AnalyticsMeaningful SEO Metrics: Moving Beyond PageRank

Meaningful SEO Metrics: Moving Beyond PageRank

The days when upper management was impressed by subtle changes in PageRank have been replaced by questions about lifetime value, return on investment, and cost per acquisition. But are these the right metrics to measure SEO results?

At SES London 2013, Marcus Tober, the founder and CTO of Searchmetrics, and Will Critchlow, the Founder and Chief Strategist of Distilled, tackled some thorny topics during the session on “Meaningful SEO Metrics.”

Tober kicked off with some new technical data.

He said “SEO visibility” was one of his most important metrics. He acknowledged that ranking on single keywords are worth less because of personalization, localization, and search history.

However, he said that the cumulative number of all relevant keyword rankings for your market or industry will show you important trends – especially after updates, re-launches, and technical re-brushes. These issues are independent from seasonal effects or traffic spikes that are based on temporary events.


As an example, he showed what happened to the SEO visibility of last year after Google’s Penguin update on April 24, 2012. He also showed that rebranding the site hadn’t fixed site’s link profile, so its SEO visibility hadn’t recovered.

Tober also shared the results of several experiments conducted last year in the Searchmetrics Labs on social signals. The results showed:

  • Google Chrome “sees” traffic, but does NOT index postings.
  • However, Google+ triggers instant indexation.
  • Many Facebook shares also trigger instant indexation.
  • Pinterest and Twitter don’t have any impact on indexation.

This led Tober to dispute a statement by Matt Cutts, Google’s Distinguished Engineer. In a Google Hangout, Cutts was asked, “Do Google +1’s affect a website ranking?” He answered, “Not really a direct effect, but … we have an authorship proposal.”

Tober said, “+1 influences search!” Based on an analysis with different unique postings, “URLs with a +1 are being indexed instantly and rank for the title as well as some longtail queries.” They also influence Google News search results if you’re logged in.

Tober then took a look at Author Rank. Do you get higher rankings with an author profile? He quoted Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, who writes in his book that, “Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Critchlow followed with an analysis of some of the meaningless SEO metrics being demanded by many C-level executives.

As knowledge of SEO practices moves from the cubicles of search engine optimizers to the boardroom, the standard metrics used by a group of very talented techies called webmasters are straining under the weight of the all-powerful bottom line. The days when upper management was impressed by subtle changes in PageRank have been replaced by questions about Lifetime Value (LTV), Return on Investment (ROI), and Cost per Acquisition (CPA).

But Critchlow said, “They are all broken or hard to measure for SEO.”

As for LTV, it’s easy to double-count because “analytics packages don’t track people, they track cookies.”

As for ROI, it assumes costs scale with success. But, he asked, “Would you rather spend $1 and make $1,000 or spend $100 and make $2,000?”

As for CPA, it’s hard to get fully-loaded costs. For SEO, should development costs be included? And it also assumes that costs scale with success.

Critchlow concluded, “There is no one metric.”

Instead, he urged SEOs to “understand how the business makes money. Build a simple model. And remember, the best metrics guide behavior.” He added that key performance indicators (KPIs) should also guide executive behavior: “This is doing fine – go think about something else.”

Critchlow recommended that SEOs “measure activity and outcomes.” He added, “Campaigns have two failure modes. We don’t do what we wanted to: blog posts shipped, contacts made, pages updated, development tickets completed. Or what we do doesn’t work well: not enough people read our posts, too many people ignore our emails, and bug fixes don’t move the needle.”

He concluded, “Only worry about costs sometimes. Always consider the margin on an incremental sale.”


Critchlow than provided an example from the launch of DistilledU, which provides online SEO training. He focused on cohorts, a group of students working together through the same academic curriculum. When Distilled announced the inclusion of all its video content in DistelledU, the percentage of signups who upgraded to paid and engaged users almost doubled.

These are the kind of meaningful SEO metrics that you can take to the bank.


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