Over the last several years, Google has evolved search to include several types of content in the results. This view has been deemed “Universal Search” and can include locations, websites, images, social media pages, blogs, reviews, and news stories within the top results.
Additionally, Google has tried to incorporate a more personal experience using location, search history, and social media behavior (e.g., past +1s) in results for logged-in users. The result based on additional factors is called “personalized search.” It isn’t new, but it is important as brands consider their relationships with customers, fans, and prospects.
Personalization algorithms compared with universal search can make it difficult to get an idea of where your brand site or other Web assets rank for your audience. Though there are ways to determine the average ranking through Google Webmaster Tools, many companies rely on employees to conduct regular searches and might not realize they’re working with data heavily influenced by the personal relationship with the company.
If you’re looking to gauge the success of your SEO program, consider monitoring the following:
• Total SEO traffic to site and webpage(s).
Most website analytics tools provide standard traffic details. Consider looking at the time period before you loaded a piece of content or conducted a PR initiative versus the time period after. If you see a notable increase in traffic, consider it a success.
• Link and social popularity.
Google +1s and Facebook shares are public data. Google’s algorithm is now considering how many +1s your page receives when it orders search results. Consider tracking number of shares and “likes” for your Facebook page’s content. If a competitor posts something similar, compare their “like” counts (if available) to yours. Additionally, the number of links pointing to your page or website has been considered a popularity metric since the early days of SEO. Monitor the link report in Google Webmaster Tools to determine how your popularity is trending.
• Average ranking.
Average ranking for certain search terms are available in Google’s Webmaster Tools reporting interface. Average ranking (screenshot below) is often the most accurate and easy way to get an idea of how well your term is ranking in personalized search results.
• SEO audit scores.
There are several SEO scoring tools available (an example of RioSEO’s audit score is below). Some teams use manual methods to evaluate the SEO-friendliness of a website or if it’s in compliance with Google’s Design Guidelines
• Engagement of SEO visitors.
Similar to monitoring SEO traffic via your analytics tool, you should leverage user engagement data as well. Most analytics systems pull standard reports such as time on site, bounce rates, and pages viewed to determine whether visitors are engaged. Better scores tend to indicate more interested SEO visitors, which tend to result in better personalized search exposure. Engagement can be improved by increasing the visual appeal and content of a website. A great example of this is TransUnion’s Credit Report Information page
• Google brand search trends.
Google provides a free view of how your brand searches are trending with Google Trends
. Monitor the before and after period of your campaigns. Spikes in searches during your campaign mean success. For example, look at the spike in Kmart searches after the “Ship My Pants” spot was released.
Because the SEO landscape and results canvas are constantly evolving, PR professionals should evaluate how they are gauging the success of their programs by looking at a variety of data points and not simply by search engine rankings. When reporting to clients, help manage expectations and understanding by helping them understand the difference between universal and personalized search.
Nick Papagiannis is director of interactive/search for independent marketing and communications agency Cramer-Krasselt.