Over the past few months I have attended industry events in both Europe and the United States. During this time I have had in-depth conversations with many SEO professionals from SEO firms of all sizes about their challenges with selling, delivering and ultimately demonstrating results of SEO services to end clients. There were many common threads and general trends, however the one SEO challenge that stands out the most is: reporting on improvements in keyword position is pointless without applying keyword visits and conversion data.
We all know SEO has changed dramatically over the years and will continue to change. The way we market, sell, deliver and report on SEO services has not kept pace and needs to catch up. If you ask marketers today what SEO is about they will likely still say things like, "ranking #1 in Google" and unfortunately this is what they are looking for in the SEO sales and service delivery process. (Read: SEO Buying & Selling Tricks that Create Unachievable SEO Results & Expectations)
We know SEO is an on-going, long-term process. More specifically, it is the process of continually discovering highly converting, non-branded keywords that are driving organic search traffic and conversions. It’s about understanding search intent and how keywords used to describe your products and services evolve as a prospect progresses through the buying cycle. It is then about having insight into great data and taking action by including those optimized keywords in your content marketing plan.
This SEO process cannot begin and end in a particular project phase or be completed after just one month of keyword research. It is now a four-step process that requires an SEO culture change, which includes:
- Selling the concept of discovering and optimizing for highly converting keywords
- Discovering non-branded keywords driving traffic and conversions
- Delivering additional SEO services to capitalize on highly converting keywords
- Reporting on the evolution of highly converting keywords and content
Step #1: Sell the Concept
The first place to introduce the concept of discovering and optimizing for highly converting keywords is in your marketing and sales conversations. Many SEO prospects and clients still want to buy the promise of a #1 search position for their keywords. This goal is difficult to obtain and maintain and sets unachievable expectations for you and your client.
Instead, avoid the urge to agree upon a list of keywords with your client that your team is going to "optimize for" - that list of 10, 20, or 30 keywords that your team will go away and "do SEO for." We call this list of keywords the Keyword Gap. Every client will have a list of keywords they think they want to rank for when in reality there’s a more highly converting keyword list that will perform better. That’s what the second step, Discovery, is all about.
You can do some initial keyword discovery in the sales process to demonstrate the Keyword Gap. Show the prospect some data for two keywords, for example:
Which one is the better performing keyword:
- Keyword #1 (condominiums for sale in Richmond) in Position #4 for a particular page with 20 visits and 10 conversions?
- Keyword #2 (condos in Richmond) in Position #3 for a different page with 3 visits and 1 conversion?
Based on the topic of this article, the quick answer is, Keyword #1 in Position #4 (condominiums for sale in Richmond) is a better performing keyword. An alternative answer is: more keyword discovery is required to understand if there are opportunities to optimize the web page that Keyword #2 is positioned for. Or maybe Keyword #1 is one of those highly converting keywords that should be included in all content marketing efforts.
Take away: Build time into your sales proposal and SEO program for on-going discovery to uncover those highly converting keywords prospects are using at different stages of the buying cycle. Base decisions on great SEO data from a variety of sources including SERPs, organic traffic, and conversion data. Always be on the lookout for new opportunities to optimize.
Step #2: The Discovery Process
The discovery process for new non-branded keywords should be practiced as frequently as possible. Uncover the new, non-branded keywords that are driving organic search traffic and conversions and determine whether there is an opportunity to further optimize the web presence for these keywords. The success of this process depends on setting up goals and conversions in your analytics system. One of my favorite sayings about SEO is, "don’t bother even starting the SEO process unless you have website analytics goals and conversions configured."
Goals and conversions in your analytics system do not have to be complicated. Start with simple conversions and as you learn about your web presence increase the sophistication. Think about what you want your website visitors to do. What would you consider a successful visit? Here are a few examples of metrics to measure successful visits (conversions) from organic search:
Time spent on site - If a visitor has stayed on the site for a certain number of minutes (3+) and the bounce rate is low, then perhaps it can be concluded that the visitor read the content. The content was appealing to them.
Number of pages visited - If the visitor reviews two or more pages, then perhaps it can be concluded that they were intrigued with the content enough to read further.
Main product or services page to contact sales page - If the main purpose of the site is to promote the organization’s main product, did the visitor review the product page, then the pricing page then the contact sales page?
Take away: Below is the process for uncovering highly converting keywords.
- Set up goals and conversions in analytics.
- As frequently as possible, look for the top non-branded keywords that are driving organic search traffic and conversions.
- Understand the rank position for the keyword and which page or pages are ranking.
- Understand the search volume for the keyword (both broad match and exact match).
- Analyze the ranking pages and look for opportunities to optimize for the keyword in question.
- Implement changes and watch for changes in position, traffic from organic search, and most importantly conversions. If there are positive changes, create some additional content that includes the keyword and again watch for changes.
- Report newly identified, non-branded keywords and progress to the client.
Step #3: Deliver Additional SEO Services to Capitalize on Highly Converting Keywords
Once a new non-branded keyword is discovered and reported to the client, discuss the keyword opportunity and the plan for capitalizing on it.
- What was the entry page for that keyword?
- Where in the buying cycle is that keyword likely to be used?
- What kind of content can be created and distributed to further support that keyword and the prospect as they demonstrate their intent to find content?
- Is it worth further investment in SEO?
At this point, there is an opportunity to upsell the client on additional service hours to optimize and create content for the newly discovered and agreed upon keywords. It is also the point where the keyword should be included in the full content marketing strategy and further planning done on the type of content prospects require at this particular stage in the buying cycle. Perhaps it’s a focused case study, with supporting blog content, video, whitepaper or a combination. Think about the distribution points for the content and the possible backlinks and social signals that can be created for the keyword.
Take away: Set aside time each month to discuss newly discovered keywords with the client.
Step #4: Report on the Evolution of Highly Converting Keywords & Content
The approach of identifying and focusing on highly converting keywords then incorporating those keywords into the full content marketing strategy requires a different level of reporting compared to the basic monthly SEO reporting of number of backlinks, number of keywords on Page 1, etc.
Including keyword visits and conversions data alongside position data is a great first step to getting the client thinking about the difference between ranking #1 for any keyword versus ranking for the keywords prospects actually value and associate with your organization.
Once the keyword is incorporated into the full content marketing strategy the reporting requirements should shift to be focused on the performance of the particular piece of content or the content marketing campaign. This is where the disciplines of SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing begin to completely collide. (Read: 10 Reasons Why You Need an Optimized Content Strategy Now)
Take away: With the right tracking and metrics technologies the impact of content on a web presence for the purpose of organic search optimization can be reported, including:
- How the position has been affected for a particular cluster of keywords
- How many backlinks and social signals have been created
- How many keyword visits and conversions are associated with the content campaign
- And most importantly, how many sales are attributed to the content
Google’s algorithm updates have changed the practice of SEO. Search marketing firms have an opportunity to evolve their sales, delivery and reporting practices to differentiate themselves. Focusing on the discovery of highly converting keywords beginning with the sales and marketing conversations through delivery and reporting will produce stronger SEO results over the long term and happier SEO clients.