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Which metrics to track for SEM?

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Tracking keyword ranking is mostly a waste of time yet almost every site owners obsesses over them. So if keyword ranking has little or no value, what does?

There has been much debate in the search marketing world about Google’s decision to prevent automated tools like Web Position Gold and WebCEO from using ranking data in their reports. It’s not surprising but it is disappointing if you are trying to track your target keyword’s performance on Google’s SERPs. In truth there are several more important stats to be watching. There are performance indicators that offer much more value to the website owner than keyword ranking. Here are the indicators we watch on our own sites and recommend to our clients:

Incoming links: The quantity and quality of the incoming links to any given website or page will be as close as you are going to get to knowing your PageRank success potential. Bearing in mind that PageRank is itself not an indicator of success, incoming links will increase the opportunity of being highly ranked by all search engines. Another way links can help is to suggest future content themes and topics that correlate to audience interests. By looking at the links source and content we can see what type of sites and audiences are linking to our sites.

Indexed Pages: The amount of pages on my site as compared to the amount of pages indexed by a search engine tells me where there might be problems. If Google has 100 pages indexed but my site has 1000 then there could be several things wrong with my site. The easiest way to solve this problem is to submit a XML site map to Google and set up a Google Webmaster account to ensure they are indexing my site frequently. The more pages that are indexed the more likely one of them will be found in a search.

Conversions:
At the end of the day we’re all looking for conversions. Even sites making money from advertising are still shooting for email newsletter signups, form submissions, subscriptions and registrations for alerts. For ecommerce sites the conversion rate is the lifeblood of the site. If you need to be obsessed with a statistic then this is the one to get crazy about. Constantly doing A-B testing on offers, page layouts, user interface improvements and keyword choices should be the guiding direction of all your analytics.

Title Tags:
One other measurement we trust is how long does it take for a new page with new title tags to be indexed. Understanding the gestation period of a new page or a recently reworked page in terms of first page is critical to knowing when and how you can launch new offers or optimize an existing page.

Organic traffic vs. paid traffic: Any site worth it’s mettle should be trying to replace aid traffic with organic traffic. My goal with any new site is to quickly move the traffic from the instant-gratification paid advertising to the long-term optimized organic traffic. Some sites can benefit from having both paid and organic but only one is sustainable. There is also a direct relationship between organic traffic and conversions. A site’s ROI is much higher for organic traffic so will always be my first choice for any future investment.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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