Using Share Of Voice To Measure SEO Results

Sometimes the biggest problem for any marketer is language: communicating results in a way that makes sense to your boss/client. Nowhere is that more true than for SEOs.

We talk about rankings, but we know rankings mean diddley squat.

We point at ROI, but no one believes us.

We try to lobby for changes like text-based navigation, but we’re told “We can’t risk the brand!”

There’s a better way, particularly for any SEO geek in an enterprise: share of voice (SOV).

What’s Share Of Voice?

In classic marketing and PR, share of voice is the number of times your brand is mentioned in relevant conversations, divided by the total number of conversations on that topic. Measuring SOV back in the Dark Ages of 1993 meant a lot of guessing, and very little math. In some cases, I literally measured column inches in publications and then divided my clients’ column inches by the total. Seriously. I’m not making this up.

Why did folks demand SOV data? They’re not dumb. SOV is one of the only ways to measure performance across entire channels, or in cases where you need to track exposure.

For example: my client sells anvils and buys a sponsorship on a TV cartoon. She cares about sales, clearly, but also wants to see how having a coyote repeatedly smashed by those anvils will grow her brand. That could lead to sales later.

So, this isn’t a straight-up ROI measurement. Brand impact matters, too. The first datapoint we’ll have there is share of voice. I can compare total TV time dedicated to anvil-ertising to the total time she’s purchased:

Share of voice formula

Voila! Share of voice.

SOV + SEO = A++

If you bring share of voice into enterprise SEO, you get two huge benefits:

  • You’re speaking your client’s language. If an enterprise marketer, or anyone working with enterprise marketers, doesn’t know what share of voice is, measure their office chair. You’ll take over soon enough.
  • You’re connecting exposure to sales. You already track sales over time (I hope). Now, you can track exposure over time. That helps you spot trends and, if you collect enough data, connect the dots between SEO visibility and overall sales. You’re adding another attribution metric.

Great! Now, how the heck do you actually measure SOV?

Getting SOV Data

There are a lot of different formulas out there. Some SEO toolsets, like Sycara and Brightedge, have built-in SOV analysis. They create pretty graphs like this:

Sycara SOV graph

Sycara SOV graph

Which is great, and I strongly recommend using one of those tools. Because calculating SOV yourself will be painful at best. At its simplest, SOV is impressions received for a topic/total impressions for that topic. Sounds easy, until you consider:

  1. This is about impressions, not clicks. That’s because I can’t easily track clicks across the entire channel. I know my click traffic based on a phrase. I don’t know my competitors’.
  2. Search rankings change based on personalization, geography, and Google’s mood.
  3. Different rankings receive a different share of impressions.
  4. Share of impressions changes based on the topics.
  5. Merely measuring a single phrase won’t work. You need to measure as many of the top phrases relating to a topic as possible. The more you track, the more accurate your SOV number.

If you want to see just how complicated this gets, check out Brightedge’s patent for SOV analysis.

My recommendation: let a company that’s already figured it out do the SOV calculation for you. It’s worth every penny

Using SOV Data

Enough complaining! Here’s how you can use SOV data. It’s pretty slick.

Say my client runs an anvil blog. I’m tracking, oh, 5,000 keywords, and that doesn’t even scrape the surface of their search profile. But, if I give them a weekly report for those 5,000 keywords, they’ll slap me.

I need an aggregate metric that I can track over time: SOV.

I take the 500 phrases relating to ‘anvil shows’ and put them into a single topic. Then, I track share of voice over time. I also track share of voice of their top two competitors. That way, I can measure overall progress, and do competitive analysis, with a single metric. And, when my client calls to say “Lurie, what the hell?!! We’re doing all this content and I can’t tell if that’s what’s driving sales or not!!,” I can at least provide some evidence:

Not my prettiest graph ever, but you get the idea.

So, even if last-click attribution isn’t capturing all the information, I can still shed some light. And, I can track overall performance in yet another way.

One Thing…

Keep in mind that in SEO, you figure out share of voice based on total queries (impressions), links and/or rankings. True SOV would measure exposure by tracking action across the entire channel:

  • Clicks on each ranking, regardless of whose site is ranking, in your phrase group
  • Links that actually generate traffic
  • Time on site after each click, on each site

While we’re at it, I’d also like a tiny microphone implanted in everyone’s left ear, so that we can listen in on actual conversations. Equally possible.

We can only track so much. SOV based on search rankings is a big improvement over SOV based on column-inches. And it’s a great additional metric to have on hand.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Enterprise SEO


About The Author: is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, Inc, a firm he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting.

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  • @steveplunkett

    thanks for the reminder.. too often we get focused on the client’s customer funnel and neglect the unbranded vs competition metrics.. possibly because we spend time working on the mistakes of others (competitor’s) instead of – going to direct to the customer need state and focusing on the brand in search and social.

    Can see where “grocery stores” and trends for “grocery stores in [insert city, state, zip or GPS for mobile devices] would be important for someone to focus on and being in the top 3 for “sporting goods stores” if the top 3 existed, or maybe “electronic stores” but those are people grazing… the conversion is for the product, price and location. So.. if the above is to be truly relevant then you must account for location?

    I liked…”
    Clicks on each ranking, regardless of whose site is ranking, in your phrase group ”
    hmm.. maybe an equation??
    (frequency / # of total possible search results X competitor mentions / actual number of visits for term X Google API for PPC Local Monthly Search Volume X actual # of conversions based on term/visit [new vs returning models must provide separate results due to behavioral retargeting visit measurements unless those are specifically accounted for.. ] ) – nah.. still inconclusive.. only possible estimation.. thanks for spawning the thought tho. =)

  • Ian Lurie

    Yup, it’s pretty complex when you start slicing and dicing the formula. And I doubt there’s one answer. But it’s definitely worth the exercise.

  • sharithurow

    My favorite quote: “We talk about rankings, but we know rankings mean diddley squat.” Well said!

    Wow, if only the general public would genuinely understand rankings in the proper context.

    How many of you have found that word-of-mouth PR seems to work better than many other forms of marketing, so that words and abbreviations become a part of our vocabulary?

    BTW, text-based navigation must also be understood in the proper context. There are many, many times that my firm favors image-based navigation with properly selected and implemented text links. Works like a charm, and the click-thru rate is considerably higher.

    Context is incredibly important. My 2 cents.

  • Brett Shearing

    SyCara can actually break share of voice down to the zip code and also provides rankings at the zip code.


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