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Why You Should Track “Soft” SEO Metrics
As an in-house search marketer, you hold a unique position. You help manage all your company’s content with the goal to maximize the return on that content’s creation. You are the pointy end of the spear in the quest for low-cost traffic and conversions. Setting aside the growing salaries and the added costs of benefits that in-house SEMs are seeing these days, inbound referrals from search engines remain a viable, low-cost option for most organizations.
Tracking your results should take a couple of forms. There are the usual SEO metrics, such as:
- Page views
- Time on site
- Percent of search referrals against all inbounds
- Percent of inbound search potential (market share)
- Index saturation—how many of your pages the engines have indexed
From there, you’d likely opt to break results out between aggregate numbers and by engine, to determine relative percentages. By tracking results originating from each major engine, you’ll also be able to gain insight into unique aspects of search traffic such as which engine converts best for your specific products, or which engines drive the most overall traffic during various times of the year. Be careful with overall traffic numbers, though. By digging deeper, you may learn that the engine sending you the most traffic is sending you traffic that does not make money, but consumes bandwidth and costs you money. Always dig to the next deeper level if you can.
Larger online companies track results to the item level, so they are capable of telling you things like “engine X sells Y number of this product on average, which is better than engine A. Engine A, however, delivers more signups for our newsletter than engine X, so there’s still value in being able to convert engine A users on later visits.”
These numerical SEO metrics are the hard metrics, if you will.
Now, what about the soft metrics? What are soft SEO metrics, anyway? Soft metrics encompass things like corporate meetings, managing commitments, coordinating site maps, and keyword research development. I can hear you say, “But, those aren’t metrics, those are things we just need to do to get our jobs done, right?”
Well, yes, they are, but they can also be metrics you can use to judge success of your in-house SEO program.
Let’s examine them.
The time spent in meetings with other players in your organization is overlooked far too often and is typically thought of as just what you do as part of your job. But, you should be tracking every meeting you have with a Product Manager, every interaction you have with your SysAdmins, and every e-mail conversation you have with content writer/editors. This is not about covering your behind, either. It’s all about being able to show how you are engaging with others in your company to make things happen. In most cases, it’s not your job to build the content—you’re there to advise on how best to optimize it. With that in mind, you need to carefully track all your engagements, across all areas of your company. When the time comes for you to pitch for more staff, this information can form the basis of your request as part of the illustration of how much there is do accomplish and thus, why you need a headcount.
Tracking your engagements is also a great way to report up your chain. It’s a simple thing that can help showcase the value of the investment the company has in your little corner of their world.
Proportionally, even large companies with in-house teams usually have more work than the team can handle. This means, inevitably, that you will be asking folks for help. You’ll be asking the editors to use your keyword data to build content that doesn’t need tweaking later. You’ll be asking developers to build search friendly URL structures. You’ll be asking sysadmins to set up proper redirects to protect your content’s value as it inevitably gets moved around. This is a two-way street, so make it work to your advantage.
The common theme here is that you will be asking others to do things that will support your efforts to optimize your site or sites.
So, while you’re busy committing to them when you’ll have your sitemaps built and keyword research done, ask them to commit to you the support you’re going to need. Better you know up front where you may face areas of friction. If a person is unwilling to commit to helping you (help them), then they get a lower priority on your list of areas to work on.
Coordinating site maps
If you have a large website, it’s a cinch you’ll be running multiple sitemaps. Because a sitemap’s ability to dramatically influence the pages a site has indexed is so important, it’s best you control this as part of your SEO program. Telling a Product Manager that “they should have one” is a dangerous road to travel. Without an understanding of the basics of sitemap building and its usage and importance, you may be left with a sitemap designed to look good to humans only, not showcase the depth and breadth of your content to crawlers.
You can turn the management of this function into a metric for your team. Big sites require a lot of crawling to build effective sitemaps. Each area that is large enough to merit its own sitemap thus becomes a “customer” of your team. It’s well worth the effort for larger sites to construct their own crawlers and task them to collect URLs from their own site to build the sitemaps. Keeping track of which areas have current sitemaps in place starts to become a lot of work and soaks up time, so be ready to start explaining the value to your company. The bottom line is that by having them, you can help get pages indexed that might not otherwise have been found. The real value of the in-house crawler will be shown the first time you realize that the crawler is having a hard time indexing an area of your own site. Chances are if your crawler is having a hard time, others will as well.
Performing keyword research is one of the first things you should do as part of any SEO project—that’s a given. But the time you invest in this very important task needs to be tracked. Since keyword research helps point you in the direction of what users are actually looking for, and helps you know how best to focus your content, it’s a critical step for any SEO program.
Breaking your research into smaller, topically focused projects is nothing new. But are you tracking the usage of the data you are producing? Which editors are using the research to help them produce content? Which Product Managers are developing new areas of the site and incorporating the research data you’ve provided?
You might not be able to force anyone to use your data, but you can certainly showcase it in an easy-to-access location for them, and make them aware of it by scheduling review meetings to discuss the data. You could even loop this back to commitments from their end.
Most folks who produce content would gladly welcome help in selecting the correct keywords to use, so chances are getting a commitment to use your data will be an easy sell.
Soft metrics can have the same benefits to your company as hard metrics, though they may be harder to quantify. Still, it’s worth looking at the concept of engagement, at least, and monitoring your in-house efforts through that lens. Doing so will provide a much broader view of how effective your team really is.
Duane Forrester is an in-house SEM with Microsoft, sits on the Board of Directors with SEMPO, can be found at his blog where he speaks about online marketing and monetizing websites and is the author of How To Make Money With Your Blog. The In House column appears on Wednesdays at Search Engine Land.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.