It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that tracking is integral to the success of any online business. However, it might surprise you to learn that more than a quarter of web marketers* admit to having no tacking at all. It’s an astonishing statistic especially you consider the availability of tracking packages, such as Google Analytics, which are comprehensive, easy-to-use and don’t cost a dime.

At the outset tracking allows you to establish a baseline from which you can measure the success of your SEO campaign. Once you’re underway tracking statistics illustrate your ‘good decisions’ and ‘bad decisions’ in cold black and white. And last, but by no means least, tracking tells you about how visitors behave once they have arrived at your website. In short: tracking is SEO gold dust, so don’t become one of the statistics and get tracking!

Why bother with tracking SEO performance?

Understanding goals

The first step in any search engine optimisation campaign is to establish exactly how your website is currently performing. A baseline audit provides a platform for you to work from, and will immediately illuminate a few of your website’s more glaring flaws.

Once you have a clear picture of ‘where you are at’ you can then begin to think about ‘where you want to be’. An effective SEO strategy will be shaped by its goals, so it’s essential that you spend time identifying your target before carefully taking aim.

For the majority of commercial websites SEO is all about generating sales, but for others it might be about increasing brand exposure or harvesting valuable data. Simply ‘getting to the top of the search results’ or ‘getting more visitors’ are not goals. After all, what’s the point of ranking No.1 for a search term which doesn’t generate traffic? And what’s the point of generating traffic which doesn’t convert?

If you don’t clearly define your goals it will be impossible to interpret your tracking statistics, and you’ll soon loose grip on your SEO campaign.

Understanding decisions

When building an online business you are guaranteed to take the occasional wrong turn. The secret is to know when you’re facing a dead end and change direction. Tracking statistics provide a quantifiable way of gauging which decisions you’ve got right and which decisions you’ve got wrong. As well as steering you in the right direction, statistics also provide the cold hard proof that’s often needed to convince sceptical parties that you are on track.

As a budding optimiser you can bet that you know more about keywords than anybody else in your organisation. However, tracing the corporate hierarchy down from senior management to marketing flunkey; you are unlikely to find anyone who agrees with you. Tracking statistics provide the irrefutable evidence you need to make bold decisions in the face of adversity:

If you can show that a page is ranking well, but not pulling in much traffic, it suggests that the keyword focus is out. Spend a few moments with a keyword cruncher and you can turn the page around and attract significantly more visitors. Without tracking in place you’d still be patting yourself on the back, and the Accounts Department would be preparing to pull the budgetary plug.

As well as helping you to identify poor keyword decisions, tracking provides all the back-up you need to illustrate your smart decisions. Optimises know just how much money there is in the ‘long tail’, but convincing others of the value of niche marketing is a tricky business. You can tell them that ‘higher rankings spell more overall traffic’ or that ‘more qualified traffic spells higher conversions’ until you are blue in the face. But only when you show them the tracking statistics, which reflect a higher ROI, will you be believed.

Once you have identified how each element of you website is performing, you can then work out the best way to spend your budget. There’s a convincing argument for starting by reinforcing the stronger pages, which have already proved their worth, before turning your attention to ‘content gaps’ and weaker pages.

TOP TIP: When analysing tracking reports for SEO purposes it’s best to focus on a few key metrics, notably traffic, rankings and bounce rates. You’ll have your work cut-out keeping up with ‘the big three’; never mind the host of other data which tracking packages inevitably provide.

Understanding user behaviour and how SEO ‘fits in’

SEO is fast changing game and optimisers can no longer afford to put their feet-up once they have climbed to the top of the search results. Once you have got visitors to your website, it’s your job to make sure they do what you want them to do. And tracking provides the means to help interpret user behaviour.

Many of the decisions you’ve made have been informed by keyword research tools and your knowledge of Google’s alorithym. Both are the calculations of machines, and human behaviour isn’t that easy to predict.

Tracking provides a window on how users interact once they have arrived at your website, and can contribute essential information on everything from: how long visitors spend on a particular page to which pages enjoy the highest conversion. By weeding out pages which under-perform, identifying bottlenecks and shortcutting drop-out points you can seriously improve your bottom line.

Over in the world on Pay Per Click advertising webmasters are continually encouraged to test and refine landing pages to improve Click Through Rates and conversions. And back in the world of SEO it’s no different. Keep track on user behaviour and you’ll be able to squeeze the most out of your website.

TOP TIP: Tracking proves an indispensable barometer to measure the successes and shortfalls of your SEO campaign, but it’s essential to remember that your website’s performance is susceptible to ‘real world’ influences. With more companies spending bigger budgets on SEO your online competition will get stronger and you may have to run faster in order to just stay still. 

In our next post we will look at key tracking metrics and how to get started