There’s a dirty trick that’s often used by unscrupulous operators in the search engine optimization (SEO) world. This underhanded tactic is as insidiously simple as it is misleading — and believe it or not, it involves making you rank at the top of Google’s search results.
Time and time again, you’ve heard that being number one in Google’s rankings can make or break a business. Knowing that business owners hear this often, shady SEOs will optimize their customers’ sites for keyword rankings that have little to no search volume. This is easy to do, because virtually no competition exists for these terms.
These digital snake oil salesmen will then go back to their unsuspecting clients and say, “Look here! I’m getting results. You’re ranking at the top of page one for this keyword.” And because their clients have been told to place value in this metric alone, the money seems as if it has been well-spent.
Ultimately, though, the question boils down to this: Would you rather be at the bottom of page one for a natural phrase that gets between 500 and 5000 searches a week? Or do you want to be at the top of Google’s search results for a term that only gets five or 10 searches a year?
The answer is fairly obvious, but it also raises many questions. Read on to learn more about which metrics really matter when it comes to evaluating your SEO investment.
Metrics that Move the Needle
Rankings are an important consideration, but they aren’t really a metric of success unless you can pair them with search volume and high-quality content that matches your intent. Unfortunately, this means that your site’s performance isn’t as straightforward or easy to comprehend as checking where you rank in a set of search engine results.
As Joshua Steimle notes in a 2015 Forbes article on SEO success metrics, “Getting rankings is an output SEO firms can easily sell because they’re emotionally satisfying, but they’re worthless unless they generate leads or sales — the outcome you want. That’s why you should only hire SEO firms or SEO professionals who focus on outcomes rather than outputs.”
At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether you’re driving high-value traffic to your site. That traffic needs to convert into tangible, actionable leads that can generate real revenue for your business. This is the difference between a site that performs and one that’s just taking up hard-drive space on a server. Anything else is just smoke and mirrors.
The Inverted Pyramid of SEO Performance
If you really want to know whether your Web presence is getting results, you have to understand your website as an inverted pyramid. Think of your site specifically in terms of how it relates to the sales funnel and the customer decision journey.
The metrics at the top of the funnel — impressions, clicks, and yes, rankings — are what puts your foot in the proverbial door. They’re the raw prospects that have a chance of moving down the inverted pyramid and becoming revenue-generating opportunities.
At the lower end of the funnel are metrics that can be tied more closely to dollar signs. These are phone calls and emails (leads), appointments, and purchases. Each of these requires a specific action, called a “conversion,” that you want your customers to make as a result of interacting with your website.
All elements of your online strategy should be coordinated to move potential customers down this funnel efficiently. If your funnel is leaky at the top, then you won’t get many leads. If it’s leaky at the bottom, then your leads will never become monetized.
In this way, all parts of the greater whole are equally important. But it’s important to note that rankings are just a single cog in that huge money-making machine.
Upper Funnel Metrics
Rankings: The Rise of Natural Language
The practice of optimizing your site for a handful of keywords has lost a significant amount of value in recent years. Because Google has personalized and encrypted search, it’s nearly impossible to determine exactly what your target audience is actually searching for.
Perhaps more importantly — search also is beginning to align more with natural speech patterns, thanks to voice-based queries via tools like Google Now and Siri. Google’s Hummingbird algorithm, in fact, is designed specifically to respond to more naturalistic search behaviors. “Therefore the objective, when it comes to rankings, is not to rank for a few top keywords that remain the same over time,” writes Steimle, “but to focus on a much larger number of natural language searches that is growing and changing rapidly.”
Although trying to get a high position in search rankings is still a valid practice, it has become more of an art than a science. Nevertheless, these sit firmly at the top of the funnel, and you need rankings to get impressions. This goes both ways, in fact, because rankings are pointless if they aren’t getting impressions and clicks.
Impressions: An Indicator of Search Volume
Impressions constitute the next step in the funnel. Let’s assume for a minute that you’re an Atlanta HVAC dealer and your customer is searching for “heating repair in Atlanta.” If your website appears in the search results for this term, it will subsequently get an impression.
Impressions, then, are among the more important indicators of search volume. If your site is being optimized for key terms that don’t get many impressions, then ranking on page one for those terms is fundamentally worthless. And even if your site is getting impressions, that doesn’t mean you’ll get clicks, which are the next metric in the inverted pyramid.
Visits and Clicks: Things to be Earned
For rankings and impressions to be worth anything, they need to generate site visits and clicks. Winning the click, however, involves more than just showing up among page-one search results and being seen by a potential customer.
Even if you show up at the top of the page, the click must be earned. This is done by leveraging user experience and search psychology to your advantage. For example, it’s important to have a descriptive title and a compelling meta-description (i.e. the verbiage displayed beneath the title) that resonate with the searcher’s reasons for performing the search.
The site itself also needs to perform in a way that the visitor clicks through to your contact form or does a click-to-call action (in the case of mobile visits). For this to happen, your site will need to be intuitive and easily navigable, and its content should be strong. Only then will your Web presence be able to move visitors to the lower part of the funnel, where it can yield leads and sales.
Lower Funnel Metrics
Leads: Metrics You can Monetize
For residential contracting companies — particularly in the HVAC, plumbing, flooring, roofing, pool and spa, and landscaping industries — leads mean potential new customers looking for a repair or an installation. Often, these customers are searching the Web in a time of need or on a relatively short buying cycle. As previously mentioned, these leads will come to you either through your website’s contact form or by using the site to find your phone number.
To monitor and improve the conversions through your website (either organic or PPC), you need a combination of tools. Web presence management software like Conductor Searchlight gathers data from a great number of data sources, combined with proprietary data on how visitors find and interact with your website as well as with competitor websites. This provides insight on where are the opportunities to increase your Web presence and conversion (leads).
Appointments and Sales: Your Bottom Line
Is your online presence actually generating appointments and sales for your company? This is a much more productive question than asking what your search engine rankings are, and it’s one that’s tied directly to your bottom line.
Tracking your SEO efforts all the way down to leads and sales is a challenging and time-consuming process, but it’s well worth the effort. Residential contracting companies that engage in this practice see a significantly higher ROI than the ones who do not.
Verdict: A Holistic Approach is Essential
Unless your SEO investments are being meticulously tracked, it’s almost impossible to know what’s working and what needs to be changed. In this capacity, rankings are just one among many metrics that must be understood and watched closely.
Now that you know how all these metrics work together, it’s easy to see that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Continuity in all aspects of your Web presence is of the utmost importance for making all these parts work in synergy. This is our company’s approach to Web marketing, and it’s the fundamental reason we don’t offer standalone services.
Countless tools and technologies are available to take this data and transform it into performance. A growing number of residential dealers are generating money from their online marketing efforts, and they’re the ones who are putting these things to work for them. If you’re among them, then your company is all but guaranteed to grow this year.
Eddie Childs is the Lead Content Strategist for LeadBuilder.com. His writing has been published by a range of websites and publications including Copypress.com, Jambase.com, NFLSoup.com, FootballNation.com, and Boating World, KnowAtlanta, Men’s Book, Cobb in Focus, TCL, Blush, Charged Electric Vehicles, Business to Business, and Catalyst magazines.