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If you’re like most business owners, you probably get 10 emails a day — wait, scratch that — you probably get 100 emails a day from a purported search engine optimization (SEO) guru promising to rank your website at the top of Google. If it isn’t painfully obvious from the jargon used in each electronic solicitation you receive, most SEO companies are run by techies who know nothing about what it’s like to sit in your chair.
These guys have no clue how to obtain their own gross margin, let alone why they need to know yours in order to improve your website’s performance. So, it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of SEO firms focus their clients’ attention on the wrong metrics.
The typical SEO geek lives in a world filled with pandas and penguins (nicknames given to Google’s latest algorithm updates), keyword rankings, and backlinks. As a business owner, getting down to this level of granularity isn’t just unnecessary — it’s distracting.
The most important measure of SEO success is revenue and gross profit from organic search.
Ironically, revenue and gross profit from organic search is almost certainly the one metric not found in that huge website report sitting on your desk or clogging up your email inbox. Most of the HVAC contractors I know can find the percentage of website visits they get from China, but they can’t pinpoint the metrics that really matter.
If all of this sounds familiar, you’ve got a big problem on your hands, but also a great opportunity. In this article, I’m going to walk you through the SEO metrics that matter and conclude with how you track the most important metric of all.
The Hierarchy of SEO Performance Metrics
To connect your investments in SEO with the right metrics, it helps to understand the hierarchy of SEO performance metrics. I think of websites and the SEO process like a sales funnel. Rankings, impressions, clicks/visits (which are the same thing) are what I consider top-of-funnel (TOF) metrics. Leads, appointments, and sales are lower funnel
As a business owner, you should be familiar with all of these metrics, but you should use the LF metrics as your primary measures of SEO success. Here’s the minimum you must know about each metric.
TOF Metrics Rankings
How you rank for various keywords is arguably the least important SEO metric. Google has personalized its search results to the point that it’s virtually impossible to determine how your site ranks for each of your prospects. Nevertheless, many SEO companies and business owners fixate on it.
If someone searches “furnace replacement, city, state,” and your website comes up at the top of the organic listings, your site is said to be the top-ranked organic search result (i.e. the No. 1 ranking). If you’re the type of business owner who enjoys being in the details, you can track your website’s rankings independently of your SEO firm. You can do this through Google Analytics or find SEO software specific to the HVAC industry (because that way all the high-value target keywords have already been identified for you).
While keyword rankings should not be a primary measure of success, you do need them in order to generate impressions, which is the next segment of the SEO funnel.
If someone searches for “furnace replacement, city, state,” and your website shows up on the first page of organic search results, an impression is generated. An impression is generated every time someone searches for a keyword phrase on Google and your website appears on the page. If a prospect searches “heating and cooling contractor, city” and your website does not appear (i.e. no impression is generated), you have very little hope of winning the job. But even if you do appear and an impression is generated, little value is created unless the searcher clicks your listing.
Whether a ranking and an impression turns into a click/visit depends on two things. The first factor is visibility. Think about your own behavior as a consumer. When was the last time you surfed beyond the first page of search results? For 85-90 percent of consumers, the answer is never. If you’re not ranked on the first page of Google, you’re probably not going to win the click. But even being on the first page does not guarantee that you’ll get a click. The top organic listing (i.e. the No. 1 listing) attracts as much as 30-40 percent of the available clicks. The second listing typically receives about one-half the number of clicks the first listing receives.
LF Metrics Leads
The difference between a terrible SEO report and a decent report is whether or not it includes the number of leads generated from, or likely attributable to, your SEO campaign. In the HVAC and plumbing industry, leads are typically new customers that contact you interested in some type of service (repair or replacement work). They can come in via a website contact form or from someone who visits your website and picks up the phone to call you. Accurately tracking Web leads from organic search requires that you have software such as Google Analytics installed and customized, and that you’re using call-tracking software that offers dynamic number insertion. Just search “call tracking for HVAC companies with dynamic number insertion” and dozens of vendors will appear.
Appointments & Sales
Tracking SEO results down to appointments and sales is where we separate the wheat from the chaff. In order to capture and report on these metrics, your SEO firm needs to review every lead form and tracked phone call from organic search. For the uninitiated, this process is tedious and time consuming; nevertheless, it’s an absolutely critical part of the process. In my experience, HVAC companies that manage their SEO (and other advertising) campaigns this way measurably outperform their competitors.
Putting it all Together
Rankings and impressions mean exactly squat if you’re not targeting the right keywords or you’re not generating qualified clicks. Even winning the click doesn’t equal success. Clicks and website visits are worth little if your website doesn’t convert the click into a lead. I can’t tell you how many times I run into SEO people who claim, “Well, that’s not my job — that’s conversion-rate optimization. My job is to get the client ranked.” As a business owner, when I hear stuff like this, it drives me crazy. You invest in SEO because you want to grow your business. SEO technicians who think their job is simply to get you ranked miss the forest for the trees. They’re not thinking like an owner; they’re thinking like an SEO twit.
Accurately tracking your SEO investments will help you better understand which aspects are working and which need to be changed and retested or eliminated altogether. Tools, technologies, and companies exist to help you translate data into action and, increasingly, the HVAC dealers winning the Web marketing game are those with superior data and insights.
Publication date: 1/20/2014