you'll want to scale them. For example, after identifying the single piece of content that attracts the most links per 1000 visits, it'd be wise to start spending about half of your link building efforts on that single piece of content, whether that be through outreach, guest posting on high traffic blogs, or buying ad traffic.
Meanwhile, you would want to spend another 40 percent of your link building efforts on creating new pieces of content that emulate your most successful work. You would want to measure the success of those pieces of content and compare the results, until presumably at some point you develop an even better piece of content.
Finally, you'd want to spend another 10 percent of your link building efforts on high-risk, high-reward experimental projects that could potentially lead you toward a new way of doing things.
In every case, you want to keep measuring your results. For example, you might notice that your most successful piece of content is performing below expectations, suggesting that it's initial success was just a fluke (or based on a trend that has changed). You might notice that your emulating content isn't doing nearly as well as your most successful content, suggesting that what you thought made the difference wasn't the true cause. And, of course, you might discover that one of your experimental projects dramatically outperforms your previously successful strategy.
In short, metrics are useful for much more than measuring progress or comparison with goals. They are a source of strategic advice. Ignore these metrics at your peril.
Image credit: Mason Bryant